A cursory Google search will reveal a multitude of results on how to be productive. It used to be that I could relate to this stuff, but in recent years I’ve moved away from the idea of managing an excessive workload and juggling a complex to-do list. Now it’s all about what gives my life structure, and allows me to focus on the things that matter. Quality over quantity.

Below are some of those methods I use to get things (that matter) done. In the spirit of one of the rules I’ve deliberately kept the number to three.

Follow the rule of 3

You might have heard of this one, but how often do you follow it? I personally got the idea for its application from another system called Agile Results. Basically, you set three goals each day (I also do it for each week, month, and so on). It’s simple, but that’s why it works.

Now that might seem hard. The default position for lots of people is to have many more than three projects on the go. We probably believe that most of those projects are important in one way or another. But the beauty of the rule of 3 is it really forces you to focus your attention on your priorities. Which of those projects truly matter?

Does it involve sacrifice? Absolutely. I’d like to learn to play the guitar. I’d love to learn Spanish. But not at the expense of writing. It’s the payoff I’m willing to make so I can give my whole to it.

Of course, you’ll rarely go a day where you’ll literally only have three items on your radar. But those other tasks must never get in the way of your stated priorities. If everything suddenly falls apart one day, or you’re hit with some first world disaster, at least you can tell yourself you completed what mattered.

Scale your workload

Time isn’t flexible, but your workload can be.

Let’s say you’re having one of those days. You’ve got to do the groceries, visit the doctors, pick up your kids from school. You’ve only got thirty minutes where you can actually focus on your big book writing project. The problem is your goal is normally to write 1000 words. You don’t have enough time for that. Does that mean you should put it off?

No! Change the goal. Do 500 words instead. Hell, do 250 if that’s all you can do. It’s still progress.

Identify your unique needs

You’ll struggle to find my personal productivity setup, such as it now is, laid out on any website. It’s tailored entirely to my needs. Not my wants, my needs. I’d love to use a fancy to-do app (Wunderlust or Trello perhaps), but I personally don’t need it. A single file in Evernote just works.

The lure of a new shiny tool was always tempting, but also a massive waste of time! The Pomodoro technique sounds cool, but do I need any help to focus? No. Sometimes I’ll get distracted with emails and idle browsing, just like everybody else. But is it such an issue for me that I need to install RescueTime? Nope.

Let me give you another example of what I mean. For a long time I persevered with a filing cabinet for my paperwork, all organised alphabetically and categorically, because that’s just what you’re supposed to do, right? Every letter or document that came in went carefully into this system.

How much time did it take to maintain this? Lots. How much time did it save me? Barely any, because once I filed something, I rarely had to dig it out again. My needs simply didn’t dictate such a complex setup.