Are You Looking for Ways to Improve Your Productivity? Try Incorporating the Rule of Three into Your Daily Routine

The number three is significant. There are the Three Amigos, Bee Gees, Three Musketeers, Jonas Brothers, Three’s Company, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, just to name a few. In sports we have three strikes and you’re out, three-peats, the Big Three, triathlons, 3-and-0, and Three and Out.  Did you know that the number three can change your life?

A shoutout to Brandee El-Attar, one of my senior coaches, who recently reminded me of the principle, The Rule of Three (ROT). 

This powerful principle promotes the organization of information and thoughts into sections of three. This strategy is not new as it has been frequently used in plays, stories, and public speeches. The strength of this strategy lies in the fact that the human brain is innately programmed to prefer patterns and comprehensibility. By organizing information into segments of three, you naturally tap into what is intuitive, allowing for the successful processing and storing of content in front of us. 

So how does this concept get incorporated into our work and daily lives? As many of you know, the strategy of chunking is one of the best strategies an ADHD student can utilize to manage personal and academic tasks. A long-term twenty-page research assignment can be broken down into three main components, the beginning, middle, and end, addressing one portion at a time. For example, if the assignment was analyzing the causes of World War II, one might break the paper into the following sections:

  1. Historical background
  2. Aggressionism and Expansionism
  3. Failure to Retain Alliances and Diplomacy

Each of these main components could be further broken down into three subsections, with the student creating a schedule of attack and chipping away at each subtopic until the paper is completed.

The use of storytelling can also be an effective method of organizing information. With this approach, the piece centers around three key events or ideas. For example, in a mock interview with an important historical figure, the focus might begin with the person’s childhood, paying close attention to key relationships and events that may have influenced the individual’s trajectory in life. From there, one might shift to their young adulthood, and then transition to the present or the individual’s later years. In doing so, the interviewer captures the subject’s story, highlighting the most poignant points of the person’s life.

The third application of the Rule of Three is related to presentations. So many times, when I am working with a student who must make a presentation about a topic, I am greeted with a deer-in-the-headlights look of terror on the client’s face. “How the heck am I going to do a 20-minute presentation about this topic? There is too much information to cover!” This is where ROT can be extremely powerful as it helps to streamline the information, forcing the presenter to stay focused on the most salient points. Referring to our World War II example, the student could easily veer off in a multitude of directions going so far as to cover the history of alliances and each country therein. They could segue to include a section about the Holocaust which could then peel into a conversation about the power of propaganda. But there is not enough time to cover all of these topics. By keeping to the most pertinent parts of the topic, the student is enticed into being concise and centered, decreasing his own sense of stress, and holding his audience’s attention.

Not only does ROT apply to schoolwork, but it’s also very helpful when managing life’s obligations. Kids with ADHD get overwhelmed with the number of tasks they must complete each day, and here again is the beauty of ROT-it simplifies the tasks and forces the individual to narrow her focus. Taking daily tasks as an example, if there is a list of ten things that need to be done on any given day, whittle it down to the three most pressing tasks and prioritize those above the others. Once those are completed, if there is any time left over, the less significant tasks can be addressed. 

ROT also applies to setting goals. Be deliberate by setting three specific and measurable goals. Do you need to study for an exam? Don’t just set the objective to study for the test. Make the goals concrete: review 20 vocabulary terms from chapter 1; answer 5 short-term questions from the study guide; and write down any questions or concepts you want to ask your teacher about tomorrow in class. This structure and conciseness ensure your ability to track your progress on your way to achieving your goals.

For those individuals who work better by time, use ROT for time management. Break your allotted time into three chunks, deciding what task you will complete in each time period:

3:30-4:30pm-Read Catcher in the Rye chapter 1

4:30-5:30pm-Complete fruit fly lab

5:30-6:30pm-Study 5 review problems for math in chapter 2

By centering your plan of action around time, you will decrease the likelihood of becoming distracted and increase your productivity. To track your time, you can also incorporate the use of stopwatches, clocks, and timers.

Why is ROT beneficial and who stands to gain from this strategy? Students who struggle with task initiation, time management, and anxiety are sure to gain by using the Rule of Three. Here’s the thing: Clear and concise goals help to create a roadmap that allows the student to understand the beginning, middle, and end of her journey. It demystifies what she must do and how she must execute. When she knows what lies ahead, the spinning of wheels that frequently takes place during the point of initiation disappears, and the objectives she needs to meet along the way are clear. All of which will lead to a significant decrease in levels of anxiety.

Be aware that ROT does not apply to all tasks and situations. Some tasks require more complicated approaches to organization because they have too many components. Furthermore, some presentations require delving into more detail, and by reducing the presentation to three points, you will oversimplify and fail to effectively communicate important concepts.

The number three is an incredibly powerful number. Tap into your inner Bee Gee, Amigo, Stooge, or Chipmunk and facilitate your productivity and efficacy. Ready? One, two, THREE!