What Is The 1-3-5 Rule and How Can You Benefit From It?

The to-do list remains one of the constant productivity accessories for any professional. Writing down your tasks gives you a sense of what you want to accomplish each day, week, or month.

However, we all often struggle to find the right way to start and finish the tasks on that list. From interruptions to checking emails, many irrelevant tasks suck out the time we need to focus on the major ones.

Creating a productive day is more of a challenge for freelancers and remote workers who have to deal with repetitive tasks and distractions.

According to Atlassian research:

  • Every average professional has 56 interruptions per day.
  • Workers spend 2 hours a day on average recovering from interruptions.
  • Freelancers and remote workers consider 80% of interruptions to be trivial.
  • Workers need an average of 16 minutes to refocus after attending to each incoming email.

Thankfully, interruptions and mundane tasks are not problems an effective task management hack won’t solve.

Meet the 1-3-5 rule. A technique that helps plan a successful workday.

What is the 1-3-5 Rule?

The 1-3-5 rule is a technique that helps you manage your tasks efficiently. You use it to create the right balance between small and big tasks to make your day productive.

The 1-3-5 structure involves handling nine different tasks each day. These tasks are divided into:

  • 1 Major task
  • 3 Medium tasks and
  • 5 Minor tasks

The name of the principle also reflects its order. Ideally, you’re expected to handle the major task, then move on to the medium and small tasks.

Covering small, major, and medium tasks makes your day a more rounded success. That’s because you can go through everyday tasks and still make progress on project deliverables.

Who Created the 1-3-5 Rule?

The rule was made popular by the New York Stock Exchange’s executive vice chairperson, Betty Liu. She believed that narrowing her tasks to 9 jobs a day made it easier to get things done.

Benefits of the 1-3-5 Rule

One of the biggest benefits of using the 1 3 5 method is that it can work for anyone and any schedule, particularly freelancers and remote workers.

Setting your mind on accomplishing 9 tasks each day gives you a defined sense of purpose that guides how you work.

The technique helps you understand the importance of identifying major, minor, and small tasks.
But there are other advantages of using the hack. Let’s go through them.

Finding the Right Work Balance

Your to-do list may be populated with minor and non-important tasks, making your day look like a mess.
Using the 1-3-5 rule means you can identify these tasks for what they are and handle them accordingly.

Since you have to handle a major task first, your priority will be identifying such tasks on your to-do list.

That way, you’re maintaining the right balance between important and small tasks.

Boost Speed and Efficiency

Multitasking is never good for productivity, no matter how you tweak it. If you want to get through tasks fast and without making errors, you have to focus on one thing at a time.

The 1-3-5 rule promotes the concept of single-tasking. Even though you have to identify 3 medium and 5 small tasks, you can create a schedule to work on one at a time.

That way, you’ll finish tasks faster without making costly errors.

Helps You Get Through More Work

Without the 1-3-5 rule, you may set out to handle more than 10 tasks a day. However, you’ll almost always finish the day with fewer tasks in the bag due to the many interruptions.

Also, without a defined structure, the balance between small and important tasks may be skewed. You may end up completing more irrelevant tasks, making your day less successful.

With the 1-3-5 method, you’re always working on tasks that matter, regardless of their number.

But the 1-3-5 rule is not just a task prioritization hack. It’s also an effective time-saving technique. On good days, you can get through the 9 tasks with more time to spare.

As a result, you can get more done.

Reduces Time-Wasting

The work method allows you to focus on tasks that are critical to your project, helping you weed out time-wasting activities from your schedule.

Since the rule gives you a defined work structure, you can work with precision. It also means interruptions and distractions won’t prevent you from getting things done.

You Can Take Enough Breaks

Breaks are important because they allow you to relieve stress and increase focus when you return to work.

On the other hand, working for hours non-stop can reduce concentration, lead to errors, and cause health decline.

The 1-3-5 rule gives you a good structure that helps you take adequate breaks. Since you’re doing 9 different tasks, you can easily incorporate breaks between each task.

How to Implement the 1-3-5 Rule

Applying the rule isn’t difficult. It involves listing out your tasks, identifying your work priorities, and managing your time efficiently.

Let’s show you the process.

List All Your Tasks

Listing all your tasks allows you to see everything you’re setting out to do at a glance. It also makes it easier to identify and group your tasks and activities according to importance.

To make it work, you must draw up a comprehensive list that includes everything, from meetings to emails. You should pay attention to even minor tasks or engagements. You can call this list your master to-do list.

It is recommended that you take stock of all your activities for the week. But you don’t have to limit yourself to the week. Any task that comes to your mind should make it to the list, regardless of its deadline.

Just make sure you’re pouring out all the tasks you can remember. You can stack them under their related dates.

Whenever a new task comes up, you can plug it into your schedule. This method allows you to clear your head, freeing you from the extra mental stress of always remembering your to-do.

After all, it’s always easy to refer to your list whenever you want to check your next task.

Group Tasks According to Size and Importance

Once you’ve drawn up your “master” to-do list, start categorizing your tasks according to similarity. For example, you can differentiate meetings from project briefs and project-specific tasks like article writing or video editing.

But first, make sure you’ve placed your tasks under the right dates.

After that, identify important and urgent tasks and group them together. This way, you’re beginning to prioritize your tasks.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Task prioritization is central to the concept of the 1-3-5 rule. You must group tasks according to importance and urgency to identify the small, medium, and major tasks.

There are different ways to identify tasks that should top your priority list.

First, you have to look at jobs and appointments for each day. After that, identify the most important and time-sensitive ones.

There are different task prioritization techniques that you can use. However, one that we recommend is the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix helps you to avoid taking every urgent task more seriously than others. In reality, there are time-sensitive tasks that you don’t necessarily have to pick over other important assignments.
That’s because the technique ensures you identify what to reschedule and delegate.

The concept works by separating tasks into four quadrants. The quadrants define important and urgent tasks and how you should handle them:

Source: USAHS

Important and Urgent

These tasks should be handled first as they’re critical and time-sensitive in nature. They fall under the “Do” or “Execute now” category.

This category is where you’ll pick your major task for the 1-3-5 rule.

That said, you can pick medium tasks from this quadrant as long as they’re not large. After all, some important and urgent tasks can be completed in minutes.

Important and Not Urgent

These tasks don’t have a close deadline. However, they’re also critical to your main project and are among the tasks you should be focusing on. You can schedule them for later once you’ve handled all the important and urgent jobs.

You can pick the 3 medium tasks to deal with from this quadrant.

However, you can pick your major task here if you don’t have any tasks left in the important and urgent category.

Not Important and Urgent

Tasks that are time sensitive but not important can include minor everyday tasks that you need to get out of the way or jobs that your colleagues need your help to handle.

Generally, these are tasks that you can delegate to someone else. However, you can use tasks from this quadrant to make up your five minor tasks for the day.

Not Important and Not Urgent

These are tasks that you don’t have to deal with and should remove from your schedule.
Indeed, it’s important to include everything you intend to do in your to-do list. But you don’t have to do them all.

You barely have enough time to handle important and urgent tasks. So, don’t cut through your schedule to accommodate activities that won’t contribute anything to your work.

Start Time Blocking

Time blocking involves dividing your day into different blocks of time. This time management technique is perfect for the 1-3-5 rule.

You dedicate each time block to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks. After taking stock of your tasks and identifying major, medium, and small assignments, you can create time blocks for each.
Sometimes, you can create time blocks to accommodate more than one task, depending on size.

Helpful Tips on Using the 1-3-5 Rule

Use a To-Do List Application

A to-do list software application helps you list, organize, prioritize, and track your tasks.

Most of these apps are complete productivity tools that help you stay on top of work and never miss anything. They’re integrated with other tools, from calendars to file-sharing platforms such as Google Drive.

Choosing the right to-do list app means you can boost your productivity and take full advantage of the 1-3-5 rule.

Now, the right tool for you depends on how you operate. You have to consider different factors, from the nature of your work to your budget.

There are to-do list applications that fit teams and individuals. Others integrate different time management and task prioritization techniques.

Time Tracking is Vital

A time tracker is another important tool to make an ally. After all, you have to manage how long to handle each task, regardless of its level of importance.

These apps primarily track billable hours to ensure you create accurate timesheets and bill clients correctly if you’re a freelancer.

For employers, time trackers are valuable employee monitoring tools that ensure error-free payrolls. It also helps managers to keep tabs on remote workers.

That said, time-tracking can help you implement a flawless 1-3-5 routine. You can use a time tracker to understand and optimize your schedule.

It helps you identify tasks that should fall into each category and gives you an idea of the right amount of time to allocate to each.

It’s a valuable time-blocking tool because you can use it to determine how much time to allocate to a task or group of tasks.

Best Time Trackers to Use

One of the best time trackers to go for is Traqq. It’s a simple and effective time-tracking application that helps you understand how much time you take on average to complete a task.

It also assists in identifying and removing time-wasting activities as it records how long you spend on each program and website.

Using the tool, you know what activities to reduce and how much time to allocate to each task.
There are also other time trackers that integrate powerful time techniques and collaborative features.
However, you can use all of Traqq’s premium features for free as an individual. You only get to pay the subscription fee when you want to seat more than 3 team members.

Use Time Management Techniques to Stay Focused

You have to apply a great deal of time management to accomplish the tasks in your 1-3-5 model. Thankfully, there are different time management techniques that work with the schedule.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique, created by Francesco Cirillo, helps you reduce procrastination. It involves breaking down your work schedule into short time intervals and taking breaks in between.

Each interval is called a Pomodoro and runs for 25 minutes. After each Pomodoro, you’re required to take a 5-minute break before starting the next one.

Then, you can take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes after the fourth Pomodoro before starting again.

Time Mapping

Time Mapping is a technique that helps you visualize your schedule.

The time map works like a regular map. But in this case, it guides you on how to move from one task to another.

By looking at your time map, you immediately know what to do next, instead of waiting for an alert or notification.

You can incorporate all your personal and work activities into a time map. However, you can customize your time map to only reflect the tasks in your 1-3-5 model.

The Pareto Principle

You can use the Pareto Principle to identify the major task to include in the 1-3-5 schedule.
The principle, also called the 80/20 rule, posits that accomplishing 20% of your tasks can make your day 80% successful.

So, take a look at that master to-do list and identify one task that will make you feel accomplished after completing it.

Break Down Large Tasks

No matter how hard you try, there are tasks you can’t complete in one day.

Such large tasks can cause serious mental fatigue by merely looking at them.

But you can tackle them by breaking them down into smaller actionable tasks. That way, you’re able to manage large tasks and incorporate them into your 1-3-5 schedule.

Be Flexible

It’s fine to complete 9 tasks, but you don’t necessarily have to.

Take your time to make sure you accomplish tasks efficiently. If you can’t finish everything, you can move them to the next day.

However, try to ensure the jobs you’re moving are among the 5 small tasks.

On the other hand, you can do more tasks if you still have more time on your hands after completing the original 9 tasks.

Avoid the Parkinson’s Law

According to Parkinson’s Law, work expands to cover the time assigned to it.

Have you ever wondered why you spend 2 hours completing a task that should take you only 20 minutes? That’s because you allotted 2 hours to that task.

To avoid the effects of Parkinson’s Law, you have to stop overestimating how much time you need to complete a task.

Your time tracking tool can help you identify the right time slot to allocate to each task when you look at your work history.

You should also use a time map so that you can move on to the next task after completing a task before its deadline.

Get Rid of Distractions

While the 1-3-5 rule helps you maintain focus, distractions can still get in the way.

So, after writing down your to-do list, identify jobs that should be stricken off your schedule.

But that’s not all it takes to eliminate distractions.

You should allocate time blocks for things like emails and other repetitive tasks. These time blocks should ideally live outside your 1-3-5 schedule. Then, block email notifications and use tools that will help you filter out unnecessary incoming emails.

Final Thoughts

Today’s workplace continues to expand with more work and activities. From handling multiple meetings and consulting with colleagues to responding to emails and working on project tasks, there’s a lot to overwhelm the average professional.

Thankfully, the 1-3-5 rule helps to put things into perspective. You can now create a more productive workday and reduce stress while you’re at it.

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