How To Supercharge Your Productivity With The 1-3-5 To-Do List

the 1-3-5 to do list

If you’re like most people, there are probably two versions of you.

There’s the super-ambitious you who sets the goals and plans the daily tasks and there’s the somewhat overwhelmed you who’s in charge of following up with these goals and tasks. The super ambitious you gets down to making to-do lists, planning events, and setting optimistic deadlines at sprinting-cheetah-like speeds. Write that article, launch that website, follow up with so-and-so, do the work meeting and boom, you’re done and it’s not even lunch yet! Ha, you’re basically superman! 

The problem is that real life is seldom smooth-sailing. Sure, you want to hit all the goals and check off the tasks your ambitious self dreamed about. But your ambitious self didn’t account for the fact that that old friend was going to call you and use twenty minutes in the morning. Your super ambitious self didn’t plan for the 20 minutes you needed to figure out the problem with the Wi-fi. Your super ambitious self didn’t account for how long it can take to send an important email.

How can you set realistic goals and not get overwhelmed while also knocking out a large section of your to-dos? Enter: the 1-3-5 To-Do List. 

The 1-3-5 To-Do List 

The logic of the 1-3-5 to-do list is simple. Everyday try to complete one big task, three medium-sized tasks, and five small tasks. A big task should take 2-3 hours, a medium should take ½ hour-2 hours, and a small task should take less than a half hour. 

Sorting tasks out roughly by the time they require to complete and then holding yourself to the 1-3-5 structure ensures that you strategically design your to-do list and finish each day with that bubbly feeling of having hit your target and done what you set out to do. 

For best results, always get your big task done first thing when you’re fresh since this task requires the most energy and time. You also might want to plan out your whole week all at once, deciding which large tasks you’ll do on which days. Most of us get in trouble trying to do multiple large tasks in a single day, and the genius of the 1-3-5 to-do list is that it forbids you from attempting to bite off more than you can chew. Additionally, it minimizes that huge pile of little to-dos that you never can seem to get around to. 

The Todo Cloud app can help you plan out and structure your 1-3-5 to-do list. Not only does it enable you to set different priority levels on different tasks for sorting out big, medium, and small tasks, but it also cleanly organizes all tasks under different project directories. Whether you’re on your phone or at your computer, its syncing abilities will make sure that your to-do list follows you wherever you need it. 

Make Realistic Goals

According to a study done by the University of Scranton, only 8% of people complete their New Years goals. What does that tell us about our natural goal-setting abilities as human beings? We must not be very good at it. But maybe we’re making the game harder for ourselves than it needs to be. Most people don’t set goals at all, (only 3% of people do) and of those who do set goals, few hit their goals. Perhaps those of us who set goals have the problem of setting too optimistic, ambitious goals. 

Even though it’s great to be daring and dream big, when this translates into setting unrealistic objectives our consistent failure to meet high goals can turn to our detriment as we repeatedly come up short. Feelings of disappointment and failure start to sneak in. No doubt, this chain of cause and effect causes us to ultimately give up and feel bad. For that reason it’s advantageous to set goals you can actually reach. If your goal was too easy and you reach it earlier than anticipated? Great. Now you have a moment to feel good about your success and set an even bigger goal next time. 

Dial In Task Granularity 

Another hack for optimizing your to-do lists is nailing your ideal task granularity. Task granularity dictates how small and detailed tasks are or whether they’re more broad and include lots of smaller tasks inside of them. 

For big, complicated or otherwise intimidating tasks that you dread facing down, be sure to break these down into easily digestible pieces without attacking the whole hairy monster all at once. For example, a yucky task like “pay taxes” could be broken down into smaller, more granular tasks that will get individual check marks and give you little hits of motivational dopamine on your journey. These tasks could be, “Make a list of the year’s expenses”, “Get X paperwork from x company”, etc. These smaller to-dos will help you get going and sidestep frustration and confusion. 

For tasks that aren’t too difficult to do less granularity is more efficient. For example, you probably don’t need to break down “Ask for time off from work” into smaller tasks. (Unless you’re scared of your boss. No judgment, if so.) 

Set Up A Goal-Conducive Environment  

In James’ Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits he discusses something called the Law of Least Effort. The law dictates that in our lives we automatically default to whatever behaviors require the least effort. This is the reason why so many of us are faster to check our social media notifications rather than go for a run. Incorporate the Law of Least Effort into your goal setting by removing barriers and reducing friction that makes it hard to complete your goals. 

For example, if you find it hard to get up in the morning, create some practices that tilt the playing field in your favor. Maybe you start preparing the next day’s shake or breakfast the night before so that you can wake up and immediately eat something yummy. Maybe you plan out your clothes the night before so you don’t have to browse through your closet in the morning. If your house is cold in the morning and it makes you want to stay in bed, time your thermostat to start heating up your house an hour before you wake up so that your room is nice and toasty when the alarm goes off. 

Another way you can create a more goal-conducive environment at work and at home is by setting up a daily schedule or rhythm and holding yourself to it. Humans are strongly tied to our daily rhythm, or circadian rhythm, and training your body to undertake certain tasks or eat or have a meeting at certain times of the day will coax you to naturally do what you need to do and ultimately reduce the ever-present lazy-urges that can hijack motivation.