Featured Blog

Lazy Productivity: 10 Simple Ways to Do Only Three Things Today

Editor's note: This post was written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

I have to admit, I'm as lazy as the next guy. I have my moments of productivity, where I'm cranking out the tasks and checking things off my to-do list like my life depended on it.

But for the most part, I just want to do a few things each day, and then take a nap.

And as it turns out, that's all that's needed. Doing just a few things each day has worked wonders for my productivity -- I do less, but those few things I do have a higher impact. With this method, I've created a couple of successful blogs, and achieved a few other things along the way. Not trying to brag, but only showing that laziness can actually work if you put it to work for you.

How can laziness work? Well, if you only want to do three things, just do three things. But here's the key: make those three things count.

Here are my suggestions for making laziness work for you:

  1. Choose only three things to do today. If you set a limit, you will be forced to choose just the important things. If you don't set a limit, you'll try to do everything ... which means you'll be busy, but you'll be doing a lot of unimportant things as well. Just choose three, but choose carefully.
  2. Choose for impact, not urgency. There are always things that seem urgent today, and those things tend to push the important stuff back. But here's the thing: the urgent stuff is only urgent in our minds. In a week, they won't matter. But if you choose something that has long-term impact on your work and your life, it will matter in a week. It's those high-impact tasks that really make a difference. If you choose high-impact tasks -- things that will really make a difference over time, that will get you recognition and success and create new opportunities -- you can let the urgent stuff melt away.
  3. Choose them the night before. Plan your three tasks the night before, so you're prepped for the day when you wake up. Then there's no "urgent" stuff on the list, because you chose them when you were calm. It helps give you a jump-start on your day.
  4. Start on them immediately. First thing you do when you start working: start on the first of your three important tasks. Don't do little things. Just start.
  5. Don't check email until the first one's done. There's always the urge to dive into email (or whatever your normal productive distraction is at work), but resist. Let it be your reward for completing the first task on your list. Let your urge to be lazy motivate you to finish that task!
  6. Choose a fourth, more important task to procrastinate on. Here's where procrastination can really help you. Trick yourself by putting a big task you've been dreading at the top of your list. So you actually have four tasks. You will try to procrastinate on that big task by working on the three tasks below it. In that way, you'll still get three very important tasks done while procrastinating on the fourth. How will you get that fourth one done? When something bigger comes along that you dread even more, put that at the top of your list.
  7. Take breaks in between. When you finish one of your three tasks, give yourself a short break. 10 minutes works well for me, but you may need 15 or 20. That's OK. We're not in a sweatshop here. You're only doing three things today. Take a walk. Get a glass of water. Shoot the breeze with someone. Check whatever you like to check online. Then get back to work on the next task.
  8. When you're done, celebrate with a nap. After you do your three important tasks, take a nap. You've earned it. You've done three important things today, which is more than most people, to be honest. They might do 7 smaller things, but you've been more productive by doing less.
  9. Batch process smaller tasks. It's inevitable that you'll have smaller things you'll need to take care of. Put those off until the afternoon or end of your day, and do them all at once in batches. So do all your phone calls, then all your emails, then all your little paperwork or whatever. Just don't allow these smaller, routine tasks to push back your big ones.
  10. What if you need to do more? You probably won't actually complete them all anyway. Just choose three and put the rest off until tomorrow. I promise, the world won't end and life will go on. And you'll be much less stressed.

Photo courtesy of Ian Bloomfield.

Enjoy the post? Then subscribe to the blog! subscribe to the LifeRemix Team Blog


A Simple Yet Effective Means of Beating Procrastination

Isn't it interesting how we can fool our minds into action through a simple yet effective use of the pain pleasure principle.

With specific reference to Point 6. I can see how the initial and immediate pain of doing the 4th task - that you would like to avoid at all costs - does bring a sense of panic and awakens the procrastinator's mentality from within our psyche. We see this huge painful action that somewhat tends to overwhelm us and shock us into focusing on other things and tasks that can potentially pull us away from this immediate pain and into a sense of relief that we can preoccupy ourselves with other activities and yet still gain the satisfaction of being productive.

This strategy however will only work if the 3 tasks on your list are as far removed from the pain of undertaking the 4th task as is humanly possible. We could of course select the lesser of the 2 pains and still successfully accomplish the 3 tasks. However, for most people I believe that instant gratification and short-term pleasure will in the end win the day, and will therefore determine our choices and decisions in relation to completing or procrastinating on these tasks and activities.

Having said that, these are no doubt 10 great suggestions that can be of great assistance to all during times when the Laziness bug gets the better of us.

Thanks,

Adam Sicinski @ http://studymatrixart.com/blog

arranging important tasks

i never thought of it we usually keep doing works and at the end some important task missed and we feel we did nothing .

great posting

I love the idea of picking your top three (+ one) the night before.
g

Your blog

The irony is that in reading this I'm being less productive.

Curse you Stumble!

Going to try it out.

The next thing I wanted tackle was getting a plan of attack for the day. This post is very timely!

I was going to do the planning in the morning but I think I will follow this article and do the plan at night. Having it all laid out the next day will be a nice feeling.

http://oldricksnewdog.com

Really interesting

I tried this since reading your post yesterday, and the part I found really empowering was not checking my email until I'd done the first thing on my list. I've always been addicted to my email and to my amazement this morning, I finished my first key task and had it sent off by 9:30 am. Most importantly, I feel great; like I have a real boost for the rest of the day. Thanks!

I've tried this, and it works!

On and off, I've been following a similar system... and perhaps even simpler.

I set myself between 1 and 3 achievable goals for the day.

My criteria: which are most important to my boss. Either will make him look good to his boss, or will keep in out of trouble, whatever.

My phone is always on call forward, and I pick up my messages twice a day.

My e-mail is turned off. I also check it twice a day.

If it's a big project (like the one I have to do today), I break it into achievable tasks.

And you're right about the urgent: everyone thinks their request is urgent. I ignore about half of them and they go away....

From 80 hour weeks, I'm down to about 30, and I'm getting glowing feedback on how much I get done. I'm not getting more done. But what I am getting done matters more.

The urgent things

Hi - I think this would work well for freelancing, but definitely not for businesses. My urgent stuff is often the things that really matter, like doing the accounts, so I can send in the VAT return. If I didn't do things like that, the other things wouldn't matter at all, because they'd shut me down.

But, I do agree on the to do lists. I always feel far better if I do mine the night before. There's nothing worse than doing it first thing in the morning.

Catherine at http://www.cathlawson.com/blog

Wonderful ideas! I always

Wonderful ideas! I always make a list of about 10 things and never get any of them done, because it seems so overwhelming! Im going to write my list of 3 (well 4) things to get done tomorrow! Yea me!

Angie
www.womensdietandfitness.com

how is this supposed to work anyway?

Sorry, I got to the third idea on the list then I had to stop. Will read three more tomorrow though, promise!

:)

How about relationships?

Wonderful thoughts on being pointedly productive. Work on the things that matter rather than staying busy. What if this were applied to significant relationships? Focus each day on the two or three things that matter in that relationship rather than the busy household tasks that get in the way. What a great way to simplify the process. I like it!

Corey @ http://simplemarriage.net

Mmm, getting things finished works for me

I like the question what will I finish today. Deciding that seems to be everything.

The trick about putting the grotty task at the top is clever! And the advice that you will get to it when there is something even grottier to do.

Great post!

sorry

"2. Choose for impact, not urgency. But here's the thing: the urgent stuff is only urgent in our minds. In a week, they won't matter. ..... you can let the urgent stuff melt away."

Either you are wrong here or theres something I totally don't understand. How can you let urgent stuff melt away? Can someone explain??
Manu

oops

sorry for the gratuitous posting

Hmmmm

I just found myself procrastinating by reading your blog and all the associated comments. How do you suggest I avoid that pitfall? (although it is 4:30 and I have accomplished a lot today).

hmmm

I just found myself procrastinating by reading your blog and all the associated comments. How do you suggest I avoid that pitfall? (although it is 4:30 and I have accomplished a lot today).

Hmmmm

I just found myself procrastinating by reading your blog and all the associated comments. How do you suggest I avoid that pitfall? (although it is 4:30 and I have accomplished a lot today).

Feel Great!

Feel great once you get those three things done! Great topic, great motivation. You choose the three things.

www.youravon.com/twoolson

Make a easy list with 3 Items Each

Use a really simple todo list ( I use www.todopub.com ). Make only 3 items in each list. That way, simply choose a list (all your lists will have 3 items), and you are good to go for the day.

Using this TOMORROW!

I think I agree that this may not work for everyone (especially businesses), but for me as a student, I think it's gonna be great.

I spend like 1.5hrs every morning just shifting through my feeds/emails/whatever. Tomorrow that 1.5hrs is going to be spent on Task A!

Daryl @ http://uniquefrequency.wordpress.com

Personal Yes, Business No

I think these things could work great if it applies only to personal tasks, but not necessarily to business.

I work for myself, and consider myself lucky to be as busy as I am most days. But being successful means having several projects or clients to work on/with everyday, and my business deadlines are all *urgent* according to my clients :) If I were to choose the 3 tasks according to what I consider most important, I would lose clients who either feel that they're not getting the attention they deserve or their projects might not get done on time.

~Barbara @ http://www.bwilbur.com

Who owns who...

Sounds like you let your clients dictate what you do with your time. I also work for myself and I found myself at the same point you sound like your at. Things didn't get better until I learned to properly set the expectations of my clients with my time and projects. Getting things done right away isn't as productive as you think. Tell your clients it will take 1 week if its a single day project. This way you have 6 more days to load up more schedule work / new clients. As long as you're diligent with your due date the extended time won't be an issue.

More to consider

I think relaxation and smiling are the keys

smile @ http://humorvideo.blogspot.com/
taichi @ http://about-taichichuan.blogspot.com/

Narrowing down the to-do

Narrowing down the to-do list always works. I just wish I could stop checking my email!

http://www.creativelyselfemployed.com

not sure about cutting out the email thing

Picking things the night before sounds good - I did have one task that I wanted to get done yesterday, and I ended up doing everything else... So that advice sounds good.

But, this and some articles I just read, the four-hour-work-week, etc. that talk about not checking email often, I am not sure how that would work. I think if I checked email less often, people would call me on the phone more. As I am working for myself (and in "isolation" as the one commenter said), email is the primary means of communication with my customers, and I'd much rather have emails than phone calls.

Jon @ Lime Daley

Not Entirely Convinced

Sorry but as much as I like the idea, I can't fully agree.

Unless you are working in isolation we don't have the luxury to pick the items that have most long-term impact on our lives. Neither can we just let the urgent things melt away.

I like the idea of adding high-impact, long-term stuff (and will try to do more of this) but most people also need to do stuff for other people; a lot of this stuff won't disappear. A lot of us work in teams and we need to do our bit and unfortunately that does mean doing the mundane at times. By all means use a method to prioritise work and to focus on the essential but don't be dropping things that benefit the team but aren't top of your agenda.

Like everything in life it ain't always simple.

M

Good Idea

Yes, sometimes to "combat" laziness, making a "simple" and "easily-accomplished" set of goals is a GREAT thing to do.
This is a good insight. Thanks again, and Best Wishes,
Keith Johnson, Author "365 Great Affirmations"

Really Great Stuff!

I'm a fan of yours and as always, this is more great stuff! You really have a talent for producing day-after-day, really great--useful "stuff". I don't know how you do it but I DO REALLY APPRECIATE YOU AND WHAT YOU DO.

Charles

Duff

I'm totally doing this tomorrow. Thanks, Leo!

~Duff @ http://duff.zaadz.com

I've made my list for tomorrow!

Deep breath ... my list of 4 things is done. If I can get those things done tomorrow I will have accomplished some things I've been putting off for a long time. Thanks!

Susan @ http://suzenknits/typepad.com

You can subscribe to the LifeRemix blog by two methods:

RSS LifeRemix feed

Email










ZTD- Zen to Done