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The 1-3-5 Option To Streamline Your To-Do List

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Choosing a to-do list that you follow through with is a battle half won.

A photo of 1-3-5 option to streamline your to-do list on a postit note.

Sometimes every task on my to-do list seems important. I cannot decide what to do next, what is a priority and what's just noise. I get stuck and overwhelmed, trying to decide between things that look similar.

To stop my head from spinning, I enlist the help of a 1-3-5 rule - an easy option to streamline your to-do list . This is a productivity method to help you categorise your tasks and ensure a sense of control.

The 1-3-5 option to streamline your to-do list

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. – Bruce Lee

To stay on top of things, we need to divide our tasks into:

  • 1 big task

  • 3 medium tasks

  • 5 small tasks

As you complete and tick off big tasks, you will start feeling better as you will see some progress.

How to implement this rule

Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. At the end or at the beginning of each week (whichever you prefer), write a list of everything that needs to be done. Don't be shy. Don't stop yourself, criticise or overthink. Just dump all your thoughts on the piece of paper in the left column.

Once done, go over your list once again and decide how long each task might take. Depending on a task, some activities, such as taking the rubbish out might take less than 5 minutes, so they will be categorised as small. There might be bigger tasks, like writing a resume, which might take over an hour. Let's call it big. Everything in between could be medium. Now once you decide how long each task might take, go to column 3 and add letters B, M, S against each task.

Take a new piece of paper or a brightly coloured sticky note and decide what 1 Big task, 3 Medium tasks and 5 Small tasks you will do today. Then do the same for other days of the week.

Start working on your list

Action is the foundational key to all success. – Picasso

You might still hear a pull of all the other tasks that were de-prioritised for today. But in order to calm them down, you need to start acting. Start with a big task, make sure it's done, so at least you have one big headache out of your way.

If big task seems too daunting, start with smaller ones. Complete all five small tasks first, then move to a medium.

The challenge with this approach is that you might run out of steam. Even though you feel like you are achieving a lot, you might Feel tired by the time it's big task’s turn. Hence it's always recommended to start with the big, as it feels better to tick something important off your list.

Eat that elephant piece by piece

If the big task still seems too big, divide it into 6 tasks as per the recommendation above. See what actionable steps you could undertake to complete this task. Don't be afraid to add something as tiny as 'open google docs' as one of your small tasks. As long as you start ticking things off your list it will give you a boost of encouragement.

Final word of advice

This productivity rule is relatively small and easy to follow. But make sure you tweak it to make it your own, to make it work for you.


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