I have talked about how to intentionally schedule your days here and here. The first post talks about chucking a simple to-do list and using a calendar to put a date and time to activities. The second post mentions that the activities in a single day should strictly follow a theme, such as book-writing on Mondays, marketing on Tuesdays, etc.
To help you really boost your productivity, I talk about the rule of 3 x 200 to take control of your day and get the most important things done effectively.
What is 3 x 200 rule?
Here is what my 3 x 200 rule suggests. Any important activity for an important goal in your life is worth spending 3 hours on a single day.
If your goal is to publish a book, you should spend 3 hours a day writing the book. If you are building the next WordPress or rocket-launching software, you should focus on 3 hours of coding every day. The world’s next Michelangelo must spend 3 hours a day on sculpting / painting regularly.
Please note that the three hours are to be spent on the actual activity that puts you closer to the goal. For book publications, it means writing. For a sculptor, it means chiselling the marble. Ditto for coding when it comes to software.
However, most of these activities cannot be started without sufficient planning / preparation. To write a book for 3 hours, you must produce an outline first. Or a mind map. To write software, you must determine the design of the components. To lift weights, you must warm up your muscles sufficiently and also make a workout plan for the muscle groups you intend to work out. I call this the preparation phase. This phase should last for 15 minutes before the main activity.
3 hours are 180 minutes. Combined with the 15 minutes of preparation, you have 195 minutes to perform an activity for a day. Add a slack time of 5 minutes and there you have 200 minutes. You need to perform only 3 deeply focused activities lasting 200 minutes each per day. Doing so will rapidly put you closer to your goals. These are 600 minutes that make your day highly productive.
What about the rest of the day? I think three focused activities are good enough to win the day and the rest of the day is for unwinding. Eating your food, sleeping, having fun, cleaning your house. You can take your pick. I am concerned with helping you win your most important goals in life in those magical 600 minutes.
Using the 3 x 200 rule
It all starts with the following activities.
- Determining the most important and specific goals in your life: For instance, writing a book on how to bake by the end of the year, being able to dead-lift 200 kg of weight by the next six months or being able to run a 42-km marathon in time for the next Mumbai Marathon. Goals must be specific with tangible numbers and timelines.
- Breaking down the goals into daily activities: For instance, write a chapter on how to use baking powder, perform 5 sets of 20 repetitions using 50 kg to work out your biceps or run 10 km in an hour.
- Planning for your next day: Every evening you must take three daily activities from the list you made and plan them as the core activities for the next day. This sets the tone for the three activities that you need to do the next day. You can use three activities from different goals. However, I prefer using three activities from the same goal, since I theme my days, with each day of the week for one goal in my life. I use Trello to make my list of activities.
Ideally, one of the three tasks should be scheduled first thing in the morning within 10 minutes after your wake up. Read about the habit of working on your goals first thing in the morning here.
Make sure that these activities are not interrupted. You are to dismiss all distractions, including phone calls and notifications, requests to run errands or the temptation to check Facebook. The 15 minutes of preparation, followed by 3 hours of activity should be highly focused. But you are allowed to take 5 minute breaks after every 30 minutes of work done. Read about the techniques of improving your focus here.
What if I don’t complete my task in 200 minutes?
200 minutes of focused work is hard. It’s tiring. But it’s a job well done. 200 minutes is all you should focus on that task for. I recommend that you pat yourself for a job well done and move on. Such focused attention will soon reward you in the subsequent sessions and you don’t need to worry about the task not completed this time. The task should be left alone after 200 minutes and there is no need to stretch. Learn to focus on the process and not the outcome. The process will take care of the outcome eventually.
Learn to focus on the process and not the outcome. The process will take care of the outcome eventually.
What if my day job is not in alignment with my life’s goals and I cannot schedule 3 x 200 into my day?
You should be thinking about leaving that job soon enough. Ideally your job should lead you towards your life’s goals and give you the chance to practice 3×200 everyday.
But let’s say that’s not practical. The job probably rules you between 9 to 5. Maybe longer hours. But it is highly unlikely that it demands your time early in the morning, say at 6 am. If you are balancing your life between some cherished goals and a job that’s not moving you towards your goals, we suggest you start with a 1 x 200 early in the morning.
Why 3 x 200? Can we not do an 8 x 60 or a 2 x 400?
For a lot of creative tasks, a 3-hour window is the best way to build momentum and get things done. This is true for book writing, software programming, blogging, interior design, architecture or painting.
However, you can find certain goals where smaller blocks of time are necessary to complete activities and that you can schedule more activities in a single day. E.g. most workout goals need to last only one hour, two hours at most, after which the body starts to fatigue. In fact 200 minutes is too much exercise, unless it is an endurance sport such as running or cycling. Likewise, if your goal is to become a master chef, you can learn most recipes in an hour.
In such cases, you can use a 8 x 60 schedule, where you do 8 things per day, each requiring one hour of focused time. Note that you can also find combinations such as 1 x 200 followed by 3 x 60 on a single day if some of your goals require working for a longer time and some of them shorter. E.g. writing a cookbook followed by learning to prepare 3 recipes, which you will later include in the book.
Let’s turn to 2 x 400. It is unlikely that you will have the attention span or the stamina to work on a single task for 400 minutes. Your will power and strength will flag and you will think in circles and make mistakes. If you see that you have daily activities that require 400 minutes, then you have probably not broken the activities down enough into smaller ones of lesser minutes each.
Life needs deliberate planning. But planning and sticking to those plans is difficult. This is why we need to set easy to remember rules and principles. 3 x 200 is exactly such a principle. Do only 3 tasks per day, but do them effectively for 3 hours. Such rules of thumb can help you eliminate distractions on one hand, while protecting you from burn-out on the other. Go give this rule a try and let me know how it helps you in your life.