How To Finally Finish Your To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Strategy

productivity tips - planning tips - to-do list strategy

It’s a common scenario. Life often becomes much too hectic to try to fit everything into one day. The feeling of overwhelming panic starts to set in. So much to keep track of! How on Earth will you manage it all?

What we start with vigor in the morning can quickly turn into panic knowing that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the list by the end of the day. We often overestimate how much we can tackle in a day and underestimate how long each task will take. Sound familiar?

For those of us who face the daily challenge of getting everything on our “To Do” list done, take heart. If you’ve already heard of the 1-3-5 rule, then you know (or at least you’ve heard)…it works.


Because it covers major, medium, and small tasks. It enables you to make good progress on meaningful projects, regular commitments, and repeating work. The 1-3-5 rule is uncomplicated and easy to apply to most any situation.


Step 1

Create a “master list” of everything you need to do in a day, in a typical to-do list style. At this point, don’t worry about priority, just write down everything that you can think of.

Step 2

Take that list and make it into a “realistic” one. Start another list with the headings, “Big, Medium, Small.” Under the Big heading, you will list one item. Under the Medium, you will list 3, and under the Small – 5 items. And you guessed it, each one is prioritized according to how important and how long each task will take.

If you feel the need, make separate 1-3-5 lists for daily and weekly tasks.

For example’s sake, the Big item takes the longest, let’s say 2-3 hours. Medium tasks should take no more than an hour. Small tasks should take 15-30 minutes. That leaves roughly eight hours to get your tasks done – a full working day, with a buffer should things take longer than expected.

A good practice is to leave one or two of the Medium and Small tasks blank for any urgent and unexpected task that may pop up during the day. Then tackle each task in order of urgency.

Ideally, this list should be done first thing in the morning, or better yet, the night before. Once it is, then you know where to focus your energy for the day.



Make It Specific

Try to make each task as specific as possible. In other words, if someone should pick up your list and try to tackle it, would they know what to do? Break up more complicated projects into manageable steps. For example, if any length of time needs to be spent on planning a project, make that a task in and of itself. Projects that take any longer than a few hours should be broken up over several days, if possible.

So try the 1-3-5 to-do list yourself and see how it works out for you. If you find you need to massage the numbers, be it a 1-2-3, or 1-5-6 list, then all the better. Just be sure you focus and get them done. You’ll find that you will be much more productive, I promise you.

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