3 Things

Welcome to Day 3 of my 31-day blogging streak! Not sure what I’m talking about? Click here!

I’ve come up with a solution to help me get moving and power through some of these “overwhelming” tasks. It’s almost stupefying in its simplicity and obviousness, but I suppose that’s also what makes it remarkable.

Do 3 things.

I’ve always been a “big picture” person, but there are times when looking at the big picture isn’t the right way to go. When my house is dirty, like it is now, I have a tendency to look at all the things that need to be cleaned and picked up, think about how long it will take me to do ALL of it, and slink away in avoidance. When I’m busy and my to-do list is growing exponentially by the minute, I feel like I have to take on everything at once and get overwhelmed.

When I’m staring down a gargantuan, overwhelming task, what helps me overcome my fear and eventually be productive is to simply “do three things”. Instead of trying to dive in and clean the whole kitchen at once, I start by identifying the three littlest things I can do: Pick up those shoes. Put that puzzle box back with the other games. Take that plate to the sink. Oh, that was easy! Now let’s do three more things: take those coffee mugs to the sink. Put that box of crackers back in the pantry. Recycle that LaCroix can.

One time, I was having a day at work. It was Friday afternoon, and I just could.not.do.ANYTHING. I was trying to force myself to make envelopes and send out some letters and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It seemed like the most unfathomably arduous task anyone could possibly be faced with. The only thing that broke my Friday afternoon mental stiffness was to divide even that simple task into 3 baby steps at a time:

Open folder
Take out letters
Separate letters that need to be copied

Take letters to copier
File copies

Count letters
Put that number of envelopes in feeder
Open document with letters


I’m dead serious. That is an actual three-things breakdown I needed to make just to do one of the most simple things I do at my job.

The hardest part of doing something is just deciding to get up and do it already. You can’t run a marathon all at once; you have to start by taking that first step over the starting line. Then you have to get through that first mile. Then the halfway point. Until finally, before you know it, you’re crossing the finish line in a joyful, relieved, exhausted stupor.

Breaking up an overwhelming task into smaller, more manageable pieces is remarkably effective at making the task easier to do and increasing productivity. So when you’re struggling to do something big, just do 3 things. 3 little things. The number 3 is arbitrary. It could be 2, or 4, or any other number you like. I like 3.


8 thoughts on “3 Things

  1. This is so true. I think that we have become a society of immediate satisfaction with no effort. I am the opposite. I try to have everything done and organized so I have no worries. You have to do what works for you. Thanks Have a great day

  2. This is such a smart way to look at things. It reminds me of breaking long runs down into chunks of miles that seem less daunting. When I grading papers, trying to break my 65 papers into 3 blocks, and then those 3 blocks into 3 sets makes managing the work much less overwhelming! (This sentence made sense when I started typing it haha.)

  3. I tend to break things down to minutes–I tell myself, “just do what you can in 5 minutes…” For running, I use the saying, “just run the mile you are in”. Good reminder…

  4. At work I tend to be so ADD when it comes to planning/preparation. Teaching is fine- I have a lesson plan. I don’t have a CHOICE, it needs to get done. But as far as all the other things like writing plans, making copies, grading, responding to emails, all the shit… I like start one thing, then start another. It is so unorganized, I wish I could focus!

  5. Like Cheryl, I do something similar, but with minutes. I set a timer for 25 minutes and tell myself I just have to do the task for 25 minutes and if I’m still struggling/suffering/braindead at the end of that time then I can do something else. Almost always I’m able to keep going after the 25 minutes, it’s just that I needed to get some momentum going.

  6. This is such a good thing to do. I also tend to get overwhelmed when my to-do list starts to get too long, but identifying small steps to take allows at least some progress to be made. Like you said, once you complete a few tasks, it’s usually easier to keep going. I also like Lizzy’s idea of setting a timer for some certain amount of time. I do that for runs sometimes if I really don’t feel like going out…I’ll tell myself that I only have to run for 10 minutes, but by time I’m out there and running, I never want to stop after only 10 minutes. 🙂

  7. 3 things is a very good rule. I’ve have so many lists going at work but they’re usually on Post-its. 2-4 items on each one and it feels great when I can toss a scratched off list into the shred. It makes the rest seem a little less daunting. 🙂

  8. Love love love this!! I was having a day yesterday. Full of things I wanted to do and should do, but overwhelming looking at doing it all. I wanted to go for a run and do a little gym workout, needed to go to church, the grocery store, do laundry, iron, and cook dinner for Sunday but also some food for the week, too. I have the same tendency as you – to slink away and avoid it all. I am going to use your three things strategy next time for SURE. I love it!!!

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