Some of my favorite people are becoming parents this year, so in celebration of all that new parents do, I am dedicating this post to them. Cheers!
How many of us revel in getting through our gloriously long to do lists, gleefully checking things off as we complete them? “Check. Check. Check. Check. What a great day!”
That was me, Mrs. Type A.
And then I had a newborn.
Suddenly, a 5 minute trip to the store down the block turned into a 45 minute affair, complete with packing and carrying enough supplies to be prepared for any and everything. Snow booties in August? Check!
Add in carrying, soothing, cuddling, feeding, and changing another tiny human all day every day, and I couldn’t get anything done. As the days went on, the dishes and laundry piled up.
And that To Do list? It just sat there getting longer and longer. After getting frustrated with myself one too many times, I decided something had to change:
There had to be a way to thrive during the newborn period rather than to simply “survive” through it.
Through trial and error, I developed a new way to be productive and happy during intense periods of parenting.
I came up with this new approach one day when I realized that one of my hands was always tied up with a newborn, and this left me with only one hand to do everything else. And on that one free hand were five fingers. If I could just get 3-5 things done in one day, I would be ecstatic. Forget the long list of 32 items!
I decided to call this new approach the Three Finger Rule of Productivity since if I completed three things, the day was a success. I still use it when I need some more balance in my life.
Here is how it works:
Step 1: Make a list of all the important tasks that need to get done.
Step 2: Break these tasks into their individual components. For example, “cleaning the house” becomes the following:
- Washing a load of dishes
- Doing a load of laundry
- Putting things back where they belong
“Making dinner” can also be broken down into smaller tasks:
- Shopping for groceries
- Cooking dinner
Step 3: Now, put each of your tasks into one of the following categories:
- Me – This is a task whose sole purpose is to make you a healthy, sane person. Examples include enjoying a nice shower or bath, exercising, getting your nails done, reading a book, talking a walk, etc.
- Household – These tasks are anything related to managing a household: Paying bills, cleaning the house, shopping, cooking, etc.
- Relationships – The purpose of these tasks is to help you maintain good relationships with your significant other, family, and friends. Examples include calling a relative, having a date night, meeting a friend for coffee, etc.
Step 4: Wait a minute, you didn’t have any “important” tasks for the people in your life (yourself or otherwise)? Time to add them in. These tasks, which we often neglect, are just as important as, if not more important than, the household ones we attend to on a daily basis. Remember, you need to be healthy (and sane) to run a household. As they say, “If mama (or papa) ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Do your whole family a favor and take care of yourself.
Step 5: Pick the most important task from each category list. That’s right people, I said “the.” As in one. And only one. These three tasks (one from each category) will be all you do for today. If one task must be completed today (like paying your taxes), then that is automatically your task for today in that particular category (in this case, the Household category). For example on any given day, I might pick the following tasks:
- Me: Read a book for 20-30 minutes.
- Household: Go grocery shopping.
- Relationships: Have a mini ice cream date with my husband after the kids go to bed.
On a different day, I might pick these:
- Me: Go to the gym.
- Household: Cook dinner using what I have on hand.
- Relationships: Catch up with my aunt on the phone for 20 minutes.
Step 6: Find easy alternatives for the tasks you did not select for today. For example, let’s say that today you decided to go grocery shopping. This means cooking is not on your To Do list. So, what are you supposed to eat? It’s simple: Pick something easy that requires little to no prep or cooking. For example, you could reheat leftovers for dinner or have a sandwich, carrots and dip, and an apple. What about all that laundry? Save it for another day and make do with what’s in your closet.
Step 7: Throw out your list of unselected to do tasks from today. That’s right people, I said throw out everything else on your to do list. There are two reasons for this:
- Having a list of “everything” you “need” to get done is a recipe for stress, at least it has been for me. I might know that I am only supposed to complete the three tasks I selected (per the Three Finger Rule), but just having a long to do list of everything else makes me want to do as much as I can today (which is a recipe for burnout). Or, it makes me feel like I won’t have enough time to finish everything this week (which produces stress). Chucking the list of unselected tasks allows me to focus on completing what is truly essential (the 3 tasks I selected) and allows me to just enjoy the journey.
- If a task is truly important or you value it, you will remember to add the task to your master “to do list” and select it tomorrow. If you forget about the task, then it it wasn’t really an essential task*.
*Sure, there is a chance that you might just be uber forgetful and forget to add back in a truly important task (like paying your taxes). To hedge against that, you can always add a reminder in your phone (or on your calendar). And on that day, that will be your one household task.
Step 8: Complete the three tasks you selected from Step 5. Then, celebrate! You completed three things today? Wow, look at you! You’re a shining example of productivity and success! Way to go!
Swept the floor? Your household task is complete for today, Master of Efficiency!
Step 9: Repeat Steps 1-8 tomorrow. If, in the meantime, you start freaking out thinking about how messy the house is (or whatever), just remind yourself that you will get to it eventually. And then focus on what you did do today: “Wow, a clean floor. How beautiful. Look, I can roll all over it on it without getting dirt in my hair. And that book I read – Amazing!”
When you get to a point where you are feeling relaxed again, you can add in 1-2 more tasks per day for a total of 5 tasks if doing so is still comfortable.
I’ve found that following the Three Finger Rule has made me happier, more productive, and less stressed out. It’s also given me the room I need in my life to handle whatever surprises come my way much more easily. Plus, it has made me be more efficient – If I know that going to the grocery store is one task, I won’t run there just to get one missing ingredient. I’ll either improvise (which has resulted in some rather creative dishes, some good and some not-so-good) or I will cook something else. And the next time I go to the grocery store, I will be sure to bring a list with me.
I hope you share this with the new parents and other people in your life who might benefit from it. You might just make their day (or week). Cheers!