“Yeah, you’re right — I really need to start doing that.” Sound familiar?

We constantly face a debate on how to spend our time: where do we find the balance between urgent and important tasks?

AppSumo founder (and employee #30 at Facebook and #4 at Mint) Noah Kagan breaks down what his developer does to stay productive:

He has a master Excel list that lists every single task that needs to be done, ever. He takes three things each day and puts those at the top. From the beginning of the work day — and he only works 9-5, he doesn’t do crazy startup hours — he does nothing else but get those three things done. No meetings, no phone calls, and no e-mails; his day is focused on the moving forward of three items.

Kagan has adopted this method to get stuff done. He simplifies it even further; instead of using Excel, he just puts his tasks inside a text file and focuses on getting three of these important things done everyday.

This is a bit of an extreme example; not everyone has the luxury of working in a silo everyday (although, we could make better uses of our “windows of non-stimulation“). Naturally, as a business leader and manager, Kagan still needs to do phone calls and other urgent tasks. However, this is just a tactic in a grander principle: shift from being reactionary to proactive…and focus on getting the important things done.

  • A Canned Ham

    Wait, so does he answer the phone or not? You say he does nothing by those three things, “No meetings, no phone calls, no e-mails”, but then you say he still needs to do urgent tasks like phone calls. Which is it?

    Picking a couple of things to prioritize each day is just basic time management. Not sure how this is really any different.

    • Brenton

      You have miss read it… He is explaining a method that “his developer does”, Kagan himself has adopted the philosophy behind it more than the strict method:) proactive not reactive, a timely reminder!

  • http://www.richwellman.com/ Rich Wellman

    I keep a spreadsheet too. I am a fan of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Just going through his process of dumping all your tasks into a spreadsheet frees up vast areas of mental space. Not having to keep all this stuff in your mind is golden.

    My spreadsheet has project, next step and notes column. You always need to know what the next step is on the project. That is really the key message David tries to convey. Always know the next step on how to move the project forward.

  • mk_bailey

    I’m seeing more and more the important on concentrating on 1-3 key things per day instead of trying to tackle a long to-do-list. Adds to my productivity and doesn’t overwhelm.

  • http://retrorock.info Wilbur Suero

    I try to divide my time like this, it translates to under promise and over deliver. Being proactive, doing things right, with time to double check …

  • http://positdesign.com/ chrisbean

    This is very similar to a method I’ve been using successfully for years.

    I keep a paper dayplanner, and write in three tasks per weekday. Any additional tasks go on a weekly to-do list, of lower priority than the daily lists. Any new important tasks become one of the 3 items for a subsequent day. I’m flexible on transferring tasks between lists.

    If I have time and energy after completing my three daily items, I can start on the next day’s three, or else pick things off the weekly list, BUT as long as I accomplish the three tasks assigned to the current day, I feel super-productive and don’t HAVE to do any more work.

  • Allison

    Good tactic.

  • Lauren Tighe

    This is very useful. Our company just created a new way to track task through our corporate intranet and we are excited about using it. I like the idea though!

  • Sarah C

    I recently attended a seminar where the speaker also focused on 3 things – but she recommended writing them on a post-it note. At the end of the day you can toss it and start fresh the next day.

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