Three Reasons I Love the Rule of Three

The “rule of three” has long been a favorite of storytellers, writers and public speakers.

The rule is based on the premise that three things clustered together are often more effective than things grouped in other numbers.

In childhood we heard stories about three mice, three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, three musketeers and three stooges. In school we studied the three branches of government. We read drama structured in three acts. Many of us learned how the rule of thirds helps compose an interesting photograph.

Today, as a working professional, I love the rule of three for these three reasons:

  1. I can focus. In a cluttered world, the ability to focus and prioritize has become rare. I can always clarify my thinking when I brainstorm ideas, make a lengthy list of options and then select the three most important items on the list.
  2. I can organize. For complex projects, I often identify three main categories around which I can create additional structure. For each of the three priorities, I create a hierarchy of related tasks. The structure of the resulting action plan looks similar to those outlines we developed in high school English class to map an essay.
  3. I can remember. When speaking in public, I can readily recall three major topics without relying upon written notes. When being interviewed by the news media, I can remember to stay on message when I have three key points to make. When meeting an important business contact, conversation flows more naturally when I focus on three discussion topics.
I have found countless ways to apply the rule of three, but these three are especially relevant:
  1. Annual goal setting. To focus my high-level planning, I like to ask myself these questions: In looking back on the past year, what are three achievements that make me most proud? During the coming year, what are the three most important things I want to accomplish? What three criteria would best describe the successful achievement of each goal?
  2. Monthly project planning. Important questions I ask myself are: This month, what are the three projects that are most important but not urgent? Who are three people who can best help or advise on each project? What are the three next actions that will move the project forward?
  3. Daily to-do list. Three questions I like to ask each morning are: What are the three most important things that deserve my full attention right now? Who are three people I want to connect with in the near future? What are three ways I can recharge my batteries and renew my spirit so I can be even more productive?
Those are my thoughts, so now it’s your turn. How have you used the rule of three? What tips can you share with others? How might you use the rule of three more effectively?
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