1 Big Idea to Think About

  • When you can clearly see and prioritize the many things in your life, you can begin to build a rhythm that gives you control and order, allowing you to live a life you design.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Implement the 1-2-3 Method in your life today:
    • 1 essential project that you need to dedicate your peak time to today
    • 2 urgent and essential tasks that must get accomplished
    • 3 maintenance items that you will complete today

1 Question to Ask

  • How clear am I on what my true priorities are?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • The 1-2-3 Method (4:09)
  • Step 1: One essential project (6:02)
  • Step 2: Two tasks that are urgent and essential (7:32)
  • Step 3: Three maintenance items that you need to complete today (9:04)
  • How the 1-2-3 Method will help you live a life you design (10:16)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome back, everybody. I’m your host, Greg McKeown. I’m the author of Essentialism and Effortless, and I am on this journey with you to learn so that we can figure out how to design a life that really matters. Do you ever feel that your life is becoming more and more reactive, even when you get good things done in a day, you still feel like your life is living you rather than you intentionally living your life. Well, in today’s episode, I’m going to share with you the 1-2-3 method. It’s simple, it’s clear, and it’s something that you can utilize today and every day to be able to design a more essential life. Let’s get to it. 

If you are listening to this episode for the first time, I invite you to subscribe to The Greg McKeown Podcast so that you can get new episodes every Tuesday and every Thursday.

Have you ever met someone like Sarah? You might not know her by name, but you’ve met her type. She’s always on the go, juggling projects, tasks, and life’s unexpected curve balls. Her to-do list is endless. Her energy frequently depleted, and the satisfaction from accomplishing things can sometimes be surprisingly low. But imagine, if you will, that she stumbles upon a method, simple on the surface yet profound in its impact. The 1-2-3 method –  a rule of thumb rooted in principles from Essentialism and in the concept of effortless execution. 

Step one, identify that one essential project. It’s the project that aligns with your goals, your passions, and your purpose. This is what you invest a solid three hours on. Of course, it doesn’t have to be exactly that, but that’s the rule of thumb, preferably in the morning when your mental energy is at its peak. This is based on the principle that focused, undistracted work can lead to extraordinary results.

Step two, you identify two tasks that are urgent and essential. These aren’t just any tasks. They’re tasks that might have serious implications if they’re not done today, and by capping it at two, you prevent overwhelm and ensure quality execution. 

Step three, the final step, is about maintenance. Identify three things that help maintain order and effortless execution. It could be doing laundry, paying bills, making your meal plan, having a calendar, or meeting – the maintenance items that, if left undone, make your life far harder than it needs to be. 

Let’s go through each step with a little more context. Step one in the process is identifying your priority for today. Longtime listeners have heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. The word priority has its origins in the Latin word prior, which means first or earliest priority was singular in its use. First recorded in the 14th century, signifying the state or condition of being earlier or proceeding in time, rank, or importance.

The idea was simple. There was one thing that stood out as being the foremost or leading concern. However, as time progressed and the pace of life became more complex, particularly in the modern industrial age, the term evolved to encompass the plural priorities indicating a shift in thinking. Suddenly it became common to speak of having multiple top concerns or tasks reflecting the multifaceted demands of contemporary life. 

This linguistic shift underscores a deeper societal change wherein individuals are frequently torn between 32 things that they think are all the priority. Everything changes in the tone of a day once we have identified the one key mission, the thing that we need to give our most concentrated energy onto and spend those two or three hours of our peak mental abilities invested in. 

This brings us to step two in the 1-2-3 method. This is where we identify two tasks that are essential and urgent. When we neglect the important but urgent tasks, we expose ourselves to a cascade of negative consequences. These tasks, by their very nature, require immediate attention because of their potential impact on our personal or professional lives. Ignoring them can lead to missed opportunities, strained relationships, or compounded problems. Over time, neglecting such tasks can result in crisis management, where we’re constantly putting out fires rather than proactively addressing issues. This reactive approach not only elevates stress levels but also drains our energy, time, and resources. 

Additionally, it can tarnish our reputation, hinder growth, and erode trust among peers or loved ones. By not focusing on the important yet urgent matters, we inadvertently set ourselves on a path of perpetual catch-up, making it difficult to achieve long-term goals or maintain a sense of balance in our lives. I should say that sometimes I have got this wrong. In focusing so much on the things that are essential and not urgent, I have sometimes let the things that are important and urgent build up to a point that I pay a far greater price for what could have been done earlier and easier.

So this takes us to step three in the 1-2-3 method. Identifying three items of maintenance that we’re going to get completely done today. Neglecting the maintenance items of our lives, whether they pertain to our physical health, relationships, or even tangible possessions, can lead to gradual deterioration. Maintenance is, of course, the act of preserving the good and ensuring longevity. By not attending to these regular upkeep tasks, small issues can magnify into significant problems. 

For instance, skipping routine health checkups might result in undetected conditions that could have been addressed earlier. Similarly, not dedicating time to nurture relationships can lead to feelings of distance or misunderstanding. On a tangible level, failing to maintain a car or a home can result in costly repairs down the line. In essence, overlooking maintenance creates a snowball effect. What starts as a minor oversight can accumulate into overwhelming challenges, often demanding more time, energy, and resources than if they had been addressed promptly.

So this is it. The 1-2-3 method: identifying one priority project that you want to invest the early hours of the day to. Two essential but urgent tasks that you want to complete next, and then three items of maintenance that will help your life to run smoothly and as effortlessly as possible. The rhythm of our lives and the weight of our choices hinge on a simple understanding – clarity in prioritization. The history of the word priority reminds us of the value in singularity. I’m focusing on that which is truly paramount. Yet, as the demands of our modern age increase, we often find ourselves juggling the urgent with the essential. This dance, while complex, becomes easier to navigate with the 1, 2, 3 method. 

In summary, the 1 2 3 method is a structured approach to managing our lives with intent and focus. At its core, it emphasizes the importance of prioritizing a single essential project every day, addressing two urgent tasks, and then getting three items of maintenance done so that life moves forward smoothly in a world saturated with distractions and endless to-dos.

This method can guide us to what truly matters by concentrating our energies. In this way, we not only boost productivity but also find at least a little more harmonious balance between urgency and importance. Why does it matter? Because in the race against time, having a clear roadmap ensures we’re investing our hours in endeavors that align with our purpose and goals. To embark on this next step of the journey, begin by seeking clarity on your paramount project for today, identify your top urgent tasks, and pinpoint three specific maintenance items that will help you sustain your rhythm and flow. In doing so, you’re taking the reins, directing your life in order to design a life that really matters. And that’s a theme we’re going to continue in the next episode, which will be my interview with Oliver Berkman, the author of Four Thousand Weeks, a conversation that enhances and deepens this solo episode today. 

What is one thing that stood out to you today? What is one thing you can do immediately to put it into action? And who is somebody that you can share the 1-2-3 method with so that this conversation can continue now that the podcast has come to a close? Thank you. Really, thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.