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The "Top 3" Strategy


I’m about to let you in on a little secret.


It’s going to make life SO much easier and simpler and I know you’ll find it helpful.


First, the back story…


Let’s go waaaay back to the dark ages before the internet, electronic planners and cell phones….back when I was a fresh, young junior officer in the United States Navy.


One of the first leadership tips I received was to get in the habit of keeping a “wheel book.” A “wheel book” was a tiny pocket-sized green book that said “notes” on the front. All the guys carried a “wheel book” with them all the time, and it fit neatly in their front shirt pocket. They would whip this little book out in meetings, while walking around the aircraft hangar, after discussing something important with their Leading Chief Petty Officer.


What these well-meaning gentlemen didn’t realize was that these little pocket-sized books (which fit perfectly in their shirt pocket) did NOT fit well in the women’s uniform pocket.


I never did carry one of those little books around, but I did develop the habit of maintaining a running “to-do” list in a larger notebook. It served well as both a to-do list and a journal of what I was doing every day. When I’d finish a job or a task I’d flip back to that page of my notebook and make a note of it: check it off, draw a line through it, put the date completed, and so on.


Yes! What satisfaction!


In my mind, I had “arrived!” I was a Naval Officer – so efficient, so “on top of it” and developing into quite the administrative whiz! (Which, by the way, does not make you a good leader, but that’s a topic for another day.)


This running to-do list method worked great – in the beginning.


Can you relate to this?


I’d be willing to bet that at some point you have found yourself buried in sticky notes or to-do lists scattered around your desk. You may even have two separate lists: your “home list” and your “work list.” I know many people who work by the “stack” or “box” system….separate stacks of paper (today it's email and paper) organized by subject, project or urgency. Then there’s the good old “in box” system where stuff keeps getting rotated down to the bottom of the box and forgotten about while other newer assignments take priority. Then there is the “in box/out box/hold box” system….and the hold box always “held” more than the other two!


These days, these same basic personal organizational “systems” apply to the barrage of email coming at you every day, too!


True confession! I tried all these different systems with varying degrees of success. “Success” was based on whether I got called into the boss’ office and questioned about the status of “such and such” project. All too often I’d have to get out my proverbial tap shoes and dance around why I’d missed the due date.


Well, I was not a very good tap dancer, and the path to the boss’ office was getting pretty well worn.


Then one day the clouds parted, angels sang and I finally figured it out!


The key to getting things done, meeting deadlines, and keeping my sanity was to select the top three items that had to get done each day. If nothing else was accomplished but these three things, then it would be a successful day!


It took some practice to get good at this. The top three things weren’t always obvious. At first, when I would try to pare it down to the “absolutely must get these done today”, there would be about 10-15 things on my list! And that was on a good day!


However, I stuck with it over time and pretty soon, it got easier and easier and life become much more manageable.


I carried this habit with me into my later years as a Naval Officer and beyond.

  • It served me incredibly well during the process of producing our dossier to adopt our daughter from China.

  • I always used “Top 3” while homeschooling.

  • It was essential when I was part of a team starting up a new charter school and getting all those processes in place and streamlined.

  • And as an entrepreneur, it’s more important than ever since I’m responsible for each and every part of my business.


I know the concept of “Top 3” will be as helpful for you as it’s been for me whatever your role and your level of responsibility. I realize that there is much more to this overall topic of productivity, efficiency, managing work and life priorities than the seemingly simple idea of picking your “T3” to-dos each day. However, this is an absolutely essential skill.


Start practicing “Top 3” today! Practice. Like any new skill, it does take practice. Don’t give up! You will find that over time your most important top three things will begin to emerge naturally each day.

© 2019 by Edi Sowers Group, L.L.C.

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