Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Three Is A Magic Number For Getting Things Done

Three is a handy number for helping you stay focused on key tasks.Three is a magic number. Well, at least, that’s what they said in the first video short in the Schoolhouse Rock series in the 1970s-1980s.  (A cult classic kid’s show for many of that era.) The song on which the video was based was written by Bob Dorough, a jazz musician, at the request of advertising executive David McCall. Mr. McCall thought it and similar songs would be a good way to help youngsters (including his own son) learn multiplication tables and other educational concepts.

The song was given some artwork, animated, and used to help pitch the show to ABC, which produced it for twelve years.  (I remember it at the time and wasn’t impressed with the song, because I thought the lines about three in a family didn’t fit with the rest of the song or with most of our society. Obviously my critique had no influence!)  Here is the video and you can decide.

Three Items On Your Daily To-Do List

Three is not too many and not too few. Three things can be remembered easily. Three allows for two extremes and a middle ground. Almost anyone can develop three points for a speech or three ideas to present at a meeting. That may be why Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD, suggests writing  three priority things to get accomplished as soon as possible every day.

Dr. Palladino says three is doable and won’t overload your to-do list or your mind. (That’s just a short version–her explanation is better, but that is the concept as I have applied it and it works well even with interruptions.) Her book Your Focus Zone is easy to read and gives you some ideas anyone can use right away to improve effectiveness.  The subtitle is: An Effective New Plan To Defeat Distraction and Overload, and I think it can help with those issues for many of us.

It has several chapters about Attention Deficit Disorder in children and adults. I intended to only skim those chapters, but found them as interesting as the rest. Dr. Palladino, who works with those who have been assessed as having ADD, points out that the name of the disorder is misleading. It’s not that those with ADD give too little attention to the world around them–they are paying attention to an excessive number of things at once. (Many of us have a bit or a  lot of that going on!)

Everyone I’ve met who has read the book has had positive things to say about it. One manager, who bought it for everyone on his staff and discussed it in a staff meeting, said it helped him get control over a few nagging tasks he had stalled on for months. He mentioned the concept of having a three item to-do list, which he said replaced his long-standing forty item to-do list and resulted in all of the forty items finally getting done. 

While not every aspect of the book is easily applied to every reader, a good part of it is useful.  I also didn’t care for calling the key concepts “key chains”. That way of describing them added nothing to the explanations and seemed to be more of a distracting gimmick than anything else.  But, that was a quibble compared to my overall feeling that I could learn some helpful techniques, use them myself and share them.

 If you find yourself going from one task to another, procrastinating on some things and never getting finished with others, consider reading this book and applying it to your work and home life. I found my copy of Your Focus Zone at a Big Lots store for only three dollars. You might want to check there before you pay full price for it elsewhere. Or, get it at a library (we need to support those more, if we want to keep them.)

Put it on your three item to-do list one day this week!

February 14th, 2010 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 6 comments


  1. Excellent column! Obviously you accomplished one of the three things on today’s list. I’m curious what the other two were?
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Comment by Jennifer | February 14, 2010

  2. Tina says:
    1. Article for website.
    2. Email about a project I’m working on.
    3. Hold this time open so I can respond to Jennifer if she comments on the article on the website.

    Whew! I’m glad I saved the time! 🙂

    Comment by TLR | February 14, 2010

  3. Even though I was out of college and already working, I used to watch Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings, so this brought back memories! On my shift a few are old enough to have watched it, a few had children who did, and a few said it was before their time. How depressing!

    I just now got the Zone book for my Kindle and already see I will be able to use it. I think it has some ideas that will help me help a couple of employees who are super bright but who have trouble staying focused. Thanks!

    Comment by P.A,H. | February 15, 2010

  4. I read this book a few months ago and liked it. I’ve been using one of her ideas for not letting myself get distracted when I need to get something done and it works. I agree with you about the keychain idea, which didn’t make sense to me. I think the book is too expensive for what it is, at full price, but I’ll bet Amazon has it cheaper through other bookstores.

    Comment by David R. | February 15, 2010

  5. I wanted to you to know that I finished the book today and really liked it. It’s fairly lightweight reading–and I agree about the keychains! But, overall, I think it’s very interesting. Probably the most helpful question she raised was, “What are you not doing right now?” I used that today to force myself to get up and do a very simple task I’ve been stalling on! I can see this will be good for coaching people too. Thanks for the suggestion. P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | February 16, 2010

  6. Tina says: Thanks to all of you. Thanks Phyllis for reporting back!

    Comment by TLR | February 16, 2010

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