Focus On This Podcast

123. Hacking the Daily Big 3: 4 Tips to Help You Win



Listing your Daily Big 3 seems so simple. But somehow, it isn’t. You forget. You write them down but don’t follow through. The day doesn’t go according to plan. Having a short to-do list uncompleted leaves you feeling discouraged. How should you move forward?

In this episode, Courtney and Blake tackle four tips for setting yourself up for success. These simple, easily executed tips will equip you to achieve your Daily Big 3 more consistently than ever before—transforming your productivity in the process.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • The power of identifying an Activation Trigger
  • Why the way you write your Daily Big 3 matters
  • The built-in reward you can leverage to achieve your Daily Big 3
  • What makes slowing down so important to moving forward
  • The good news about Verbs’ return


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Episode Transcript

Courtney: I would say, Blake, for me, the last month, in December… It was probably one of the busiest months maybe in my life. I mean, it was up there for me. I’m curious. When you have those seasons, do you have trouble setting or completing your Daily Big 3?

Blake: Right. It reminds me of that one Seinfeld episode where Jerry is at the rental car place. He’s like, “Anyone can take reservations. It’s the holding.” Anyone can just take them. Right? That’s sometimes what it’s like with the Daily Big 3. You can set it, but it’s the doing it that’s the real needle mover.

The short answer to your question is “Absolutely.” There are seasons where it feels like, “Man! I did a Daily Big 3, and I did one out of three.” It kind of feels like it has the opposite effect of what it’s supposed to. I’m supposed to feel like I’m winning. I’m supposed to feel like, “Oh, right! I did this thing.” Instead, I feel like, “I can’t even do my three things. What’s wrong with me?”

Courtney: Yeah. I think we’ve all had those moments. Something in a day happens that’s just unforeseen at the beginning of the day. I think it happens. We’ve said on this podcast over and over you have to have grace for yourself. Blake, you and I to our own selves… We have to have grace in those moments, because, yes, things happen.

But I think there are some tips for how to get back on track when that has happened, how to ensure that, as you set those, you’re setting yourself up to be able to complete your Daily Big 3 successfully and get the most out of the Full Focus Planner, whether you’re just starting out or if you’re long-time users like you and me.

Blake: The Daily Big 3 is foundational. It’s essential. When you’re thrown off from your Daily Big 3, it feels like everything else can begin to crumble. If you’ve been there or if you’re there right now, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. Courtney has been there. Nick, our producer, probably hasn’t been there, because if you’ve listened to our podcast, you know he dials in everything, but just imagine, Nick. Just use your imagination.

You’re not alone, and we’re here to help you. Shake the dust off, brush yourself off, and listen today as we go through four tips to setting and completing your Daily Big 3. Whether you’re a first-timer or a long-timer, you’re going to get some juice out of this episode. So let’s do it.

Courtney: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Courtney Baker, here with Blake Stratton, who, as of this episode, is now literally bouncing around the room as I read the intro.

Blake: I have to quit doing this. It’s not great. I come in, and I’m like, “Hey, everybody.” Once again, Courtney, we are without our dear friend Verbs for this episode. He’s off making our clients’ lives magical, helping them grow and scale their business, but we’re here trying to hold down the fort without him, and we’re talking about the most essential thing: the Daily Big 3 and how you can get better at setting it and following through.

Courtney: The first tip is to pick a time. There is actually disagreement about when your Daily Big 3 should be filled out. Blake, you and I are on opposite sides of the ring, usually, talking about when this should be done. I think the reason is… You need to go with what works best for you, truthfully. Some people do it when they first arrive at work, which would be the wrong way. I’m just kidding. If it works for you, do it as part of your workday startup.

Some people like to set them at the end of the workday for the next day. Some people like to set them before they go to work. Actually, our CEO sets it very first thing in the morning. She drinks a cup of coffee and sets out her Daily Big 3. There are even some people who do it before they go to bed as part of their evening ritual. So, there are a lot of options on when you do your Daily Big 3. The important thing here is to determine “When is the time for me?” and do it consistently.

Blake: Absolutely. If you’ve tried and failed to set a consistent time and it has been a while, you may want to look at a couple of things, the first being…Is there a clear activation trigger? Is there something that is “Oh, once this happens, then I’ll do my Daily Big 3”? If you don’t have one, I would consider that. Make the activation trigger something that’s already automatic in your day. It could be, “Oh, I sit down at my desk, and before I open up my laptop, I’m going to open up my planner and remember, ‘Oh, right! I have to set a Daily Big 3.’”

It could be… You mentioned Megan. Once she sits down with her cup of coffee, that’s kind of the trigger. We may forget to set our Daily Big 3. We’re probably not forgetting to have that cup of coffee. Right? If it has been a thing for a while, you may want to up the ante and make it a habit goal. Actually formalize this habit of setting the Daily Big 3, and that will include an activation trigger, a time, and really bake that in as something that gets your focus and attention this quarter.

Courtney: We actually talked a little bit more about that in a recent episode. Was that two weeks ago, Blake?

Blake: Yeah. Two weeks ago we talked about setting that as a goal, so go back and listen to that if you haven’t heard it.

Courtney: Oh my gosh. Blake, I just had a moment where I realized we’ve done 123 episodes of this show. That would be Episode 121, if you want to go back and check that out. Another really great episode, if you’re wanting to look at making habits stick, is Episode 22, and it’s labeled that exact title: How to Make a Habit Stick. That’s really helpful with setting a habit goal. So, Blake, what about for you? I think the coffee one with Megan is a really great example. Do you have an activation trigger that you use or is it just part of your workday startup?

Blake: It’s actually part of my workday startup. I use an app on my phone that just plays through my workday startup, so that’s the trigger. It’s this automated thing that’s like, “All right. Check my calendar. Check my inbox. Do these things. Oh, set my Daily Big 3.” It just becomes a part of that.

Courtney: I love that. I use something very similar with my workday shutdown. First tip: pick a time that works for you and just be consistent with it.

Blake: The second tip is to start with Verbs. You don’t want to ever engage in any podcast not featuring Verbs Boyer. That’s our second tip.

Courtney: One thousand percent. Yeah.

Blake: Oh, I misread that. It actually says start with a verb. In this instance, we’re talking about how you write your Daily Big 3. This is a huge one for me…huge…in terms of how important I think this is. How you actually write your Big 3 item in your planner makes a difference. It makes a huge difference, Courtney. Do you know why?

Courtney: Yes. I do know why. Why?

Blake: Okay, great. My daughter does the same thing. I’ll be like, “Oh, do you know what this is?” and she’ll say, “Yes.” Then I’ll say, “What does it do?” and she’ll be like, “Um…” And she’ll change the subject. The reason this is so important is clarity. Part of the value of setting a Daily Big 3 is being crystal clear on what you need to actually do. The temptation is you look at, “Oh, I have to…” There’s this project you’re working on, like, “Oh, I’m working on this big marketing project,” so you just write down “Marketing project” as part of your Daily Big 3.

Courtney: It may just be “Black Friday sale.” You know, “I need to work on the Black Friday sale,” which is only mildly helpful, because it doesn’t tell you the action that needs to happen for the Black Friday sale. If you add the verb to that that you have to write the ad copy for the Black Friday sale, all of a sudden… The clarity there of what action you need to take next is so helpful in getting momentum.

Blake: Part of the value of setting a Daily Big 3 is that satisfaction that “I have done what’s most important today.” “Black Friday sale” can’t be completed today. It’s just a category of things. Even if you check the box that you worked on it, you’ll still end your day feeling like, “Boy, did I really get the right things done?” and it defeats the purpose.

Courtney: Well, to that point, you don’t even know. There is no way to know if “Black Friday sale” was completed or not, because there’s no specificity with that.

Blake: So, Nick, our producer’s, Big 3 is “I need to somehow wrangle these two folks to record some podcast episodes today,” so he may write down, “Record podcast #123 somehow with Blake and Courtney.”

Nick: No. I write down “wrangle.” My verb is wrangle.

Blake: Wrangle would be the verb. “Edit 3-1/2 hours of content down to a clean 19 minutes.” That’ll be your Big 3 for tomorrow. Start with a verb, because a verb is an action, and an action is something you can take. You can actually do it, and you can know if you’ve done it. So, be specific and write down your Daily Big 3 with a verb to start.

Courtney: This is one I can easily fall into, especially if I’m kind of rushed as part of my workday shutdown. I try not for that to happen, but it happens. Using that example, I would just write “Podcast.” The next day, usually, what I mean is “I need to record so many episodes of a podcast” or “I need to prepare for certain episodes of the podcast.”

Again, it’s that sense of “Did I actually complete it or not?” because there are a lot of things I could do for this podcast, especially if you’re someone like me who sets your Daily Big 3 the day before. There’s a lot of time that passes between actually setting my Daily Big 3 and getting started on those items, so the more clarity I can have in that Daily Big 3, the more powerful it is for me the next day.

Blake: So, first tip: pick a time. Second tip: start with a verb. The third tip is to track your progress. Courtney, I know you are a big fan of the old check mark. There’s nothing for an Enneagram Three than that ooey-gooey, warm, exciting, comforting feeling of a box that has a check mark in it. So, talk to us about the check mark effect here of the Daily Big 3.

Courtney: This one is really powerful. There are some endorphins I get from checking that off. To that point, guys, I’ve even started checking it off and crossing it out. If you want to double up on…

Blake: You try to double dip on that.

Courtney: “Let me see how much achievement I can feel from these three lines here.” That’s what’s so powerful about the Daily Big 3. There is this reward that’s built in, that you get to check it off, that I don’t think you have when you just have ongoing things in your head that you think, “I have so much to do. I have to figure that out.” By getting the clarity of what those things are and then being able to check it off, that feels really good.

The other thing is you then have clarity on what you need to do next. Once you’ve marked the first thing off, it’s really clear. “Here are these two other things. Which one am I going to go to next?” versus that never-ending to-do list of “Oh, I don’t know what to do next.” Then you get sucked into email or Slack, and then before you know it, the day is over and you’re like, “Oh my gosh! I worked really hard, but I didn’t get anything done.” This third tip of tracking your progress is really powerful.

Blake: When we talk about tracking your progress, obviously, there’s the tracking throughout your day. If you want to improve the whole Daily Big 3 setting, if that’s a challenge for you, track your progress of that as a habit goal. We talked about making setting a Daily Big 3 a habit goal a couple of episodes back. Maybe use the StreakTracker. There’s a StreakTracker in the Full Focus Planner that allows you to track any habit you want.

You may want to use that for your Daily Big 3 and just put an X, put a check mark. For every day that you successfully set your Daily Big 3, check that box. Or every day that you complete your Daily Big 3, check that box. Leverage that. You’ll get to double dip on the momentum of actually having the Daily Big 3 each day momentum, but then the overarching momentum of “I’m becoming a better organizer of my life and planner of my days.”

Courtney: Okay. The fourth tip is pause to debrief. I love this tip so much. There are a lot of times I see in the community where people will say things like, “I’m having a really hard time actually getting my Daily Big 3 done,” and then people will ask, “How long has that been happening?” and they’re like, “Oh, it just seems to happen quite a bit.” I think what happens is if you’re not taking the time to actually look back and determine “What is causing this to happen…?”

We kind of have that process baked in for you if you’re using the Weekly Preview, that time to set aside and look back on what worked, what didn’t, but we don’t explicitly say, “Evaluate your Daily Big 3.” I think this is really important for everybody listening. If you find yourself not completing Daily Big 3s, make that part of your Weekly Preview, or just stop right now. Spend the next 30 minutes thinking through, “What has kept me from getting my Daily Big 3 checked off?” See if you can see any trends with those things.

Maybe it’s because you do it as part of your workday startup and you’re always running late to work, so then when you get to work you feel like, “I just have to jump in. I don’t have time to set my Daily Big 3.” You know what? You’re not going to check them off if you don’t set them. Or maybe it’s because you’re constantly getting interrupted with other people’s requests and you never get time to work on your own work. That happens for a lot of people. The key here is just setting time to think through, “What is causing that? Can I see any trends?” Once you have the clarity around that… It’s probably an easy thing to correct if you can get the clarity.

Blake: That’s key. I have mentioned before using the Notes page to write down where my time actually went during the day. That started because I was in a season where I was struggling to complete my Daily Big 3, and I didn’t know why. By the time I was doing my Weekly Preview, I was trying to remember, “Oh yeah. What happened that day?” I literally just didn’t remember or it wasn’t in my calendar. I started tracking my time.

If you find yourself unclear about why you’re not hitting your Daily Big 3, that’s something you may want to consider. You can use the planner to do that, like I did, in the Notes pages, or there are other time-tracking things you could use, but start writing down… It could just be a journal, just a little journaling you do for a week before you end your day, and just go, “Hey, what actually happened today?” Then review that during your Weekly Preview to provide you that insight.

The self-awareness of where your time and energy is actually going is the beginning of that clarity you need to understand what needs to be adjusted about your practice of setting and achieving your Daily Big 3.

Courtney: One other thing I feel like I hear a lot… People will say, “Every morning I get in, and my boss has X, Y, Z they want me to do differently than I had as part of my Daily Big 3.” Even that… If you can find the trend, then you can say, “Okay. I’m not going to set my Daily Big 3 until I get this information from my boss when I get into work, because it’s really pointless.” The option isn’t to tell your boss, “Oh, no. I have my Daily Big 3 set, so I can’t do the thing you want me to do.” That’s not really an option, but, again, finding that trend and then figuring out the right place to set your Daily Big 3 will really be helpful.

So, you don’t have to fall behind on setting and completing your Daily Big 3. You can get the most out of this tool each day when you pick a time, start with a verb, track your progress, and pause to debrief. Blake, any final thoughts?

Blake: I do. Bonus tip, if you will, is when you’re setting your Daily Big 3, make sure this is something that is under your control, something you can do that does not have built-in or, at least, total dependency on somebody else. It’s kind of related to the starting with a verb, how you write it.

Of course, the thing could involve an activity with somebody else, but make sure it’s something you can do, that you can own. If it’s something that’s sort of, “Oh, well, someone would have to also do something in order for me to complete this,” you’re going to end up with a lot of incomplete Daily Big 3s and a lot of frustration. Does that make sense, Courtney, what I’m trying to communicate?

Courtney: Yeah. Absolutely.

Blake: So, make sure it’s something you can do that you can take ownership of, because otherwise, you’re asking for some chaos. Kind of the additional thought with that is to recognize that this is a practice. That tip I just gave…  You may even struggle with it initially, as you’re writing or tracking your progress or debriefing. All of these things… It takes practice, so don’t expect to go from, “I’m really struggling to set a Daily Big 3” to “I’m batting 1.000, and I never miss a day, and I always achieve it all the time.”

It’s a practice, so allow yourself to experiment and to grow over time and to improve upon the executive function of clarifying what’s most important for your day, determining your own bandwidth… You’re building relationship, as well, with understanding your own energy, use of time, and schedule. That takes time. So, allow yourself that time, hang with it, and I promise it’ll be worth the effort.

Courtney: That’s a great word.

Blake: Y’all, thank you for joining us on Focus on This.

Courtney: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so share it with your friends, and don’t forget to leave us a five-star review on Apple.

Blake: Yep. Five stars. You can write whatever you want, but just make sure those five stars are included. Thank you, sincerely, for listening. We appreciate you. Next week, we’re going to have another great episode, and I think, Courtney…cross my fingers…we will have our man Verbs back with us. Cue the applause, Nick. Yes. You can stay subscribed to this podcast, because Verbs is coming back.

Courtney: Until then…

Both: Stay focused!