Focus On This Podcast

71. Crash Course: Maximize Your Daily Big 3



It’s so simple, it’s almost elementary. But this one tool can single-handedly cause your days to become more productive and less overwhelming. You’ll be able to accomplish more by doing less. It’s not magic—it’s the Daily Big Three.

The Daily Big Three is the most foundational tool of the Full-Focus Planner. If you don’t know where to start or simply need a refresh, we’ll walk you through what the Daily Big Three is, why it matters, and how to leverage and adapt it throughout your weeks. 

You can stop ending the day feeling dazed with a half-finished to-do list. Narrow your focus and boost your confidence with the power of the Daily Big Three.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Why the Daily Big Three might just help you sleep better
  • The danger of drift—and how the Daily Big Three combats it
  • The power of connecting your annual goals to daily actions
  • How the Pareto Principle applies to your productivity
  • How and when to set your Daily Big Three

Related Episodes

Episode Transcript

Verbs: 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 Verbs, here with Blake Stratton.

Blake: Hey, Verbs! How are you?

Verbs: I’m doing well, Blake. Thank you for asking. How are you doing today?

Blake: I’m doing great. Courtney, how are you doing?

Verbs: Wait. She is still not among us.

Blake: She said something about finally starting her ice cream sundae business where she is trying to do a mail-order ice cream sundae. She said she has cracked the code, so I don’t know, but it’s either that or she just had a baby. I can’t remember which one. One of those I just had a dream about. I’m not sure. My head thinks the sundaes.

Verbs: I’ll probably opt for option B of having a baby.

Blake: It might be that, too, but it’s you and me today, Verbs, but we have a lean, mean, productivity machine of an episode today, so, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll do our best here without Courtney, but I feel good about it, because last week, Verbs, people were talking about that episode. We were saying, “Hey! It’s a new year. Your goals are overwhelming,” and I’m sure your DMs were flooded. Is that safe to say that they were flooded with positive feedback?

Verbs: It’s funny you mentioned that. I actually had to hire an EA just to delegate my inbox to from all of the DMs we received on that episode.

Blake: Oh, my gosh! Here we are. Last week, we talked about how you set a big goal and how you can get started. This week, we’re talking about staying on course. Once you have created some momentum, how do you know you’re staying on course?

Verbs: A lot of that comes down to the strategies you’re using, so we spent years identifying what strategies help make people successful and distilled them down into a single goal-achieving companion to help reach your goals.

Blake: I think I know what you’re talking about here, Verbs, because I have it right here in front of me in gorgeous, luxurious Saddle Brown. You’re talking about the Full Focus Planner!

Verbs: There it is.

Blake: There it is. This is real. Verbs, can we get real? Permission to get real?

Verbs: All right. Let’s go.

Blake: I considered myself a productivity nerd for a number of years before I ever got a Full Focus Planner and really before the Full Focus Planner was invented. I was using a different system, I guess you could call it, but it was largely a digital system, and I was keeping track of a ton of different stuff. I was getting a lot of things done, but I was not necessarily hitting my goals. I was getting a lot of things done but, I’ll just be honest, oftentimes I was not hitting my goals.

What we’re talking about today is the simplest yet most critical tool in the Full Focus Planner. It was so simple that I felt  like it was not going to move the needle for me at all, and I avoided even getting the planner at first because I thought, “This is elementary,” but, folks, even if you did crush it in 2020 it’s always good to get back to the basics and to get back to what is going to move the needle today to get you toward your goals. That’s the strategy we’re talking about. It’s something that has changed my life for the better. Verbs, you said it was right up there with your wedding day and having your kids (learning this strategy). Right?

Verbs: Pretty close, just tucked underneath having children for sure. Actually, Blake, the strategy we’re going to talk about today… This is the one comment I hear continuously when somebody receives a brand new planner for the first time. Just trying to get adjusted to the framework initially could be overwhelming without this strategy.

What we’re going to talk about today is the gateway to success as you make your way into the whole Full Focus Planner system or the whole Full Focus System in general. It’s going to blow your mind. Today, we’re going to take a look at the most important tool in the planner. Drum roll… The Daily Big 3.

Blake: That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s get back to the basics.

Verbs: If we can tap into your productivity nerd brain, Blake, why are we even starting with the Daily Big 3? It seems like there are other parts we could actually dig our teeth into initially, but why would it be the Daily Big 3?

Blake: The Daily Big 3 is the most basic tool but it also has the most impact. It’s very basic, but it also has the most impact. I would say you could use all of the other tools in the planner, but if you didn’t do the Daily Big 3 you still may feel scattered. Consequently, you could do the Daily Big 3 alone for one quarter at the expense of using the other tools and you would still make significant progress toward your goals.

Verbs: I think we’ve mentioned that in the past. Even if you don’t use the Full Focus Planner and you have a block of Post-It notes that you write your Daily Big 3 on, success can still be yours.

Blake: All you have to ask yourself, Verbs, is, “Do I want to write on some random Post-It notes, or do I want to have a beautiful leather-bound executive planner?” It’s up to you. It’s totally up to you, everybody.

Verbs: The choice is yours.

Blake: The choice is yours.

Verbs: I will add this, because we’re making sort of a mini-series on these top tools that are essential to your success when it comes to accomplishing goals. This is just one of those episodes in that series, but today we are covering three reasons and three reasons only that will be essential to your success. The first reason is the Daily Big 3 eliminates overwhelm.

Blake: This is huge. Having an endless to-do list is overwhelming. When I first started using the planner, as I mentioned, I thought the whole Daily Big 3 thing was elementary and not really going to help that much. “The top three things? That’s fine.” What I underestimated was the psychological effect of defining a clear win.

Doing three things alone in a day is not like your goal is magically done after that or there is no more work that could be done tomorrow or something like that, but what I noticed, Verbs, was when I started doing the Daily Big 3 and I checked those things off, I was like, “Maybe I didn’t get everything in the world done, but I got those three done.” I felt more peaceful, and I knew I could safely end my work day.

The other thing that happened, Verbs, was I started sleeping through the night. For me, that was a huge deal with a domino effect on my health and my relationships and my work. Some of you listening have struggled with sleep. You know it’s a huge domino that can effect the rest of your life. I didn’t understand why I was sleeping more, Verbs.

I was like, “I’m just using the planner,” but I started sleeping more, and I think it was because previously I would go to sleep and I would wake up and start thinking about all of the other things on my to-do list, but this is almost a way to reduce the overwhelm, because you limit what today requires to be a success. If I can say, “Yes, I closed the chapter on today,” it helps me sleep, literally.

Verbs: I think a lot of us can attest to the fact that we’re having those days to where you got to the end of the day and it is 5:00 or 6:00 or whatever it is, and you sit still for one moment and can’t recall how you spent the bulk of your day on any specific task or item. It’s just like, “Man! I was here all day long, and I can’t tell you what I did.” That’s just one of those feelings. You don’t get that time back.

To avoid that, I’ll say, even for me coming into the Full Focus System, realizing if I can identify these three tasks today and write them down and keep them visible, that’s going to help me get through the day knowing I’m working toward each of those tasks. At the end of the day, I won’t have that moment of, “Where did the time go? What did I actually accomplish today?” Because I can look down and see. Boom! Boom! Boom! “These three things got done,” and there is no debate about it.

Blake: I love it. What’s the second reason?

Verbs: The second reason is the Daily Big 3 provides a plan for your day, which I might have just alluded to right there in my last comment. It provides a plan for your day.

Blake: I think this is huge, and it goes back to the psychological effects of setting the Daily Big 3, which is without it you’re prone to drift. The other thing is some of you listening did Your Best Year Ever, which is a course we have on goal-setting, and something that is really powerful is when you can set a clear goal or a SMARTER goal, that is invigorating, but here we are moving through January and some of that shine has probably worn off just in the busyness of everyday life.

What’s very meaningful is connecting the dots between those big goals and what is happening today. With the Daily Big 3 you can literally connect those dots. When you have a plan, you go, “At least one of these things is going to move me toward my goal, or all three of these things are my plan today for moving me incrementally closer to my goal.” I don’t know.

I just think that’s empowering to know, “Maybe today was busy and maybe not everything went my way. Maybe people pulled me or I got distracted or whatever else, but I had a plan that was intentional not to just get through the day but to actually get to the life I’m trying to build.”

Verbs: That’s good. It’s funny. It reminds me of a story. One time I was driving from Nashville to Phoenix, Arizona, and I remember hitting the Texas state line in Oklahoma, maybe, and there was a sign that said, “999 miles to El Paso.” This was the largest mile sign I had ever seen in my entire life. Just the fact that I was 1,000 miles not even to my destination but  just to get out of the state of Texas didn’t make my day any brighter nor my drive hopeful at that point, but I’m saying that to say these Big 3s are like mile markers.

Even though I knew there was 1,000 miles between me and El Paso, the fact that I could hit mile markers to really mark the fact that I am in process and I’m getting closer to my destination just helped my brain. Each other mile sign I saw with those numbers getting chopped down just really helped my journey altogether. Think of these Big 3s almost like mile markers. You are on your way somewhere, and as you pass these mile markers, and you’re also making progress to accomplishing whatever they are attached to in your bigger goals.

Blake: There is something powerful about taking time every day to plan your day, because some of you have had job loss, you’ve had relational loss, or… You’ve taken your hits. Maybe 2020 wasn’t a great year. Setting a Daily Big 3 puts you back in the driver’s seat of your own life even if only in a small way.

There is a long-term psychological benefit, I believe, to doing that consistently no matter what comes your way. We say to do the Big 3, Verbs, but really, some days it’s just a Daily Big 1. You look at your calendar, and you just have to say, “It’s one or two,” but you’re taking time to set that intention to say, “I am powerfully moving toward my goals today, and here are three reasons why. One. Two. Three.”

Verbs: The third reason is the Daily Big 3 helps you get the right stuff done. This is more than just our opening slogan here, but it’s important that we focus on getting the right stuff done, because the Daily Big 3 really forces you to narrow your focus to the most important work.

Blake: For sure. So often, I think, we can feel really important by the sheer number of activities we do, and I would say that maximizing the amount of activities you can do is, at a certain point, just not good enough. Maybe you’ve reached that point by coming to this podcast. “I’m trying to hack my way to get more stuff done.”

We train hundreds of leaders. Probably more than that, but I know at least personally in some of our programs we have trained hundreds of leaders, even more through team training, and this is one of the biggest game-changers for folks if they want to ascend in leadership. If they really want to see their company grow, or maybe they’re in middle management and they want to make more money or see their teams grow, or maybe they’re just in an entry-level position but they want to figure out how they can get ahead. It starts with this thinking.

We are not unaware that setting a Big 3 and saying, “Just do three things today,” is not hard, because you probably have 15 things to do. The skill you’re developing, though, is the skill of knowing what the 20 percent is that drives the 80 percent (the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule). The best leaders in the world are that way because they’ve mastered that. They figured out. They’re not just getting a million more things done than everybody. They’re just dialing in again and again and again. Not everything is created equal. Not every task is created equal. What are the 20 percent of tasks that are going to move the 80 percent?

Verbs: Yeah. I think even as we interact with some of our Business Accelerator clients… Blake, you mentioned the trainings you normally do. There is always this question of not only goals, but, “What in my Daily Big 3 should I be identifying?” Is it just business-related goals? Is it personal things they should add to those lists?

I think in order to achieve the double win you have to be able to win at work and succeed at life, so you need to be doing your highest level at your work, which you just mentioned, but if you’re focusing on succeeding at life and creating boundaries around your work without identifying your most important work, your performance will suffer, but also at risk is your personal life, your at-home life, whether you have a spouse and children and those sorts of things, because there’s not a focus to it.

You know if you’re accomplishing what you need to accomplish at work and you’re being diligent with setting those tasks, that way you know they’re done, and that gives you the bandwidth and the space to be able to go home and be present with the relationships you’re also trying to nurture and cultivate there as well, therefore securing the double win for yourself.

Blake: Exactly! Verbs is talking about leverage. You’re really talking about, “What are things that if I were to own them and crush them today are going to make the other areas of my life or other areas of my work easier, unnecessary, simpler, or requiring less resistance?” Verbs, let’s say, for instance, you’re going to set a Daily Big 3 and they’re all going to be work-related maybe today, but it’s not because your family life isn’t important today.

In fact, you’ve set your work Daily Big 3 in a specific way so that you can unplug at 3:00 p.m. today to be with your kids or whatever the case may be. To put a finer point on this for people, especially those who have been practicing this for a while, some days I’ll have meetings. Like today is a great example of this.

I have a Daily 1 today because most of my day is with meetings. It’s important that we record the podcast today. Nick made sure that we knew that, but it wasn’t in my Daily Big 3, and the reason was because it was in my calendar. There really wasn’t any resistance to it, and there is nothing that I specifically needed to own. “Perform podcast recording.” That doesn’t really move the needle in my life today because it’s just a meeting that’s going to happen.

Similarly, I had multiple calls with our clients today that were already scheduled, but there was one big project today that is for a promotion that is upcoming for us that a team of people are actually waiting for me to review and to make adjustments toward, and I have a very finite amount of time in my workday today to spend on anything because of all of the meetings I have. If I don’t use that to execute on that project and get it done, guess what I’m going to be thinking about all night long when I’m supposed to be with my family.

Verbs: That project.

Blake: Exactly. To put a finer point on it, I make my Daily Big 3 each day about the things that will probably have some resistance, or if I don’t have my eyes on that thing they won’t happen and there will be dire consequences either in my personal life or in my work life. That’s a practice. It is part of discerning what really is important for me to own today, so I would encourage you if you’re listening, to don’t make a Daily Big 3 something you can’t own or that someone could cancel, because then it’s like…

If it’s just a meeting… There are different schools of thought on that. I think Michael sometimes will put “Deliver Webinar” if he’s doing a webinar, but for me, that’s how I operate, Verbs. I would rather just have a Daily Big 1 if there is just one thing I could own. Are you that way? You are someone who is interesting to me. You have a ton going on all of the time, and there are a lot of projects you’re designing for and editing. I’m curious how you approach this day to day.

Verbs: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think really what you just mentioned is, “What are the highest leverage activities I can be doing in my day?” As you mentioned also, sometimes it’s one or two large things that are going to consume or take up all day to be able to actually accomplish. If we’re running one of our Business Accelerator intensives, that’s an all-day event.

If I’m onsite, I really don’t have a whole lot of flexibility to do other things just because we’re managing the production there, but that just becomes the one, and the mental note there is being okay with that, because it’s a high-leverage activity. I know I have other things that are going on that week, but I can’t get to them on that day, and it’s better for me to have my focus narrowed down to making sure that happens and it happens well.

Now, when I’m not onsite and there are, like you mentioned, multiple projects going, I need to just determine what the highest leverage activity is that I can do that is going to help move everything else forward. The other smaller items could go on a task list, but it’s not necessarily qualified as a Big 3 for that day. That’s kind of how I think about it.

Blake: It sounds like for you urgency is definitely a factor. If it’s Business Accelerator, “This is either going to happen today or it’s not. This needs my full attention over other stuff.”

Verbs: Right. Exactly.

Blake: Maybe that’s how you’re discerning leverage. I think if you are managing a bunch of little tasks… It may not be little tasks but a bunch of projects where you have multiple things where it feels like they are all important… I don’t know if you have any insight on this, Verbs, but I think part of that may be if you’re struggling to get into a strong Daily Big 3 rhythm, I think referencing the Ideal Week as a tool could be helpful, because then you’re sort of going, “Well, on Mondays my focus is going to be X.” Have you ever done things like that?

Verbs: I want the answer to that question to be, “Yes,” but not really, only because I guess my work would categorize more to the creative production side of things, so often that happens in a collaborative workspace as well, so it’s sometimes hard to identify… Again, this is an Ideal Week, so it could go like this sometimes, but it could often get sidetracked because of…

Again, we have a hard deadline of, “This day, this has to happen, among other things that need to happen.” In a collaborative workspace sometimes that shifts a little bit, because often I’m waiting on something from another department or another department is waiting on something from me, so it gets a little bit trickier on how to juggle that, but when we’re in a non-busy, non-deadline type of season, I think it is more probable to fall back to the Ideal Week situation to get as close to that as I possibly can.

Blake: Yeah. I think if you are doing creative work, it’s definitely good to… Sometimes it’s going to be collaborative, so should that be my Daily Big 3? I can’t totally control that. I think if you can find in your Ideal Week either times where you can have some deep work… I know you do this, Verbs, even if it maybe didn’t line up the same way every week. I see in Slack you’ll have the headphones. “All right! I’m going deep. Doing some deep work,” like, “Don’t talk to me.”

Verbs: Again, that’s an effort to eliminate some distraction, because if I know stuff is going on, I want to be in the middle of it. Often that’s just for myself to say, “I’m not even going to respond or look at Slack,” just so I can get back into a space to where I can think about what I’m going to do and actually start implementing the work I need to do for that day. Yeah. Sometimes that just has to happen, and it’s just to help me focus a little bit more.

Blake: One question that comes up for me a lot, Verbs, with the Daily Big 3 is, “When should I set my Daily Big 3?” Another one is, “Can I change my Daily Big 3?” I think what people are trying to accomplish and what’s behind that is, “I struggle to create consistency with my days, and I often feel like my day is designing me and not the other way around,” so I recommend this habit.

Whatever works for you works for you, but since you’re asking me, and by you I mean I’m basically asking myself, I’ll tell you what I do. I will sketch tomorrow’s Daily Big 3 today. The other thing that helps me disconnect from work and embrace rest is determining what tomorrow’s priorities ought to be, so I will sketch tomorrow’s Daily Big 3, and I say sketch intentionally, Verbs, because we work in an industry and on a team where stuff can change even sometimes overnight.

A client emails or somebody schedules a call or whatever else, so what I will do in my workday startup the next day is I will process my inboxes, look at Slack, look at the calendar, and then I’ll recommit to my Daily Big 3. I’ll adjust it or I will keep it the same as what I had sketched the day before, but I will allow…

It just helps me to have a sense of what my priorities are for tomorrow. That just helps me. “Here’s what tomorrow is going to look like. I know what to focus on.” Then, when I get there in the morning, I’ve slept on it, and I’m like, “Maybe I have to change that,” or… This happens a lot, Verbs. I’ll look at my calendar and go, “I don’t have time to do that!”

Verbs: “It’s not going to happen.” You’re actually recommitting on the day of that you set the Daily Big 3. Kind of like you get a good sleep in and then wake up and recommit.

Blake: Yeah. When it comes to changing your Daily Big 3, I think the biggest point is to stay in the driver’s seat of your life. Either cancel the meeting and communicate with the team member or with the client or change your Daily Big 3 but don’t ever say, “I just don’t have the time,” or don’t ever say, “I just couldn’t do it.” That’s not true. You who are listening, I’m pep-talking myself here as well.

You know in Spiderman they say, “With great power comes great responsibility,” Verbs. The opposite is true which is, “With great responsibility comes great power.” It’s the same thing with the Daily Big 3. If you take ownership and if you have to recommit or if you have to adjust, just keep taking ownership of your day. You will be more powerful designing your future.

Verbs: One thing really quickly that helps me is I do my weekly preview. Again, if it’s a project that I know is due by Friday, then I know what it takes to build that project and I’m sprinkling elements of that in throughout my days so I know I’m hitting a significant part of that on a certain day.

Blake: That’s really smart.

Verbs: That gives me a little bit of bandwidth and wiggle room if I’m accomplishing some of those tasks throughout the week before Friday, so that Weekly Preview process really helps me set those Big 3s throughout the week.

Blake: I love that. That’s really smart. Do a Weekly Preview. Then, you can kind of have a sketch of, “What is this going to look like? Can I accomplish that?” I love it. Let’s do a quick review, Verbs, for the people if they got lost in this episode. The Big 3 is so important. Give us a rundown of those three big reasons.

Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to be swept away by your day. With these three reasons you’ll see success in your Daily Big 3. The first reason is when you set your Daily Big 3 you’ll boost your productivity by eliminating overwhelm. The second reason is starting your day with a plan. The third reason is getting the right stuff done.

Blake: I love it. I love it.

Verbs: Any final thoughts, Blake, for our Focus on This listeners?

Blake: It’s very, very simple. We’re going back to basics. Keep a Daily Big 3. Write it down. That’s my final thought. Just ask yourself, “What is my Daily Big 3 today?” If it’s possible… I know some of you are at the gym and some of you are driving, but try to reduce the time between hearing these concepts and taking action. As soon as you can, jot down in your planner or on your husband’s forehead your Daily Big 3 for today. Keep them visible, and it’s going to help shape your day.

Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This.

Blake: This is, Verbs… People are saying this on the street. I hear this. People are talking about it. They say it’s the most productive podcast on the Internet. They’re flooding your DMs right now, so please share it with your friends, people. Who needs a Daily Big 3? Let them know. Use #focusonthispodcast.

Verbs: We will be here, once again, with another great episode next week. Until then…

Blake & Verbs: Stay focused.