How to 4x your productivity without burning out (The 3-3-3 Method)


The book I’ve gifted most often is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (pictured above). His 3-3-3 Method is one of my favorite productivity tools.

What to do

Win your day with 3 hours of deep focus on your most important project, 3 shorter tasks, and 3 maintenance activities.

Why it works

The first “3” is about spending three hours of deep work each day on your most important project. According to research by McKinsey, 90 minutes of deep work doubles your overall productivity. 180 minutes, it turns out, quadruples it. In other words, you’ll 4x your daily output in just three hours! And three hours is also the limit of deep work most of us can do in a day. So get these in and you’ll be golden.

The second “3” is about timeboxing three shorter tasks. Doing so allows you to avoid multitasking (aka rapid task switching), which is vital to accomplish more with less stress. The reason: it can take 23 minutes to refocus after task switching. This decreases productivity by 50%, so work will take twice as long. Lastly, multitasking sends your stress levels through the roof. Bad idea.

The third “3” is about planning three maintenance activities. These are things in other life areas, notably health and relationships. Maintenance activities require daily attention to keep life running smoothly, and health and relationships are the biggies. Your body is a house you live in for 80+ years (or Four Thousand Weeks). Your relationships make (or break) your happiness, according to Harvard’s 85-year study. So choose wisely.

How to do it

1. Spend 3 hours a day on your #1 thing. To do so, put two 90-minute sessions on your calendar. Time it when your motivation and focus peak, which happens about 30 minutes, 3 hours or 11 hours after waking. For 75% of us, that’s in the morning. If you’re a night owl, do it later in the day. To go pro on focusing deeply, here’s our process for cultivating “Ultrafocus” in three simple steps.

2. Timebox 3 shorter tasks. Put three shorter tasks into your calendar, notably urgent meetings and email. If there are appointments with others on your calendar, you’re already timeboxing your meetings. Congrats! Yet, don’t stop there. Timebox some three daily email sessions – and turn email off in between to avoid multitasking. To learn more about how exactly I timebox email, check out my 3-2-1 Method here.

3. Plan 3 maintenance activities. Make time for three things to maintain your health and relationships. Go to the gym. Get in that run. When there’s no time, take a brisk walk. Get lunch with a loved one. Have coffee with a friend. Short on time? Give ‘em a call. To learn more about improving your relationships, check out this article on the seven social fitness keystones proposed by Prof. Robert Waldinger, the director of Harvard’s 85-year study on happiness.

Productivity isn’t about squeezing in more things, but about doing the right things. The 3-3-3 Method is one of the best ways to pull this off without burning out. Give it a try to win your days with less stress.