CTO Compass

3+1 = Infinity

What if you could go into your next day feeling more prepared and less anxious?

Imagine starting work with your flywheel already spun up, ready to let go and hit the day running with the most important and impactful things you need to do.

The 3+1 Technique

Over the years, I’ve tried many task-setting frameworks with mixed success. Mostly, the success (or not) was down to me. I either wasn’t consistent enough in using them, sometimes because they were too complex or because I didn’t prioritise the right things and got disillusioned with my lack of progress. I was often busy but not productive.

The 3+1 technique is the simple framework that I now use.


It consists of two simple steps and two critical questions you must ask yourself.

Question 1. What are the three most important things I need to get done tomorrow?

Build a list of the three most important tasks you must do. They should be important, not just urgent, ambitious, yet realistic. They should typically be the next actions of the most important projects you’re working on that must be completed.

Question 2. What is the single most important task I must get done?

This is the single most important task or conversation you must have tomorrow. This is the One Thing that must get done if it’s the only thing you achieve.

When you see it laid out like this, you might feel it’s almost anti-climactic, but the real power comes from its simplicity. Simple things are easier to become habits and execute consistently, especially when you don’t feel like it.

Why it works

According to Dr Jason Selk and Tom Bartow, the authors of the book Organize Tomorrow Today, from which this technique originates, there are two key elements. One is that it works within your brain’s channel capacity. Our brains didn’t evolve to hold many things in our heads at once or remember long sequences. Think about how we remember long phone numbers: We chunk them down into shorter sequences. Limiting our tasks in this way lets us measure them out in small doses that don’t feel overwhelming.

And two, it leverages the Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains don’t like open loops, i.e. unfinished tasks that we have to remember to come back to. However, by putting open tasks into a trusted system, we trick our brains into not needing to worry about them.

By setting out our plan for tomorrow today, there’s also one further benefit. We prime our brain so it starts to prepare for the activities subconsciously. You might find that you have better ideas because your brain has been quietly working on these future tasks in the background.

Timing matters

In case it’s not evident, I’ll say it explicitly: the key point is that you’re making the plan the day before – not in the morning when you start your day.

It needn’t take more than about 5 minutes or so. Do this toward the end of the day. But not at the very end. According to the authors, the sweet spot of their thousands of clients suggests doing the activity between 12 pm and 3 pm. Why? Because you generally should be getting the number one most important thing done early in your day, and you may well have completed the second and third priorities, too, so you’ll have a good sense of what should happen tomorrow.

Don’t take a zero

When you become skilled at prioritising like this, you’ll find that the most important tasks typically only need two to three hours of focused attention. This leaves the rest of your working day to take care of the urgent but not important tasks.

Emergencies tend not to crop up until mid-to-late morning, so getting into the habit of doing the most important things first means it’ll leave you feeling more able to tackle the inevitable fires that crop up.

It’s critical that this process becomes a habit, though. That’s the real goal here. It needs to work so that you can do it daily without feeling tortured.

It’s inevitable that real life will step in and find ways to derail your best-laid plans. It will be tempting to delay your chosen important tasks for these suddenly urgent things. Don’t take a zero, though. Commit to spending at least one minute on the important task you decided on. This will help you continue to reinforce the prioritisation skills you’re developing. As Jason Selk said, “Taking a zero on your most important tasks is the equivalent of a professional athlete losing a game by forfeit”.

So take 5 minutes now and set yours for tomorrow and take control of your life.

3 Most Important:




1 Must:


⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

The most valuable employees don’t just get caught up in the necessary day-to-day execution of the tasks in their roles. They look at the bigger picture and understand where they can make their biggest contributions beyond the basic role expectations. Then, they execute those things before dealing with the day-to-day.

Try imagining what your life might look like in 5 years if you took the few minutes to establish these priorities every single day and then nailed them 90% of the time. Really see and feel into it.

Now, imagine your life in 5 years if you don’t take the time to establish your priorities every day and/or you fail to execute them 90% of the time.

Use your Thinking Time to take stock of where you are right now and where you want to be. Get clarity on the biggest goals in your life and write them down so you can keep them top of mind as you make your 3+1 list every day to make progress on the most important things you can do tomorrow to make progress and make them a reality.