The Productivity "Rule of Three"


The average work day consists of 8 hours that are consumed by a mix of calls, meetings, presentations, and deliverables that leave the best of us exhausted by the time we clock out. Thankfully, there are ways to hack your Monday-Friday routine and end the work week feeling accomplished. To share one of these methods, we spoke to Emilio “Mar” Antonio, an Internal Auditor for a multinational company. Despite his fast-paced and demanding work environment, Mar accomplishes his tasks through the combination of discipline, habits, and the right mindset.

Share your morning routine. How does this set up the rest of your day?

I wake up between 7:30 and 8:0 AM.I drink a cup (or two) of coffee while making a mental checklist of my priorities for the day. It helps me focus on things that would make my day productive. It also helps limit distractions and unnecessary anxiety about other (unimportant) things.

Do you do anything to prepare your mind/body before leaving to work?

Usually this happens the night before. I hit the gym for 45-60 minutes to make sure I go to bed relaxed. Working out helps me release stress and makes me tired enough to fall asleep after taking a shower. On my way to work, I listen to music or podcasts. Harvard Business Review podcasts usually help get me in the zone in terms of getting productivity and management tips at work.

Describe what you do and tell us what a typical day is like.

I'm an internal auditor for a multinational company. It's like a mix of business appraisals and consultancy/advisory. I travel abroad frequently, engage with a lot of senior executives, and work in a fast-paced environment. It's a pretty cool job because you get to see different places, meet different people and experience different cultures. I'm also learning a lot every day both personally and professionally. However, it's very demanding both mentally and physically. Sometimes, it takes a lot of emotional maturity to be able to cope with the stress.

How do you stay productive in this line of work?

I usually do a lot of pre-work (e.g. readings, research, discussions, etc.) before flying out to the audit location so that I'm fully prepared when I'm out on fieldwork. Once I'm in the field, I make a daily checklist of my top 3 things to do to compartmentalize my deliverables based on priority and impact. This helps me making sure I finish all the big ticket items first. Afterwards, I can start doing the "nice to haves" i.e. low priority deliverables.

Where did you learn this approach? What makes it effective for you?

I learned this from a friend who introduced me to the "Rule of Three". This rule states that 1) think about all the things you want to do within a certain time frame; 2) pick out the top 3 items that are most important based on impact/urgency. It really helped make me more productive because I get to do more relevant things in the day. It also makes me feel accomplished because when I get to tick everything off my list, I know I have been productive. If I get to finish all 3 things for the day and I still have time left, it becomes an opportunity for me to be extra productive.

Give 3 daily things/apps that help you stay productive.

  1. A notebook/planner (or Evernote if you want a good note-taking app) - I only learned how important taking down notes are when I started working. This is where I list my top 3 things to do every day as well as some important notes to remember. It helps writing these down and checking them off later on to get that sense of accomplishment when I end my day. It also helps keep my thoughts and priorities organized.
  2. MS Outlook - a highly underrated and underutilized tool in the office. There are a lot of functionalities with their calendars that can actually act as your own personal assistant. You get to map out your day, coordinate meetings, etc.
  3. My phone - Spotify and YouTube keep me sane throughout the day. I cannot work if an environment is too quiet so I usually put on a random playlist in the background to help me stay alert. If it's too quiet, I either get bored or sleepy. I also get to cancel out unnecessary chatter with co-workers so that I can focus more on my work.

How do you end your day?

I go to the gym and work out. Sometimes I have dinner but working out is really my first priority. It's hard to cope with stress without an outlet so physical activity really helps. Watching Netflix before falling asleep also helps me de-stress.

What defines a “productive day”

A productive day is when I make the most out of my 8 hours in the office i.e. doing things with a purpose. If I get to be impactful at work by contributing to specific goals, I can go home feeling productive.

What's your personal advice to people your age who struggle with being productive?

Always set some time aside every day to reflect on what you want to get out of your day. Having that personal time to identify your priorities really helps with setting a productive mindset to carry with you throughout the day.

Lastly, managing stress helps with productivity. Only focus on the things you can control. Everything else is just a distraction and unnecessary stress.