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How the Rule of Thirds can help boost your productivity

Posted by Deepshikha Shukla

April 21, 2022

During the workday, do you often feel like a juggler trying to keep too many balls in the air? The “Rule of Thirds” principle of productivity aims to help people overcome that sense of overwhelm and regain control over how they spend their time and energy at work. 

The Rule of Thirds proposes people divide their workday into equal amounts of time among individuals who are more knowledgeable, individuals who are like-minded and individuals whom they are mentoring. This approach confers a balance among giving, which is achieved by providing knowledge to mentees; taking, which is achieved by learning from people who know more; and reinforcing shared goals, achieved by spending time with people who have a similar mindset.

In a nutshell, the Rule of Thirds is a method of organizing your work hours in a way that brings satisfaction and an ongoing sense of purpose. In addition to restoring balance to your workday, devotees say it helps them rise above the grind of daily distractions and avoid burnout.

Hours worked versus productivity



Working from home has been a challenge for everyone over the past two years, particularly those who also had to manage additional family caretaking responsibilities with schools and daycares shuttered. To find balance in an era where work from home is prevalent, mental health experts say it is important to separate the blocks of time allocated to work and off-duty.

Along that same vein, a further application of the Rule of Thirds maintains that people should aim to divide their 24-hour days into three parts: eight hours each of work, free time and sleep. This may seem like an antiquated notion in an era where workaholism and busyness are seen as signs of virtue. 

However, hours worked doesn’t necessarily correlate with productivity, with industry data showing that the typical American worker produces output at an average rate of 3 of every 8 hours worked. And research from Stanford economics professor John Pencaval finds that increasing the number of work hours over a certain level actually can reduce productivity.

We can all agree that working long hours takes its toll. Humans need regular breaks and downtime after stints of prolonged focus, especially when it comes to using electronic devices. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the average adult needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep nightly.

If you’re not ready to apply the Rule of Thirds to your entire day, consider implementing it only at work. Your goal is to focus more on outcomes as opposed to activities.

Giving the Rule of Thirds a workday trial run



When you’ve had one too many workdays that felt like they were lost to busywork, it could be an opportune time to try the Rule of Thirds. Focus on attaining more meaningful outcomes in your workday by categorizing your to-do list according to the three intentions: giving, taking and sharing. 

By becoming more intentional about how you channel your time and attention at work, you gain more clarity as to what you are striving for. Breaking things down into the three pillars allows you to focus your efforts on results that are more meaningful to you, rather than rushing through your to-do list as fast as you can.

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