3 MITs: How to choose your top tasks

posted in: productivity | 3

When I’ve written about my daily index card to-do list or when I’ve taught my life productivity principles and practices, I’ve brought up the idea of having 3 MITs – 3 Most Important Things – for each day.

I didn’t come up with this practice myself, but I did encounter it in several sources over the years and adopted it myself because it seemed like a prime example of a tactic that allows us to roll with the punches of real life at home rather than get caught in an complex scheme of quickly-outdated plans.

What we plan to do even a month out can quickly be negated because our lives are not our own orchestration. We’re living lives of service to others, and that means we need to be nimble and adaptable and cheerful in the midst of unexpected change.

If, each day, we choose only 3 Most Important Things, we get 3 benefits that long to do lists or elaborate planning systems can’t offer:

  1. Flexibility. Every day, we can take stock of our family’s needs, our energy, our most pressing obligations, and use our to-do list to put first things first. Some days that might mean project tasks, some days it means completing the homeschool day and that’s all, and some days it means dealing with an emergency. Every day, we evaluate and make the best intentional choices we can.
  2. Manageability. When we’re working to increase our effectiveness, it’s important to see progress rather than failure. Too often, we see all we didn’t do in a day and focus on that, bringing our attitude and energy down. When we complete “everything” on our list, we must also see that we did what needed to be done and must also call it a good day – sometimes we do need that reminder.
  3. Realism. The limit of 3 reminds us of our finitude. We cannot do all we want to do. We need a to-do list, not a want-to-do list. Choosing 3 tasks forces us to prioritize and focus on what needs to be done rather than what we wish we could do.

So, what sorts of things make it on to this top 3 list?

Aren’t there so many more things than 3 to do each day? 

Yes. There are.

That’s why I get questions like this, often:

Mystie, I really struggle with 3 MITs. Read my Bible, homeschool, and tidy up are always the recurring three. Embarrassing but true, after 9 years of homeschooling, each still has to be written down daily so I make sure it gets done each day. Should I bump up to 6 MIT, to make room for 3 important tasks, or just have 2 separate MIT lists?

Never fear. I’ve tried all those options.

And, in the end, I find that 3 MITs remains the best option. However, there are misconceptions to clear up, mistakes to avoid, and methods to choose from.

MITs. Aren’t there so many more things than 3 to do each day? 

Yes. There are. But choose your top 3 anyway.

3 MIT Misconceptions

First, our MITs are the Most Important Things, not all the things. Yes, the laundry has to be folded and the meals made, but only rarely are those the most important tasks we have to do (some days, however, they are).

Generally, the MITs are the tasks above and beyond the typical daily routines. We have more to do than make beds and mop floors. Housework should be tracked with a routine plan. The MIT list is the way to track project progress or random task completion that falls outside the normal flow.

Second, MITs are not always grandiose goals. Our MIT list is supposed to keep us grounded in fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities.

What must be done, yet will be procrastinated? Sometimes it’s a big task for a project, and sometimes it’s as simple as making a call to schedule dental appointments.

Third, MITs aren’t always the most important thing. Parenting our children, reading the Scripture, praying – investing in our relationships with God and others – these are what truly matter. Scheduling dental appointments, cleaning out a closet, or finishing a sewing project might pale in a priority comparison.

The MITs aren’t specifically our highest priorities themselves; they are the top choices from our ever-growing, rambling to-do lists. An MIT to-do list stops us from feeling like everything on our to-do list needs to be done now, points us to what does need to be done, and allows us to be done – with our to-do list progress – when those items are accomplished.

So, choosing 3 most important tasks for the day off your to do list is a way to keep your to do list from consuming your attention or emotions all day long. Keep it short and sweet and taste success.

MIT stands for Most Important Thing. Choose 3 each day.

3 MIT Mistakes

One mistake that’s easy to make is to list a project goal instead of a task. A task should take around 15 minutes or less to complete. If it would take longer, it likely could be – and should be – broken up into more manageable chunks.

Yes, that means less progress overall, but it also means you might actually check items off your list instead of avoiding them altogether because each one is too daunting.

Another frequent mistake is to mix up project tasks and routine tasks. If the task is something that needs to be done every week or more often, it needs to be part of a routine plan, not a task list. MIT tasks are one-off things that need to be done, extras above and beyond survival mode. Homeschool tasks should be broken down into the most important 1-2 blocks that day – in and of itself, it’s too vague.

Finally, a common mistake is to assume that because using a 3 MIT list works for many mothers, it should work for you and something is wrong with you if you can’t do it. If you’re in a survival season, your MITs will be the basics that should be in a routine. If you don’t have a routine plan, you need to create one and practice it as a project first – not add further extras to your plate. There will be other seasons in life, but it’s healthy to recognize when you’re in a season that doesn’t allow you much extra bandwidth.

Whatever your season or your responsibilities, however, the most important mistake to avoid is that of biting off more than you can chew. Make those top 3 tasks actually doable in a day. The point of limiting ourselves to 3 is so that we have a chance of actually crossing things off our list and even completing the list. Don’t defeat that purpose by adding something like

  • paint the living room
  • reorganize the garage
  • go shoe shopping with the kids

That might be a list of three, but each item is huge!

A good rule of thumb is to keep each line item at a 15 minute time estimate.

3 MIT Methods

The first option for using an MIT list is the straight-up version. Look over your to-do lists, choose 3, write them down, do them as early in the day as your schedule (or time budget) allows.

The second option is to choose 3 MITs for different chunks of your day. Divide the day into no more than 3 chunks – for example: morning, afternoon, evening – and choose 3 things to prioritize in each chunk. When your time block begins, do your top three things first before filling in with the lesser, mundane tasks.

The third option is to choose 3 MITs for up to 3 different roles each day – for example: homeschool teacher, gardener, and homemaker – then decide on the priorities for each area of responsibility each day.

If you use a method that allows you to choose more than 3 tasks, however, you must be careful that those tasks are very bite-sized. Ideally, being able to cross each item off your list should take you no more than 15 minutes.

Ideally, being able to cross each MIT on your list should take you no more than 15 minutes.

How to Successfully Apply the 3 MIT Method at Home

First, you need to have a solid plan in place for the non-negotiable, mundane, daily and weekly tasks that are inherent to running a home. Before you can add more to your plate, the essentials must be covered. MITs are for above-and-beyond the bare minimums of the house. If this is the area you need help with, check out Sweep & Smile.

Second, if you have too many projects in motion and don’t know how to track what needs to be done when or where, check out Work the Plan. In this self-paced course, I show you how to track the details and stay (mostly) on top of your obligations and responsibilities sanely.

Finally, if you’re in survival mode right now, try keeping a daily index card, but without any top MITs. In fact, use half the card or the back half to copy out a mindset-orienting quote or encouraging Bible verse to help you keep your heart centered in the midst of the crazy chaos. Then, write what you did do on your card as you go through the day instead of starting off with a card of what you hope you might do. Give yourself the credit for meeting emergency needs, snuggling babies and toddlers, and feeding and clothing everyone. Those are three Most Important Things.

3 Responses

  1. Great tips and advice! It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily routines or the big projects and then we don’t tick of any tasks or make any progress. I’m going to be applying this thinking to my planning for next week!

  2. Anick Globensky-Bromow
    | Reply

    I really liked your tips, do you have an article on how to create a routine plan? Thanks for your help!

  3. Rebecca Dandy
    | Reply

    Thanks Misty for all your encouragement! You are such a blessing!

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