3×3 - A Framework for Focus

Adapted from a post by Daniel Eden.

aka: A 3-month sprint

Focus on fewer things, with greater impact.

The 3x3 framework is based on the idea that in order to make the biggest impact, we must focus with great precision. This may help you avoid feeling like a misguided missile. It's about being intentional in the things we say yes to. While the original concept is based on the idea of achieving three big things a year, mine is based on nine major outcomes a year (granted, they can be closely related). But the basic act remains the same: limit yourself to three small (but important) tasks a day tied to 3 projects.


Outcome Agreement and Accountability

In order for this framework to succeed, it's important that those around you know about it and agree that you're focusing on the right 3 things. Coming to this agreement from the start is key as circumstances will create obstacles and you must have a contract to deal with the requests.

As much as ever before (and perhaps even more), you will be derailed by the urgent items that you MUST turn your attention to. It's the often 'unplanned work' that arises because we don't know what we don't know.

When a need arises that does not fall into the 3x3, then defer it if you can. Or hunker down and get it done so you can get back to the tasks on your list.

Small incremental steps leads to great strides.

If you can defer it, don't do it. You will discover new opportunities and bright shiny objects (BSOs) may be a constant struggle. So always ask the question: "How is this contributing to my 3x3?"

When it clearly doesn't contribute to one of your big 3, then consider it may fit into someone else's big 3. If you can find that alignment, pass it on.

Pass on everything that threatens to distract you from your key 3 tasks until those 3 tasks are done (it's great motivation).

Balance: You may find that striking a balance is key. Don't pick 3 personal projects and don't pick 3 work projects - find a mix. In your daily 3 tasks as well.

The cycle: 3x/year

If you give ourself month off between projects:

Jan-Mar - 3 projects April off

May-July - 3 projects Aug off

Sept-Nov - 3 projects Dec off


For each 3-month sprint, pick at least one collaboration project.

When you work with others, you'll find greater energy to work on your solo projects. If all your projects involve others, you may find yourself spread too thin and burn out.

Whatever your goals - get buy in from those closest to you. If you are going to prioritize projects over people, it's important for them to understand why. It's also your go to when it comes to saying no.

Project scope

Can it be achieved in 3 months? If not, you can build on it. Like a TV show, a project can have multiple seasons.

3-week milestones

This is about striking a balance between long and short term goals. I recommend a weekly reintegration, but given you have 3 projects - 3 week deadlines are more realistic. Example:

The point is that each project has a deadline tied to a milestone that comes up every 3 weeks. This way you are not neglecting any of them.

Energy and competency

The about of energy consumed by a task is in direct proportion to our competency to perform that task. This is why the skills we choose in our youth dramatically impact our future. As we age, we have less energy to build new skills.

If your focus area requires more than three core competencies, you probably need to work with more people to achieve it. If, on the other hand, your focus area really just leverages one core competency, then the scope may be too narrow, and it limits your opportunities for growth.

Define the Key Metrics

One thing I learned from Startup School is how important the metrics are. Without metrics, we are going to be less objective.

I think one of the critical things to bear in mind when choosing these big three is that you want to be able to feel like you're making real progress. This is why it's important that the goals can be broken up into milestones, or have some measurable quality that you can count on changing over time.

A final word of advice about the three big things is to talk about them regularly with your stakeholders. Continue to make sure, week over week, that you're making progress towards them, and that they're still the right things to focus on. You may find that your focus areas will change over time, and that's ok! The environment you live and work in will change without announcement, and it's only natural that your goals should respond to those changes.

Three Small Things Daily

Once you've set those three big focus areas, you can safely store them in the back of your mind. They will be the guiding principle behind everything that you do: anything that doesn't clearly contribute to one of those goals, you should feel permission to decline (provided, of course, you and your manager/peers are aligned with those goals). This makes choosing three daily things a little easier: if you can go into each day and deflect anything that comes your way and is a distraction from your primary focuses, then you can set better expectations for yourself and for those around you about what's important to you.

When it comes to choosing the three things that you do want to do each day, there are a couple of rules of thumb I try to bear in mind:

The payoff

After practicing the 3x3 (and customizing it for yourself), you will find saying no to the things that used to pull your attention have less power over you. You will be less scattered and more focus. You will learn to decline or delegate things that are an ineffective use of your time, and that you're able to see how all the small things you've done over 3/6/12 months add up to remarkable achievements. This framework is useful for those who, like me, are driven by making a bigger impact on the world.