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Deja vú is the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before. It is a French phrase that translates literally as “already seen.” That happens to me sometimes at work when I am trying to solve a problem. I say to myself, “I have seen this before.” Eventually, I realize I am in a cycle where I keep repeating the same steps over and over again. I ask myself, “Why do I keep doing this?” 

If that resonates with you, I have good news. There is a better way to deal with recurring problems. Once you recognize the pattern, you can apply the “3 Times Rule.”

What is the 3 Times Rule?

The 3 Times Rule is a systematic method of solving recurring problems or optimizing tasks that you regularly repeat. Simply put, when you recognize anything that bothers you three times, you find a systematic and permanent solution to it. 

The 3 Times Rule Helps You Solve Recurring Problems

The most valuable asset you have in any business is your time. It is essential that you use your time to make your most valuable contribution. Suppose you are the office manager for a small company, and one of your responsibilities is to stock the employee lounge with beverages and snacks. So every week, you go through the process of taking inventory, making a shopping list, driving to the local supermarket, making the purchases, and organizing the new stock in the employee lounge. You can do it, but it is probably not the best use of your time. It can even cause stress because it puts pressure on you to finish high-priority tasks in the remaining time.

One possibility is to create a system that automates the process of taking inventory and making the shopping list. It might be possible to post a list online or in a central location where each employee adds an item to the shopping list when they see that the supply is low or depleted. Then, you could order from a company that delivers the products you need. This is just one scenario. There are many options. The key is to create a system-based solution that breaks the cycle of solving the same problem every time it occurs. 

The 3 Times Rule Helps You Automate Your Workflow

I have a friend who works in sales. Her day is filled with publishing information on products and services, taking orders from clients, and responding to customer service requests. Without fail, she will be asked the same questions repeatedly. At first, she responded to each question as if it was the first time it had been asked. Eventually, she recognized the pattern, and she created templates for frequently asked questions. 

Many email programs have a feature to create templates for automatic or standardized replies. There are also various apps and services (like TextExpander) that allow you to type a shortcut that is converted into a more extended block of text. These services are ideal because we can use them in applications besides email. Even the simple method of storing pre-written responses in a digital note for copying and pasting can save a significant amount of time. 

Now, when someone asks my friend a common question, she does not have to think about the answer. She merely has to respond with a template she already created.

Your context may be different, but once you understand the framework for how to use the 3 Times Rule, it is easy to apply in any situation.  

Great Ideas For How To Use Templates

  • Meeting template
  • Email template
  • Blog post template
  • Production Checklist

Simple Framework For Implementing the 3 Times Rule

Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” The next level of productivity is finding the most efficient way to do the right things. The 3 Times Rule is a method for discovering the best way to do something. 

Here is a simple framework for how to use the 3 Times Rule.

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Identify the root cause of the problem
  3. Find a solution
  4. Test the solution and make adjustments
  5. Enjoy the benefits of a system-based solution

The Benefits of the 3 Times Rule

The positive impact of the 3 Times Rule on your life and work is transformational. 

When you implement the rule, it will help you: 

Save Time. 

When you repeatedly solve the same problem, you waste your most valuable resources – time, energy, and attention (TEA Framework). The 3 Times Rule is a method to deal with a problem one time so you can invest your time in what matters most. 

The 3 Times Rule is perfect for discovering areas where automation could save you time. Imagine you save 5-10 minutes every time you implement the 3 Times Rule using automation. If you use it 4 or 5 times each day, you save as much as 45-60 minutes per day (maybe more). You can save 4-5 hours every week. What could you do with an extra 4-5 hours per week?

Discover Untapped Potential. 

Think about the time you save as a way to discover untapped potential. Imagine what you will accomplish when you are not wasting your time on the same repetitive tasks. You will have more time to do what creates the most value for your life, work, or team.

Deliver Better Results

It takes time to develop a system that solves a problem. However, there is a tremendous return on investment. When you implement the 3 Times Rule, you choose to leverage your best thinking to solve a problem or optimize your workflow. You can choose to do this when you have the most energy and the clearest mind. Instead of repeatedly solving the same problem at any random moment when it occurs, you implement the solution you created in your most ideal conditions. In this way, you will consistently deliver your best results. 

Prevent Worry and Reduce Stress. 

Using the 3 Times Rule takes the pressure off the day because you spend less time confronting the same problems, which can waste time and cause frustration. Eliminating problems makes you more productive. You have fewer things to worry about, so you feel more at ease. 

How To Implement The 3 Times Rule

Let’s break it down and show you how to make it actionable.

Identify The Problem

Start by asking yourself some clarifying questions.

  1. You are looking for patterns. Ask yourself, “Is there a problem that keeps happening?”
  2. Think about tasks that are part of your everyday workflow. Ask yourself, “Is there something I repeatedly do that I can optimize to save me time and make me more productive?”

Most of the time, these types of problems will be obvious. You have not already faced them because it is easy to become accustomed to always doing things the same way. Asking yourself some clarifying questions can call your attention to a problem you may have accepted as part of the status quo. As the name implies, if you recognize something that has occurred at least three times, it is a strong candidate to address with the 3 Times Rule. 

Identify the Root Cause of the Problem

Many people just put a band-aid on what is happening now, but they have not solved the real problem. Think about what you did to solve the problem. If it repeated, then whatever you’d did was a band-aid (a temporary solution). Unless you identify the root cause of something that is repeatedly happening, then you will continue to repeat it. It is essential that you ask yourself, “What is the root cause?”

Taking Vitamins

One of my struggles is remembering to take vitamins daily. I know it is important, and I have sincere intentions, but I lack follow-through. I have downloaded habit tracking apps, and I created to-do items in my task manager. Still, I was struggling to take my vitamins consistently. To solve the problem, I had to identify the root cause. In my case, the real problem is where they were stored. I kept them in a cabinet above the stove in my kitchen. They were out of sight, so I did not have a visual trigger to support my habit. Plus, the inconvenient location created just enough friction to skip taking the vitamins on a busy morning.  

My solution was simple once I identified the root cause. I keep the vitamins in the closet in my bedroom. Each night before I go to sleep, I set out the vitamins for the following day with a glass of water on my bedside table. It is an instant visual reminder when I wake up in the morning. Because the vitamins and water are conveniently by the bed, it is frictionless.

Find a Solution

Finding the right solution depends on the problem you need to solve. However, the goal is to find a system-based solution. You are looking for a way to eliminate the problem from happening again. Use your best thinking to solve a problem and then create a system to implement the solution. 

Case study: Amazon.com

This principle works for individuals, but also on an organizational level. In his book, Effortless: Make It Easier To Do What Matters Most, author Greg McKeown claims that not everything must be so hard. 

McKeown tells how Jeff Bezos transformed the online shopping experience by using the 3 Times Rule. 

The online shopping experience frustrated Bezos. He was concerned that if making a purchase was too complicated, that people would give up. He knew he had to something to avoid losing sales. That is step one of the 3 Times Rule framework – identify the problem. He knew they had to find a solution.

“We need something to make the ordering system frictionless. We need to make it so the customer can order products with the least amount of effort. They should be able to click on one thing, and it’s done.” – Jeff Bezos

Amazon pioneered the one-click checkout system for online shopping. They held the patent on the service for over twenty years, giving them an industry-leading advantage. It is impossible to calculate the enormous financial benefits that resulted from this innovation.  

Test the Solution and Make Adjustments

Whether you apply the rule in your personal life, your work, or for your team, the proof is evident when you stop feeling frustrated by the problem. Give it time. If it happens again, and you feel the same frustration, you know you did not find the right solution or you need to make a change. 

Breakfast on-the-go

For a long time, I had the habit of preparing a healthy cooked meal for breakfast. It was part of my morning routine to eat breakfast at home and enjoy a cup of coffee before starting my workday. It was working perfectly. However, some work-related changes required me to reorder some of my commitments. It affected how much time I have in the morning to eat. The change led to skipping breakfast or eating fast food that was not healthy (nor satisfying). 

The problem was the time I needed to prepare a healthy option for breakfast. I knew I needed to find a solution. After some research, I discovered a few healthy breakfast recipes that can be prepared in advance and served in portions for each day of the week. 

Circumstances change, and sometimes change is necessary in how you implement the 3 Times Rule. If the problem repeats or you continue to feel frustrated, it is a signal that you need to make a change. Once you find the long-term solution, the benefits will be worth the effort.

Next Steps for Implementing the 3 Times Rule

The 3 Times Rule is valuable for solving problems in life, work, and for your team or organization. To get started: 

  1. Choose just one problem to solve or workflow to improve. 
  2. Write it down. 
  3. Look for the root cause.
  4. Ask yourself, “What is a long-term solution to this problem?”
  5. Test your solution and make adjustments if necessary.

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Steve Robertson

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