- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

Is visual overwhelm the problem?

18th January, 2024

Is visual overwhelm the problem?

How do you plan your days?


Are you a wing-it kinda person, or do you map out every hour?


Me?  Well, each night I write my ‘Big 3’ for the next day.


(It’s the only section I use in my pricey productivity journal bought hoping to find an extra 12 hours in my day.


Can you believe it hasn’t worked?  I need my money back…)


The Big 3 are the three big-ticket non-negotiables that I need to get done each day.  


And everything else is gravy, as they say.


The Big 3 work for me because a list of just three things generally feels manageable.  


And if they feel manageable, I’m more likely to crack on and tick them off.


But recently I’ve been recovering from COVID and have fallen a bit behind.  


So I started sneaking a few more items on my list.  The Big 3 became the Big 4, then the Big 5.


Not a big change, or so I thought.


But the impact has been huge.


Instead of getting on with the tasks as usual, I’ve procrastinated.  Felt sorry for myself.  Scrolled social media.  A lot.  


And I realised merely looking at a list of five chunky items made my heart sink.


So I cut back to just three again and, hey presto, I got my mojo back.


Visual overwhelm can have a huge impact on how we experience things.


And when we go beyond the ‘Rule of 3’ we can get into trouble.


You probably already know The Rule of 3 states that things grouped in threes are easier to digest and remember:


‘Veni. Vidi. Vici.’

‘Blood, sweat and tears’

‘Location, location, location’


(The Romans even said ‘Omne trium perfectum’ – everything that comes in threes is perfect.)


In an email or presentation, three bullet points instantly look more manageable, readable and doable to your reader.


Four or five, though?  Well, they start to feel like work – and no-one wants that.


These days we often have just milliseconds to try to persuade people to do what we want: read something, action something, agree to something. 


Avoiding visual overwhelm is crucial.


So let’s stick with the Rule of 3 and three things max in a list.


Looks better, works better.


It’s a simple change, but a big result (my favourite kind of change).  

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

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