Jon Ferry

June 29th, 2010

The Three Day Rule

There are many ways to get an objective opinion on an idea: you can put together a focus group of users, send out questionnaires or surveys, conduct a usability test, have a discussion with your users, etc. But what happens if you don’t have the time or budget to conduct this work? Or what happens if you’re working alone without access to these resources? I suggest following the three day rule.

The Scientist

When you start a project, everything is new: new customers, new users, new challenges, new technology. Your excitement level increases. Like Doctor Frankenstein, you enter your lab (or cubicle) and start to experiment with ideas. Days, weeks, or months later you emerge with the solution. Or what you think is the solution.

The experienced person knows the first solution is imperfect, that lurking in your Frankenstein monster are oversights and false assumptions, and the best way to discover these is to have other people offer their criticism. However, if you’re working on a tight budget or don’t have access to your target audience or peers, you might be inclined to rush to implementation and ship your imperfect solution so you can move onto the next exciting experiment.

Instead, take a time out.

The Three Day Rule

The idea is simple, after you’ve invested so much time following one thought process for a project, you leave the project completely for three days. Think of it as a mini-vacation. You don’t look at the sketches you’ve made. No reading email or documentation. You don’t talk to your customers about changes. You distance yourself as much as you can from the project and wait… three days.

Ok, I’ll admit, the time frame is arbitrary. But you should give yourself enough time so that you forget the details about your work. Once your head is clear, you re-approach it. Like magic, you’ll see things you didn’t see before. The imperfections will reveal themselves. Maybe you’re designing a print ad and you now notice the red you chose for that heading is too bright. Maybe you’re preparing a presentation for upper management and realize that slides four through six are too technical. Maybe you wrote a short story and, after re-reading, find a critical plot hole.

So, the next time you need to look at something objectively, just wait three days. It’s that easy.

Note: The Three Day Rule can be applied to almost any creative work. In composing this essay, for example, I applied the three day rule twice.