The 3 Act Day – Why you should structure your day like a screenplay.

By Brad Beckstrom

What if every day were scripted like a great film?

the godfather act 1

Marlon Brando, The Godfather Act I

Whether you like it or not, they often are. Here’s a super abbreviated version of the classic three act structure in screenwriting.

3 act structure

Act I The Setup: Establish the main characters, their relationships, the world they live in, and what the story is all about?  Later in this act there is a “call to adventure” or “catalyst” that sets the plot in motion.

Act II Confrontation: Also referred to as “rising action,” this typically depicts the main characters attempt to resolve the problem initiated by the first turning point, only to find him or herself in ever more challenging situations.

Act III Resolution: Features the resolution of the story and its subplots. The climax is the scene or sequence in which the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are.

The Hero’s Journey

What if every day could follow the structure of the hero’s journey with a call to adventure, rising action and intense point where dramatic questions are answered and we have a sense of who we really are? That’s a hell of a lot more interesting than a to do list or a calendar.

Act I is the early part of the day, the setup.  If you’re in a foul mood, skipping the important stuff or feel like a rudderless ship, this day may end up not being a very good movie.

Act II  is the main part of the day. For our purposes here, let’s call this “rising action.” You can call it the workday, whatever you want. The main character – “you” – is attempting to resolve ever more challenging situations and sometimes, small or large confrontations.

Act III Finally, there is resolution, wrapping up our efforts for the day and hopefully bringing the day to a successful close.  Our hero, again “you,”  finishes out the day and rides off into the sunset.

Here’s how to script your day like a blockbuster.

The most important part of the day is Act I, the setup. All hell can break loose once things get rolling in Act II, so it’s very important to establish what today’s story going to be all about.

Consistency is good, especially during the setup.  It’s not like every day is the same movie. (Groundhog Day, Bill Murray) Act I is about really scripting those first few hours of the day so you establish consistent habits that then carry on to the later parts of the day. Like Bill, you get better and better at it.


Bill Murray with Ned The Head In Groundhog Day

Tweaking the script

Once you have a few consistent habits in place, you can stack them during the time of the day when you do your best work. Once Act I is in place, you can continue to tweak the script.  So let’s say you’re not a morning person and you don’t do your best work between 6 and 9 AM.  That’s fine, so maybe your Act I is something you can wrap your head around at that early hour like light exercise, stretching or deep breathing.

If you can establish that habit consistently, then the plot won’t fall apart when all hell breaks loose later in the day, and you never get around to working out.

In my case, I found that I would hit a wall at 4 PM every day, AKA The Dead Zone. So that’s why scheduled my workouts at 4PM and moved my most challenging work to early in the day.

During Act II, (Rising Action) for most people the longest part of their day. You’ll be able to have additional flexibility since you firmly established what your day is all about in the setup. Since most people’s day is a lot longer than a two hour movie ,you’ll be able to learn and adjust your script and get better at establishing some daily habits that fit with when you’re doing your best work.

Finally, Act III Resolution. Hopefully there’s no bomb to diffuse here with 15 seconds left on the timer.  During this third and final act, you want to do some things that are personally important to you. Taking some time to think back over the efforts and challenges of your day. Reconnect with someone you may have ignored.  This is also where you can think about if your set up for the next day needs some adjusting.

To accomplish this, I use an old school Moleskine notebook along with the app Evernote on my iPhone and laptop. Evernote makes a great funnel to capture all your thoughts, notes, very important emails or blog posts you’d like to save. You can put anything in there including web clippings, voicemails, entire presentations or PDF documents. Over time,it becomes like a personal search engine for everything you work on.

Once everything is in Evernote, I can then single out certain items and attach them to a to do list in the app.  Evernote will then automatically send me an email with my most important tasks of the day with links to any related attachments, articles or presentations.

The Three Act Day . Laying out your script for the day

I use a lined notebook. In my notebook, I have three main columns.  The first column contains a couple of the most important tasks I want to complete that day. The second column includes important things that need to get done, but don’t require quite as much brain power (This can include things in the late afternoon. I like to call the dead zone). Finally,the third column includes things I’d like to wrap up my day with in the evening. Above that is a large space for random notes, and along the right side is a list of people I want to call, email or meet with.

The 3 Act Day

The 3 Act Day

 That’s it. My entire script for the day on a single page of a Moleskine 7.5” x 10” Notebook.


The Frug





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