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GTD, Priorities, and Planning

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  • GTD, Priorities, and Planning

    I have seen this topic discussed several times on the forums and it seems to be a common point of discussion. I recently collected my thoughts regarding this issue and thought they may be useful to someone else. Or they may be completely incorrect and someone can point me to the error of my ways.

    There is a general opinion that David Allen is completely against pre-planning and prioritizing next actions/tasks. This seems to stem from his view of abolishing the "daily to do" list. However, in _Getting Things Done_ Chapter 9 "Doing: Making the Best Action Choices", he does allude to a prioritization scheme.

    In "The Four Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment", once context, time, and energy have been taken into account, priority must be evaluated. David Allen states:

    "At the end of the day, in order to feel good about what
    you didn't get done, you must have made some conscious
    decisions about your responsibilities, goals, and values.
    That process invariably includes an often complex
    interplay with the goals, values, and directions of your
    organization and of the other significant people in your
    life, and with the importance of those relationships to you."

    Now suppose I get up in the morning and begin a review of my next action lists (or "Master Task Lists" as Franklin Quest/Covey would call it). I can see right off hand the most important/urgent items and begin focusing on those. I make a conscious decision about the priority of these actions relative to my "goals, values, and directions". I then rate them on a priority scale of A-C. I then rate them within the lettered priority group as 1-[number of items in the group]. I end up with an "A1, A2, . . . C3, C4 . . ." list that is mixed in with all of my other unprioritized actions. All I have done is completed the fourth step of the "Four Criteria Model" ahead of time.

    Now when I am "in the moment", I evaluate context, time, and energy; priority has already been evaluated. Obviously these priorities can be changed on the fly relative to new inputs or situations. In reality, this is not a significantly different situation than the Franklin-Covey "Priortized Daily Task List" which also allows processing new priorities in the moment. Where David Allen's method improves upon the Franklin method is that I have a convenient way to see *all* of my options (including unprioritized) and not just the ones I have prioritized as the most important. The GTD system also provides the best way to handle all of my various inputs and creates the most efficient system to manage "stuff". Without the GTD system, I would not have a complete list of items to prioritize.

    I believe this method also eliminates a problem the GTD method seeks to solve but also creates in the process. David talks about processing your stuff into your organizational system. Once your stuff is in discreet categories like "Next Actions", "Someday/Maybe", "Reference", etc. you can focus on those individual areas and not "go numb" to an amorphous pile of stuff. However, in a sense, each of those areas can become an amorphous pile of stuff without further processing. A stack of reference material not filed into a general reference filing system can be an amorphous pile of unorganized reference that repels you every time you think of looking something up.

    Next actions are organized by context. But individuals with extremely large next action lists may see 50+ items in one context. Without some form of pre-prioritization or planning, every time one action is completed, a decision about priority is needed for every action remaining on the list. Since every item on the next actions list cannot be completed in one day, a simple top to bottom approach of working through each action is sure to let some important and/or time sensitive items fall through the cracks. This problem is compounded by the fact that it is very easy to "go numb" to the this long list of items which amounts to an amorphous pile of unknown priorities.

    I believe the daily planning and prioritization of the Franklin Quest/Covey method can work in synergy with the GTD method. It solves a common problem people experience with the GTD system while not violating any of the basic principles of the GTD system.

    It appears David Allen himself is becoming more aware of the role of priorities in the next actions lists as evidenced in this blog entry
    Last edited by brettk71; 01-18-2006, 04:56 AM.

  • #2
    My simple method

    The way I prioritize Next Actions is to use the hard landscape of the calendar. Every morning before work I look at my work related context lists and extract those tasks that I really want to get done that day. Those get copied over to the calendar as an 'all day' task (since they can get done at any time during the day).

    Alternately, I could drag them to actual time slots and thereby set aside dedicated time for each task but I find that clutters up the calendar view and does not let the actual appointments stand out so well.

    I realize this goes a bit against hard landscape philosophy of only putting things that 'have' to get done in the all-day slots. In reality, many of us have a lot of discretion in terms of when certain NA's and Projects get moved forward and a lot of the tasks I move to the calendar don't absolutely have to get done that day. But they do have to get done at some point... so why not intuitively make a choice about how you are going to spend your time.

    I also realize that I could just re-scan the contexts whenever necessary and make that intuitive choice but, for some reason, constantly re-scanning is burdensome. I just can't seem to get away (for whatever psychological reason) from the need to prioritize at some level.

    This does not mean I don't process and re-prioritize as the day goes on but it does provide me with a pre-picked list of mini-goals for the day that I can fall back on if the crisis is minor or short lived.

    Just seems to work for me.


    • #3
      Joseph, if you put the task to be done today at the top then how do you understand WHEN they should be done. What happens if you have to many times spent in meetings this day so your tasks just left undone?

      I use prioritization by four criterias: Due Date, New sale or realization, Return on investment, time to do.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Borisoff
        Joseph, if you put the task to be done today at the top then how do you understand WHEN they should be done. What happens if you have to many times spent in meetings this day so your tasks just left undone?
        The WHEN is 'sometime today', if at all possible. If it is not only day specific, but time specific as well, then it is no longer an all day task and goes into the appropriate time slot on the calendar.

        If outside influences or miscalculation on my part (biting off more than I can chew, common enough) keeps me from completing everything that day then I have the choice of either moving it forward to the next day or re-negotiating my commitment and letting it lapse back to the NA context.

        This is just a slight variation on David's recommendation for using the hard landscape in that I will include in the 'all day' category some items that I WANT to get done along with the items that HAVE to get done.

        After much experimentation w/ various methods for prioritizing NA's this just seems to work for me. It has the dual advantage of being both flexible and providing a bit of structure to my day. It also eliminates (or cuts down drastically) the constant scanning and evaluting context lists which I find tiresome for some reason.


        • #5
          "Today" list

          Like many folks, I broke down and went back to a daily list, which in fact works beautifully with GTD. As someone suggested earlier, it's just a collection of NAs that would be good to work on today. You could call it a mini-context--perhaps "@Today." I scan my lists every morning to create the daily sheet. That gives me a clean one-page view of important stuff & interesting possibilities.

          I used to use this in conjunction with my calendar--I had a two-page-a-day calendar, so I had plenty of room. Now I'm using the very entertaining task-destruct-o-matic (found at One page lasts me either one or two days, depending on how much I get done in a single day and how much things shift.

          One thing I do is to use a highlighter to box the three priority items for the day. That helps me get out of denial about the importance of what I am and am not working on.


          • #6
            Sonia's description of "very entertaining" caught my eye, so I checked out the blog containing the sheet she refers to. Some other similar things that are possibly useful are at .