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The semantics of "Priorities"

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  • The semantics of "Priorities"

    I read jkgrossi's post of GTD a "flawed system" and echo his points about the frustration of the daily FC ABC/123, as well as the dilemma about injecting a sense of importance or urgency into the GTD NA lists.

    Lately I've been thinking that there may be a semantic issue here in how we use the word "Priority".

    1. One way to think about priorities is the importance of given a NA relative to all other NA's on the list. In my experience, this assessment, once made (assuming comprehensive collection, processing and organizing) is fairly static, at least in the short run and certainly in the time between weekly reviews. The short-term challenge here is deciding where new inputs or interruptions fit in.

    2. Another way of thinking about priorities is "what is the most appropriate thing for me to be doing right now. In my experience, that assessment is extremely dynamic, and depends on the types of filters GTD refers to as context, time available and energy.

    I think the latter is the sense of the word DA uses in eschewing daily/weekly pre-prioritized ToDo lists ala FC's ABC/123. However, I don't see where this precludes a priority assessment in the former sense of the word, if reviewed and re-calibrated as necessary at each weekly review.

    For example, GTD points out that if the most important NA job-wise requires a computer and my server's down, or requires at least an hour and I've only got ten minutes, or requires concentrated focus and high energy and I'm toast, then it's not really an option in that moment.

    However, given my job, >95% of my time is spent at my desk, so my @office, @computer and @calls lists are all in play. Lately my "hard landscape" has been pretty open, so I've got mostly discretionary time. Therefore, the first two filters of options in GTD (context and time) don't narrow my choices significantly. At times like that I want to be able to look at my list, realize that I'm really motivated, and pick out the most important task on the list without having to re-think; or realize that I'm fried, and knock off some low priority stuff, again without having to re-think.

    My problem is that, even with good energy, if I've got to look through long @office, @computer and @calls lists to see the full set of choices, more times than not I'll gravitate toward those "surf the web for . . . " NA's, while the bigger, less pleasant things, get pushed off.

  • #2
    This may be a little off from the discussion you were looking for, but I'm going to contribute anyway.

    I think a lot of people who get into GTD worry about priorities for a lot of reasons. First, if they've always used them, it's hard to let them go. It took me a long time to really get int GTD for that reason. Now, I won't go back.

    The other reason that I'll mention is that GTD tends to come with long, scary lists. People don't want to lose things in the depths of the lists, so they gravitate toward strictly prioritizing everything.

    Here's my compromise: I only use priorities to bump things that I want to see to the top of my list. I have no illusions about doing those things in that order. I usually don't. But it makes me comfortable with not "losing" things in my lists. I don't sit and prioritize every day. In fact, only rarely (in unusually stressful, I'm-really-really-in-a-crunch kind of times) sit down and assign lots of priorities at once. Usually, things change priorities if I see it at the bottom of my list and want to see it again really soon, or if I see it at the top and know I'm not going to do it anytime soon. That's all. Waiting for items and pending are all 5, because I often use the "All Categories" view to decide where I'm going to "go" next.

    Really, in my experience, I haven't lost anything that way. I have a lot of to-dos -- enough that I don't like to scroll all the way down the list all the time. Yeah, my to-dos have different priorities, but I'm not tied to them. I just scroll the list until I find something I want to do, and loosely manage my list so I'm more likely to find something quickly.

    I encourage anyone who's having priority issues to try GTD without using priorities in a strict, limiting manner. I've really saved a lot of time this way, and have been able to do more.



    • #3

      My experience with not prioritizing was an ever increasing list. At some stage, some of the items on the list have to be downgraded to Trash or Someday. If I wait a whole week till the Weekly Review to do this formally, my list becomes unwieldy for daily work. So I prefer to assess some preliminary priorities at the Processing stage.

      Similarly, in Doing mode, if I ever build up the momentum to "Just Do It", I want to stay "hot" and work through a short pre-selected list of important items. I don't want to interrupt the flow to search through 60+ items and re-Process them so that I can select "intuitively". As Esquire says, the relative importance of things won't change much from the time you write them to the time you select them for Doing, so I don't think it should matter much at what time you decide to stratify the list. (i.e., there are many different right ways.)

      Personally, I don't stratify the individual next actions. Like Esquire, I write a separate list of priority themes and then daily I select the NA's that match the themes.



      • #4
        I don't know that this will contribute much either but here goes...

        I use the priority feature on my Palm, but not in the standard way. I use it more as an "Order of attack". Now this might not really be different than standard prioritizing, but in my mind it helps.

        Each day, I go to my What's Next List (My primary action context list), and I choose 5-15 items I'd like to tackle that day. Anywhere from 1-5 of those are actual "Priority" for me, usually related to overall goals, and those get moved to a list I have named "Priority". Anything on that list is highlighted in orange on my calendar, and my rule is to try and get highlighted items completed each and every day. Usually before anything else. The color is what signifies priority.... the actual number assigned is the order I plan and/or expect to do them in.

        The rest of the action items end up getting a number assigned to them, 1-5, and this number again is more about when it gets done, than what its priority is. It wouldn't be on my calendar if it wasn't important enough to get done that day. So, the item marked "1" is the first thing I do that day, then I do item "2", item "3", etc. Ticklers, reminders, and misc things end up with a "5" because they're just memory joggers or very low energy types of things.

        The difference, for me at least, is that importance doesn't designate the number assigned. Item 3 on my list might be the most important thing of the day after highlighted items, but if I know I wont be ready for it till midday, or there are a couple of other things I want to do first, then I leave that at number 3 instead of putting it at 1/highest priority, where it would normally go in a prioritized system.

        Not sure if this makes sense but it works for me