Reply to David Allen's post about ABC prioritization

S

supergtdman

Guest
I liked your article, you make a good point.
When David Allen says that this or that works or doesn't work, it's not really true because it depends. It might not work in some cases but work in others.
I feel like his newsletters are basically just repeating the same thing over and over so I don't read them.

You know contexts, projects, next actions, etc, everything is just information. It all comes down what is useful information to write down and what is not. Sometimes priorities are useful information so why not write it down? No real reason to.

I can make a similar case that contexts don't work or next actions don't work but the truth is sometimes they're useful information and sometimes they're not. After using gtd for a while I know what is useful to me and what isn't. I break gtd rules all the time myself. I do whatever I want with it to make it work better for me personally.
 

treelike

Registered
cwoodgold;108997 said:
I find it's useful to record priority level when I write down an action. I agree with what David Allen says except his conclusion; I don't see any reason not to do write down priority levels. I find it saves me time as compared to using his system in a purer form.

How satisfied are you that you have your higher levels (20,000ft+) sorted out? The reason I ask is that I believe that the more congruent and complete an understanding you have of your own goals and purpose, the less need you have to record priorities in your system.

To me, the "holy grail" is that you can look at your NA list and within a minute or two intuitively know exactly what you need to do at that time. That can only happen when there is no incongruity at the higher levels.

For me, developing the higher levels is sort of like working out priorities in advance for actions I haven't even thought of yet.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
The ABC priority code was associated with the DayTimer paper organizer, but more widely taught by Franklin, later Franklin-Covey. A represents something that must be done today, B something that should be done today, and C something that could be done today. The approach taught was to make a daily list, and assign A, B or C to each item and then a numeric code representing an order: A1, then A2, then B1, et cetera. This was to be done every day, and then traversed in order.

Contrast this with the more fluid approach of GTD. There is a clear distinction between things that must be done today and everything else. The use of a star or flag to mark priority items, or equivalently, the use of a hotlist, is optional.

I have seen a fair number of people proclaim that GTD doesn't work. Almost always they have misunderstood some key idea, usually substituting something more complicated or silly, e.g. "Every next action must be associated with a project" or "Each project can have only one next action." These are often called straw man arguments in rhetoric and logic: attacking a non-issue.

I do use a star/flag because the list software I use supports it, and I find it helpful. Anything more would be too much for me.
 
S

supergtdman

Guest
I have seen a fair number of people proclaim that GTD doesn't work. Almost always they have misunderstood some key idea, usually substituting something more complicated or silly, e.g. "Every next action must be associated with a project" or "Each project can have only one next action."

What you've just said yourself is exactly a straw man argument.

These are often called straw man arguments in rhetoric and logic: attacking a non-issue.
 

Oogiem

Registered
treelike;109005 said:
For me, developing the higher levels is sort of like working out priorities in advance for actions I haven't even thought of yet.

EXACTLY!!! That is a really key point. When you know what your higher levels are then it becomes obvious what the priority is of the various projects and actions. Unfortunately for me getting to that state of really clearly knowing is an ongoing process. ;)
 
S

supergtdman

Guest
If you name a priority as a context though True Believers of GTD wouldn't have any objection to it.
Gtd does use priorities, it just names them differently. Someday/maybe is a list for low priority stuff. Also think about a "surf" context. It's basically a context for low priority computer actions.

Priority is just another attribute and a way to group similar actions, it's essentially exactly the same thing as context.
Why browse through 100 actions each time when only 5 are important? Why not just flag them and save time and effort. You're not going to lose anything. In fact you're just saving time.
The whole point of gtd is in externalizing your thoughts. So if you really think that something is high priority you might as well externalize that information. If everything in your life is roughly the same priority then you don't need it.

Same thing with contexts btw. If you spend all almost all of your time in the same context then contexts aren't very useful. But if you switch between contexts a lot then they're useful.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
supergtdman;109021 said:
What you've just said yourself is exactly a straw man argument.

Actually, I was being polite by not directly criticizing the original post, but raising the possibility that there might be a misunderstanding. :)
 

cwoodgold

Registered
treelike;109005 said:
How satisfied are you that you have your higher levels (20,000ft+) sorted out?

Not very, actually. Or I'm not sure.

The reason I ask is that I believe that the more congruent and complete an understanding you have of your own goals and purpose, the less need you have to record priorities in your system.

That may be. I'm not convinced, but I'll keep an open mind about it. Maybe I'll find out eventually, the hard way, or you can try to explain why it would work that way.

Note that I'm not explicitly recording priorities; rather, I'm writing things on different parts of the page, so that I can choose to read only the higher-priority ones. Later if I've gotten a clearer understanding of my higher levels, I may still sometimes be tired and only want to read a small number of actions; and unnecessarily reading actions that would take a lot of energy might still be numbing.
 

cwoodgold

Registered
mcogilvie;109028 said:
Actually, I was being polite by not directly criticizing the original post, but raising the possibility that there might be a misunderstanding. :)

Thanks for the consideration; however, I enjoy discussion, and if you disagree with something I've said I'd like to hear exactly what and why. Be warned that if I disagree with you I'm very likely to answer back, though. If you think there might be a misunderstanding, please tell me what you think it might be, because then either the misunderstanding can be straightened out (and I would learn something), or else I can assure you that the misunderstanding isn't there.
 

cwoodgold

Registered
mcogilvie;109020 said:
The ABC priority code was associated with the DayTimer paper organizer, but more widely taught by Franklin, later Franklin-Covey.

David Allen in his newsletter doesn't specify that this is what he's talking about. I searched on the Internet and found many systems that were called ABC prioritization; no one of them seemed clearly the most prominent. The arguments in his newsletter don't seem to be directed against that particular system (e.g., having to re-write the items onto the next day's list if they're not done) but against the idea of recording priorities at all.
 

cwoodgold

Registered
Oogiem;109023 said:
When you know what your higher levels are then it becomes obvious what the priority is of the various projects and actions.

I'm glad you like treelike's point. However: no matter how obvious the priority of something is when you read it as an action in a list, you have to actually read it in order to recognize its priority. If the higher-priority ones are already marked with asterisks or something, then you don't have to read the whole list every time to find the one most important one.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
cwoodgold;109047 said:
David Allen in his newsletter doesn't specify that this is what he's talking about. I searched on the Internet and found many systems that were called ABC prioritization; no one of them seemed clearly the most prominent. The arguments in his newsletter don't seem to be directed against that particular system (e.g., having to re-write the items onto the next day's list if they're not done) but against the idea of recording priorities at all.

I think a lot of the fundamental material is pre-web, and reverberates down the corridors of time to the present day. A lot of what I have heard and read from davidco makes it clear that DA is ok with hot lists or similar things. He is on record as saying he often creates a pre-trip list, and moves items from context lists to that list, as a form of hot list.

I think I am fairly widely read on the issue of priorities. I am familiar with the ideas of Mark Forster and Michael Linenberger, for example. I believe it is fair to say that DA has largely won the day on this issue: priorities are sometimes useful, but not universally so.
 

vbampton

Administrator
cwoodgold;109048 said:
If the higher-priority ones are already marked with asterisks or something, then you don't have to read the whole list every time to find the one most important one.

I would suggest there's a difference between marking high priority items with asterisks, and adding ABC 123 priorities next to each item. Items that are high enough priority to require an asterisk usually remain high priority until done. But if you've rated priority in relation to each other (ABC/123), that prioritization will need updating constantly as things change.
 

treelike

Registered
cwoodgold;109045 said:
you can try to explain why it would work that way.

It's not so much that there are no priorities in GTD, in fact priority is probably the most important thing. So important that it's not in the system, it's in your head.

If we could rate every goal/ AOF/ Project, maybe "Be healthy" is a 10, "Buy Aunt Betty's birthday present" is a 5, etc then we could make a formula that would result in a priority number. Then, by a complicated method of evaluating how every next action on our list relates to each project and higher level we could calculate the priority of each item. This of course would be ridiculous and it would take the whole day to keep the system going and nothing gets done. This is however what our brains do all the time. The clearer a picture in your mind is about who you are and where you want to go, the more accurate the result from this "brain number crunching".

But I call it the "holy grail" because probably very few people have their higher levels organised to perfection. And I'm glad you said you weren't sure because a) it adds weight to my point but more importantly b) you realise that developing the higher levels is a lifelong process. I reckon that most people who would say they have the higher levels sorted are kidding themselves. You have to test your conclusions against real life and it can probably take a lifetime.

So I would never criticise you for using priorities in your system in the way you describe. Far better that than to force yourself to set higher level goals which aren't really true to you. Let them develop organically, I say.
 

TesTeq

Registered
How do you calculate the resulting priority of the Next Action?

cwoodgold;108997 said:
I find it's useful to record priority level when I write down an action.

Do your Projects/Next Actions belong to Areas of Focus? I think most of them do.

Are your Areas of Focus prioritized? I think your health is generally most important than your garden.

If so how do you calculate the resulting priority of the Next Action? Is it:

Resulting_Priority_of_Next_Action = Priority_of_Area_of_Focus * Priority_of_Project_within_Area_of_Focus * Priority_of_Next Action_within_Project
 

bcmyers2112

Registered
Priority coding has never worked for me

I was never able to get priority coding of any sort to work, even before I discovered GTD. It wasn't until I read the book that I realized why: because my priorities shift from hour-to-hour or even moment-to-moment in some cases.

I've read a suggestion from Kelly Forrister that was a huge help: when trying to decide what to do, ask yourself two questions: "What's the payoff if I do this? What's the risk if I don't?" That works for me because the answer to those questions can change at any moment depending on what is (or isn't) happening in my work and life.

I find the different models for choosing what to do work perfectly for me. I particularly like the four-fold model: I narrow down my actions first by context, then by time available, then by my energy level, and then finally by priority. I usually pick four or five at a time and when they're done -- assuming something else doesn't come up that should take precedence over my pre-defined tasks -- go back to the ocean of my next actions and scoop up a few more in my bucket.

If you can make pre-defined priority coding work for you, more power to you. I've never been able to make it work. But I was able to make the GTD system work.
 
bcmyers2112;109068 said:
I was never able to get priority coding of any sort to work, even before I discovered GTD. It wasn't until I read the book that I realized why: because my priorities shift from hour-to-hour or even moment-to-moment in some cases.

I've read a suggestion from Kelly Forrister that was a huge help: when trying to decide what to do, ask yourself two questions: "What's the payoff if I do this? What's the risk if I don't?" That works for me because the answer to those questions can change at any moment depending on what is (or isn't) happening in my work and life.

I find the different models for choosing what to do work perfectly for me. I particularly like the four-fold model: I narrow down my actions first by context, then by time available, then by my energy level, and then finally by priority. I usually pick four or five at a time and when they're done -- assuming something else doesn't come up that should take precedence over my pre-defined tasks -- go back to the ocean of my next actions and scoop up a few more in my bucket.

If you can make pre-defined priority coding work for you, more power to you. I've never been able to make it work. But I was able to make the GTD system work.

So glad those questions were useful for you! I have personally gotten so much value out of them too.
 

cwoodgold

Registered
vbampton;109052 said:
But if you've rated priority in relation to each other (ABC/123), that prioritization will need updating constantly as things change.

No, it's the GTD system that explicitly requires re-evaluating priorities multiple times throughout the day. In ABC prioritization as I understand it, you mark the priorities down once and normally don't change the written codes.

The purpose of the ABC prioritization system is not to have a list of to-do actions with priority marks which exactly match your actual priorities. Rather, the purose is to get things done, and especially to get higher-priority things done. It does work

In the newsletter, David Allen said, "The "ABC" priority codes don't work. Listing your top 10 things you think have to get done, in order, doesn't work." What does he mean by "doesn't work"?

He also says "Be open to your own spirit..." It's perfectly feasible to mark down ABC priorities and then be open to your spirit. Is he arguing against the idea of forcing yourself to always complete all the "A" tasks first? If so, why doesn't he say so? Does anyone actually promote an ABC system that requires this?

In a "Priority Management" course I was taught a system that involved marking down priorities as A, B or C. It worked! Not as well as GTD, maybe; but the disadvantage was not anything David Allen mentions in his newsletter, but rather the having to recopy items onto the next day's list, which as David Allen points out elsewhere is time-consuming and demoralizing. However, there's a big difference between having a disadvantage, and not working. The system did actually help me get things done, and also to have a feeling of confidence that nothing very important was being forgotten.

Re "Listing your top 10 things ..." This is very similar to my "list of priorities for the weekend" that I typically use. I list the things I want to get done that weekend, approximately in order of priority (with the order also somewhat influenced by expected chronological order). It works! It works very well for me: it helps me focus my time on productive things; it helps me get the most important things done; it helps me have a sense of confidence that I'm not forgetting important things; and it helps me have an energetic, motivated feeling. It also helps me find useful things to get done when I have a period of time with restrictions, such as while having to wait for something.

Is David Allen jumping to the conclusion that once someone writes down their list of 10 things, or their list of priorities for the weekend, that they will then necessarily do the things in the order written? Does anyone actually do that, or advocate doing that? Is David Allen criticizing a straw man?

Do you agree with David Allen's statements that "The "ABC" priority codes don't work. Listing your top 10 things you think have to get done, in order, doesn't work."? If so, what do you mean by "doesn't work"?
 

mcogilvie

Registered
cwoodgold;109097 said:
No, it's the GTD system that explicitly requires re-evaluating priorities multiple times throughout the day. In ABC prioritization as I understand it, you mark the priorities down once and normally don't change the written codes.

The purpose of the ABC prioritization system is not to have a list of to-do actions with priority marks which exactly match your actual priorities. Rather, the purose is to get things done, and especially to get higher-priority things done. It does work

I assume that you were taught something like A=must, B=should, C=could, perhaps with rankings like A1, A2, et cetera to indicate order. In the Franklin method, this was done daily, but I gather you may use it in running lists rather than daily lists. Of course, you are right: it does work, for some people, some of the time. When David Allen says it doesn't work, he means it doesn't work for everybody, all the time. I can testify to this, as I tried to make the Franklin (later Franklin-Covey) system work for me for several years before I stumbled on David Allen. I think a lot of people have had similar experiences with rigid planning methods.

There are several problems with ABC systems:
- context, time available and energy are not taken into account
- shifting priorities undermine the ordering
- a sense of failure with daily lists when things don't get done
GTD addresses all of these. Perhaps you aren't bothered by them, but I know I was when I was using the Franklin method. I think ABC probably works best for people who have only a few contexts and are fairly disciplined; neither is the case for me.

There are a lot of people who like to use priority coding of some sort. I don't think there is any reason you can't use what works for you with the principles of GTD. I know I have a tendency to over-complicate my system, but I also really appreciate a simple, fast-moving system. I use due dates and flags/stars to make a daily list, but that's as far as I go. You should do what works best for you, and if ABC works, fine. GTD practices are wide-ranging, and anyone who thinks it is a rigid system hasn't been paying attention.
 
Top