If like me you are running a GTD or similar productivity system then you will regularly have captured and processed all your pending demands and actions.
So how do you prioritise what to actually do next ??!!
David Allen gives some leads on 4 criteria to use in his book about GTD and one of them is use of contexts.
I think contexts and the need for them have changed to some extent since David Allen wrote his book. The need to categorise items that you need to be at work in your office and at your computer is gone with smart phones and tablets. I can send an e-mail sat waiting to get my hair cut or update a spreadsheet or presentation whilst having a coffee during a shopping trip.
It is useful to have some though to group similar tasks. Pulling up a group of e-mails to blitz in one go or a few calls to make all in one sitting at the phone can help you be more productive rather than jumping from one type of task to another and then back again.
So I do use categories on my to do list to set context and give some structure but just not too many: e-mail, call, speak-to, on-line, meetings-to-book, DOC, PPT, XLS, travel. I also have some that I set as tags in Evernote such as waiting for, work, personal, projects, to-read, to-buy, delegated and someday maybe. In some cases rather than set a context I create a checklist and put everything into that, so that I can refer to it during my weekly review for prompts. That also works well for things to take up with one single person, as my managers are spread globally it’s useful to have an organic list that I add to and then refer to when I do get on a call with them or even see them face to face.
I actually find it as much use to look at my next actions to do list by due date (I set this for every one I create) and I also use the priority settings, so I can see the list by order of importance. Remember that there are 4 criteria for selecting what to do next: context is just one, the others are energy available, time available and priority. I used to segregate my to do list with any “quick” tasks so that if I found I had a spare 5 minutes I could nail something and tick it off the list, even if it was not the most urgent thing on my list – at least it was completed and off the list and out of my mind. Priorities can be driven and set by many factors. I would be interested to hear if anyone has managed to get the energy available into any of their productivity systems !
It is as well not to forget the factors which are time available and energy available. Both often forgotten by many task management systems or difficult to incorporate.
For me the subject of prioritisation is the one area where perhaps I was expecting an extra paragraph or so in David Allen’s book and felt left hanging without the advice or system for that aspect that I thought I was reading towards. He gives the four criteria for prioritisation but the fourth is priority itself – so it’s like coming back to square one. At least the first three have helped you to narrow the list by then.
I have looked for tools to help specifically with this subject of prioritisation, the last of the four criteria and the only thing that I really found that has helped was the Eisenhower matrix of urgent vs important. If you assign numerical values to individual tasks then it’s possible to automate this, should you wish or just have the four boxes and post things in each; either on screen, on paper or in your head and then decide which of them is first to get tackled. Perhaps a future feature in GTDNext could be assigning important and urgent status to tasks and giving a view in the form of this matrix as a result ?
By the time you have considered context, time available and energy available deciding on remaining priorities and trusting yourself to get the right order is probably why you are in the job that you are in, because you can make those decisions correctly more often than not. Trusting instinct is important to me and instinct is a valuable commodity to pay attention to, I find.
I found the book “Personal Kanban” by Benson and Barry offered a different insight. Not necessarily a GTD system add-in but it does reference the GTD approach and does start by getting everything down into one system. I’ve found this system easier to coach some of my direct reports and teams on, if they were not ready to completely commit to a GTD lifestyle but complain that they have too much to do and don’t know what to do next. It can be started with just a whiteboard and post-it notes. We use it for instance to define what we do in our lab at any time – list all the projects that are required, determine which are truly ready to go and then how many we can actually run in the test bays available. Important too to keep the list of what has been completed; partly to remind you what you have actually achieved and partly to identify patterns of what is getting done and what is not – so that you can ask yourself why that is. I have considered how this could be incorporated into the next actions list to aid prioritisation during your reviews but not acted on it so far.