We’ve recently profiled two online apps for supporting David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to personal organization: Vitalist and Nozbe. With tools like that–or even just pen and paper–you can capture everything you need to get done. Once you’ve offloaded all those must-dos from your brain, […]

We’ve recently profiled two online apps for supporting David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to personal organization: Vitalist and Nozbe. With tools like that–or even just pen and paper–you can capture everything you need to get done. Once you’ve offloaded all those must-dos from your brain, though, you need to take the next step: decide which ones to do.

How do you do that? How do you prioritize (or triage, as seems more often necessary for me these days)? And once you’ve prioritized, how do you decide which of the prioritized items to do?

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders asks “what the hell does priority mean”:

So my question to you guys: what does “priority” really mean to you in practice (not theory)?

Does it represent the highest value item in your world — that for which you will reject other work? Is it the thing that’s currently causing the most stress and anxiety? Or is it the thing that you’re the most behind on and are therefore the most horribly embarrassed about? What makes you set an item’s priority to the “high” setting, and then how does that help it to get done faster? Does priority planning ever fail you?

The comment thread on Merlin’s post makes for a great read. I especially like this one from andrew parker:

I use… the following priorities

1. What I get paid for
2. What will increase my families security & happiness
3. What will avoid grief
4. What will improve my financial position
5. What could I get paid for
6. What makes me feel warm & fuzzi

mercenary tinged with just enough mush

What about you? How do you prioritize your work? And once you have, how do you decide which item to do? Priority isn’t the only factor that determines what you should do at each point in your day.

  1. Lately I’ve been doing things based on deadlines. I’ve got about a 50/50 mixture of client work and my own ‘products’ that I develop and so I set deadlines for my own stuff and then mix that in with client deadlines and just start knocking things out in order of due dates.

  2. To…do…list…?

    I have a notepad with lots of scribblings which I sometime refer to.
    It sits right next to my mousepad within my eyeline.
    But most of the time I already have stuff I need doing in my head.

    JOSH P wrote:
    “…I’ve been doing things based on deadlines..”


    I’m Douglas Adams with them.

  3. I have a simple approach…must’s,need’s,want’s, like to’s,maybe’s, and “on my list…”

    A must get done is just that…It must get done. Bills must get paid. Children must get fed. Survival, don’t do this and we all suffer and die.

    Need’s…I need to call my mom, & my wife. I need to change the baby, take the dog out, etc. I need to finish the project for work/school. Anything not life and death, but important enough to be done every day.

    Want’s…important, but can be finished any time today or tomorrow, no rush. I want to watch Battlestar Galactica tonight, but if I don’t its not the end of the world. I want to finish up some outstanding work items, but its cool with the boss if I get them done by friday.

    Like to’s…I’d like to do it, but there may be more important things to do. I’d like to read “War and Peace” but I just don’t have the time.

    Maybe’s…Maybe i’ll do it or maybe not, if it does not get done any time soon, It will not cause chaos od destruction in my life. I use this when my son says “Daddy can I have a (insert animal of the week)?” “On my list”…My list of things to be completed before I die. Nothing really high priority, but alot of things that my mother-in-law wants seem to reside there.

  4. Randall Bennett Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    I have a similar sliding scale,:

    1– what keeps the fam happy
    2– what pays the rent
    3– what pays my future (two startups, namely)
    4– what I need to do before today
    5– what I need to do before the week
    6– what I need to get done before I die

  5. I usually use a plain text doc to keep track of all my various tasks… Everything from “finish the mockup for that client project” to “don’t be afraid to talk to that girl at the gym” gets tossed on there. The items that have been there the longest (or which need to get done “today”) get moved to the top.

    Believe it or not, I don’t use my to-do list to prioritize, per se… It’s more of a catch-all for anything that needs to get done, simply so I don’t forget about it. I scan the list every hour or so, to make sure I’m on task, or to promote or demote items with cut-and-paste. I find that if I spend too much time worrying about which items take priority over other items, I end up wasting time that could be used to actually DO that task.

  6. You mean I’m supposed to actually do the things I write in my to-do list? I figured just writing them was enough to stop worrying about them.

  7. This is going to sound a little ridiculous — all other deadlines and external pressures being equal, I’ve been trying to measure which larger projects to do next on this criteria (rated, say, 1-10):
    Resource cost (coding hours, monetary investment, etc),
    Expected revenues,
    Interest in actually doing the project, and
    Glory achieved (that is, satisfaction and general feeling of having improved the world) from having done it.

    Add them all up in some made up equation with various weights against the different criteria values and score each project. In the end, you end up telling yourself what you already know about what you should do next.. but at least you have a (totally fake) mathematical proof to stand behind. :)

  8. I agree with most of the above, which work for the obvious tasks, and probably for defining the most important task for the day. However, I find the difficulty arises when faced with a whole bunch of tasks with similar deadlines. Luckily there’s a good section on prioritising tasks in O’ Reilly’s “Time Management for SysAdmins”. While that book is not really aimed at web-workers, I think it applies pretty well.

    The idea is that you do the simplest tasks, with the greatest impact on other people first. In other words, if someone else is waiting on you to do something, you do that task first. Then you move onto the more complicated, high impact tasks, then the low impact tasks (the ones that just affect you). This has the affect of not only getting you through your tasks, but you get to look good with your clients/co-workers too!

  9. Kishore Balakrishnan’s Blog » Blog Archive » nozbe and priority Monday, February 19, 2007

    [...] nozbe is well designed and useful (via Web Worker Daily: Open Thread: How Do You Decide What To Do from Your To Do List?) [...]

  10. Web Worker Daily » Archive Tip of the Week: Two Priorities/One Month « Thursday, January 31, 2008

    [...] 31st, 2008 (2:00pm) Anne Zelenka No Comments How do you decide what you should do from your to do list? You have a free hour: should you write a blog post? Prospect for clients? Code a new feature? [...]

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