Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Priorities and GTD

Pre-GTD task management systems recommended that you assign a priority to each task. When looking at a list of tasks, you then choose the ones with the highest priority. David Allen (author of GTD) includes ‘priority’ as one of the things that you should consider when you are deciding what to do, but only after you have considered context, time available, and energy available. Which makes sense. As Merlin Mann says, it doesn’t matter if mowing your lawn is your highest priority when you’re sitting in an airplane. Only if you’re in the right context with the right amount of time and the right amount of energy, should you consider which of the remaining available tasks is highest priority.

The risk, though, is that there are so many little ‘easy’ tasks that I could do instead of important, ‘hard’ tasks. I’m also really good at convincing myself that I don’t have the energy available to do harder tasks when I really should. So when I get back into GTD, I process all the things hiding in the back of my brain which leads to the creation of lots of simple tasks. Google this, buy that, throw away the other thing. But the two things that I really want to be doing more are writing and programming. Both of those take blocks of uninterrupted time and effort, so I end up subconsciously shying away from them. I actually feel better about it, too, because now I have all these other tasks that I can do instead. So, I feel productive, even when ignoring the more important things that I should be doing. I’m moving more efficiently, but in the wrong direction.

I’ve avoided that a little bit this time by doing a little bit of prioritization each night before I go to bed. I look through my todo list and pick about 3-5 things that I want to get done the next day. I tag those with the ‘today’ tag and then the next morning I look at that list and start working on those things before doing anything else. I’ve heard this trick from a lot of people before, so I don’t remember who I heard it from first.

So far it’s been effective for me. The problem always starts again though when I go back on service, because then I can only really focus on one thing and that is getting my work done at the hospital. We’ll see if I can somehow figure out a way to get at least one non-work thing done on each of those days.

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