Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get your priorities right

So I'd say that I've lived in only three different To Do applications but I've written about many more, tried even more than that and alpha tested some. Most have one thing in common: they encourage you to say that the report for your boss is Priority One, High, Flagged, Five Stars, something.

Bollocks to that.

Oddly enough, the To Do app I use now, OmniFocus, doesn't bother with priorities. I'm sure it has its reasons. I want to show you mine and why this stuff looks handy but just gets in your way.

I do believe in lists but lists are there to be worked through, not worked on. Time spent writing myself a clear task is worth it: "Call Jim re new date for pitch meeting" instead of just "Call Jim" or even "Jim". Good. I want to open my list, see what I've got to do and not have to think about it: do what with Jim? Call Jim what? Jack?

That's useful. Choosing which shade of red to have the text in, not so much.

Let me prove it. This is your To Do list today:

Get aspirin
Reply to Tom
Buy veg
Research chapter 3
Phone re bill
Read Pride and Prejudice

If I asked you to put those in priority order, I doubt you would: we're just talking here and your tea is getting cold. But you know that you could do it and I know that you could do it very easily. You'd haver a bit because you don't know who Tom is but you reckon he's on the list, he must be important enough, you'd bung him near the top. Equally, you probably put Pride and Prejudice at the bottom. I'm trusting that you did so because it's something you can read for pleasure after work and, besides, you're not about to interview Jane Austen.

So depending on the ferocity of your headache, the odds are that your sorted, prioritised list looks like this:

1. Get aspirin
2. Reply to Tom
3. Phone re mistake on bill
4. Research chapter 3
5. Buy broccoli
6. Read Pride and Prejudice

You're happy now: you can use that, it's a clear sequence and you're getting the important stuff done. But you seem to have forgotten that boss of yours and he or she is on the phone now, demanding whatever they demand and by god they're demanding right now or else.

Seriously, are you going to write out this:

2. Get more aspirin because boss really shouted
3. Reply to Tom
4. Phone re mistake on bill
5. Research chapter 3
6. Buy broccoli
7. Read Pride and Prejudice

I'm a smartarse and you've already gathered that I wouldn't prioritise that list. But, as I say, I'm a smartarse so while we've been talking, I bought some aspirin - and I did it at the supermarket so I could pick up some broccoli at the same time. I regret that as now I'll have to carry veg around all day. But I also remembered that my Austens are on the shelf back at my office so I downloaded the free ebook version to be ready to read on my iPad when I get the chance. I haven't done that task but now when I get to it, I can actually get to it.

It's not as if these are the highest priority items on my list but now I've only got five things left to do and you've got seven.

Similarly, it's not as if everything is equally important or equally quick to do on your list.

But it is that your To Do list needs to be useful or you won't use it. The job is get your tasks done, not to end up with a perfectly numbered list with a rainbow of priority colours.

I'm irritating, I'm sorry, but it's become a hobby horse. Plus it's all on my mind because I did have a very full day today - and now it's doubled. My mind is on what I can do, what I have to pass on, why in the world I took this extra gig on - answer: because it is huge fun - and why I keep talking about broccoli when I don't like it. That's a different issue, I grant you, but I can ponder it and I can have this mug of tea with you now because I've got my priorities right.

A version of this blog without the words bollocks and smartarse appears in the forthcoming family-friendly book The Blank Screen: Productivity for Creative Writers.

1 comment:

buttercup said...

Aww, I dunno... for the book - leave the bollocks in!