It’s Not The Tool, It’s How You Use It – Visible Priorities (Part 2)

Part 2 of David Freedman’s excellent guest posts on how to use tools for GTD.

Fundamentally, GTD is simply a method for choosing how to spend ones time. And for us GTDer, we’ve got a trusted system full of projects, next actions and someday/maybes to choose from. Add to that a whole set of inbound phone calls, emails and coworker drive-bys and we literally have hundreds of options at each moment of choice. In the face of all this, we want to organize our next actions in such a way that we are proactive about our priorities. Here’s the problem: proactivity in humans is a myth. We can only react. We can only respond to stimulus. In the moment of choice, we must have the right stimulus, our priorities, come into our attention so that we react to them by doing rather than reacting to something else. I use my Outlook calendar and Evernote for Android to keep my priorities in my face

Schedule Your Priorities

Yes, that’s plagiarized from Steven Covey.  As part of my weekly or morning review, I block time in my calendar to complete my highest priority next actions.  My particular convention is “WT – [name of the next action].”  “WT” stands for “Work Time.”  My calendar is a sure-fire way to get these priorities into my attention because my assistant reviews it with me every morning, I do quick scans of it all day on my Android and my assistant always alerts me of my next meeting, even if it is with myself:

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Use the Evernote Widget to Keep “Today” Context In Front of Your Face

Unfortunately, this one is only going to work for Android users as the iPhone does not support Widgets at the time of writing.  Most GTDer I know have some sort of “Today” context or items that they’ve picked out of their next actions as priorities.  There is a bunch of debate on various GTD forums as to whether “Today” is a context at all, but I would make the argument that context or not, it’s a pragmatic method for putting one’s attention on one’s priorities.  Here’s the step by step:

1) If you haven’t already. configure a “_Today” notebook or tag in Evernote.  I use the underscore to make it sort to the top of lists.

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2) Add the 4×2 Evernote Widget Large to your phone’s home screen.

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3) Select your “Today” context to show your note list.

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Now, every time you look at your phone, your priorities will be begging you to give them your attention!

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It’s Not The Tool, It’s How You Use It – The Evernote Instant Agenda (Part 1)

Another excellent guest post by David Freedman whom I consider a GTD Black Belt.

EvernoteDid the title get your attention? 🙂  We all know it’s not entirely true – the tool does matter and so too does your technique.  Evernote 5 is a crowd favorite here on GTDforCIOs.  In a multipart guest post series I will share some of my favorite Evernote tricks that bring to life some practical GTD magic.

I work in a dynamic corporate environment where we value PEOPLE above all.  From a GTD perspective, PEOPLE are my most important context.  In order to build strong relationships, I want to have meaningful conversations with them at every chance encounter.  I want to talk to them about how I enjoyed the restaurant they recommended, tell them that I haven’t forgotten about the email I owe them or ask them what they are doing for their kid’s birthday next week.  Here’s how I use Evernote 5 to make sure I’m good at internal relationships.

1)  When I PROCESS (recall the steps Capture > Process > Organize > Review > Do) my CAPTURED items from my Evernote inbox, I always tag with a person context unless the item pertains to me and nobody else.  If the item pertains to multiple people, I tag the item with multiple people.  If the item pertains to a project, I still tag the item with the most important people on that project…you’ll see why soon.  I thank the curator of this blog (Michael) for encouraging a shift from my previous nomenclature of “f.Michael” meaning “for Michael” to the more contemporary “@Michael.”

DAF12)  In Evernote 5 for Android, I configure my default view to Sort By Notebook as my Notebooks provide important timing, size and status context.

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3)  In Evernote 5 for Android, I use the new “Shortcuts” feature to save people context searches for those I want to be most prepared for.

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4)  Prior to scheduled meetings or when I see someone walking down the hall or at any other opportune moment, I click on the shortcut in Evernote 5 for Android pertaining to people I’m about to encounter and VOILA!…I have an instant agenda.  I quick visual scan of the items tagged to that individual along with the notebook they are stored in and I load in my mind something meaningful to talk to them about.

Note that in Step 1, I mentioned that even when project is the central focus of an item, I always tag by related people.  Being that the “Instant Agenda” is one of my most valuable use cases, the project tag does not help fulfill the goal.

Why A-B-C priorities don’t work in “to-do” lists

ABCI was just coaching someone who was unfamiliar with GTD and he was convinced that prioritizing tasks with an A-B-C priority was the best way to determine what was the most important task to do first. I have tried this and it does not work.

A-B-C priority codes don’t work

Similarly, listing the top dozen things you need to do in order 1-12, doesn’t work either.

There are several reasons for this. The reality is our priorities change over time. You’ll have a different priority set at 9:00 tonight than you will at 9:00 this morning. This is especially true when you acknowledge the reality that over the course of the day “stuff happens” and you can easily become “overtaken by events” that are unplanned and just happen to us.

Additionally, there is also the wasted time of scanning your tasks to see if they need to be re-prioritized or re-written. This wasted energy will eventually repel you to your system and you will stop using it. On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, there is no algorithm or formula that is sustainable in some written or coded system.

The only way to effectively prioritize the stuff you have to do is to break down your to-dos down into the very next action necessary to achieve completion of the overall goal or task. Then this next action needs to be parked in the appropriate context – what can you do where you physically are.

Then once you have determined the next action and context, they become actionable and you are ready to act on your tasks.

What criteria do you use to decide what to do?