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:


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.


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


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


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

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?