Priorities – how and why they work

and why some don’t

I recently tried to find out how I am using my time. I set an alarm every half an hour and wrote down what I had done and which kind of priority it was. I used Sage Grayson’s time log for that and I did it exactly two days. Then I gave up.

Sage Grayson uses the Eisenhower or Convey method of prioritising tasks. Those guys make you analyse whether the task is important or not and whether it is urgent or not.

This distinction is important because many people take urgent tasks for important by default, and end up doing a lot of urgent stuff but not really making an impact.

The tasks with the highest priority should be both urgent and important. Closely followed by those that are important, but not urgent. (Think of something like exercise, figuring out your retirement plan etc. There is no sense of urgency and we tend to forget them, yet the importance of them makes them second priority.)

Only then will the urgent but not important tasks follow. And the lowest priority have obviously those that are neither important nor urgent.

It turned out in my experiment that my priorities don’t work like that.

Maybe because I don’t have a job in real sense.

Maybe I am too happy-go-lightly.

Maybe because I enjoy going with a certain flow instead of sticking to a fixed discipline.

However, I still struggle with time management, procrastination and productivity. My recent reintroduction of one screenfree day per week makes me question those issues and the feeling of guilt of wasting time. I want to get beyond that.

One way of doing so is to make a task list every day and tick the stuff I got done, but deliberately leave some tasks undone and then try to not feel guilty or bad about it. I never got to the deliberate part, because currently I don’t have to try hard to leave things undone. It happens naturally.

Yet, I also mark the tasks on my list, but not according to urgency and importance. I developed my own marks:

  • A star is for priority (probably an important and maybe even urgent task). I give out three stars per day maximum.
  • A tick means effortless. Stuff like zero-ing my feedly, which I always enjoy doing, or syncing my Google drive, which needs a few clicks and then does the work by itself in the background.
  • And an arrow means that it goes fast. A quick email with links I promised to send someone or putting some audiobooks on my MP3 player (preparation for the screenfree day).

I try to do the priorities first, but if they take long and have a lot of minor tasks which they are broken into, then I set up the stuff that will run in the background first and when I take breaks I will do the fast tasks in between.

Even if I’m spending the entire day on one single project, I can easily incorporate theses priorities.

Which system works for you? How do you set priorities? And what are they? Please let me know in the comments, I would love to try out new strategies!

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