Originally Posted by Ken Case
OmniFocus has a notion of priority already: it's the order in which you arrange your items. If you want something to have a higher priority, simply move it up in the list.
This gives you much finer-grained control than a typical priority system, which typically only has a few levels of priority: OmniFocus effectively has as many priorities as you have items.
Does that make sense?
Prioritising is an interesting process in GTD.
Ken Case's point that OmniFocus has its inherent prioritising system built-in invisibly by the order in which the user can arrange their Projects and Tasks works - if the user alone can decide what job is worth doing first. It would still be good if OmniFocus could tell us what to do next, prioritising tasks for us. The question is, how? Without purporting to be prescriptive, the posting below (i) identifies factors involved in prioritising, (ii) proposes a way to set them up in OmniOutliner (until OmniFocus can do this) and (iii) enables the reader to generate a list of tasks in 'what-to-do-next' order.
On the surface (sic.), it would seem that prioritising is a question of balancing just two factors: urgency and priority. Urgency is the apparent immediate importance of a task. E.g. if you have run out of milk for breakfast the following day, it may be 'urgent' for you to buy some now, though you could perfectly well survive without it and it's certainly not going to help you reach your life goals. Urgency is usually seen in terms of deadline, but ignores priority. 'Priority' is the place that task has in the scheme of things to help you to reach your previously-identified life goals. Priorities define your epitaph!
Above, I say 'on the surface', because of course there are several other factors in play in prioritising. They include when the task is due to be done by, how long it takes to do the task, which project
the task belongs to and what Timothy Ferriss in his book 'The Four Hour Work Week' (2008) has called 'Eliminate
' - EASD. This latter is a process for getting rid of activities you'd rather avoid in your life.
' means 'don't bother';
' means find a way for technology to do this for you, e.g. make an FAQ and an autoresponder email, and ask people to read that rather than to bother you for a repeated answer;
' means find a way to do this yourself, but quickly, and in a way that you set up mechanisms for yourself to be able to do that task more quickly and easily in the future;
' means just that: find someone more specialised and pay them to do this for you.
Below is an approach I have found for prioritising tasks and automatically organising them into 'what-to-do-next' order. Effectively it seems to order tasks automatically so that urgent, important (priority) things are done first, in duration order (i.e. the tasks that can be done quickly are listed first, so that you can get them out of the way and thus become more effective). Lastly, tasks that are in line with your life goals are put first. If this does not make sense, read the final sections of this posting.
To start with, set up seven columns in OmniOutliner left-to-right as follows:
Task, Due, Priority, Duration, Job, EASD, Delegatee.
Next, set up Pop-Up Lists, in the order given
top to bottom, in OmniOutliner's 'Column Type' inspector for the following columns only, viz:
(15 items in pop-up list)
(4 items in pop-up list)
Urgent (= do now)
Set this solumn type to 'duration' in the 'Column Type' inspector. The column will take imput such as '1d' (= 1 day), '6h' (= 6 hours), '1w' (= 1 week), '7m' (= 7 months) etc.4. Job
In the 'Column Type' inspector, make a pop-up list of your fixed life goals (1-2 words per goal). Put your most important life goals at the top of the list and least important ones at the bottom. Remember, this is about what you want to achieve in your life, not necessarily about what you feel you ought to do. - The two may be the same though. You should be very general about these life goals (not too much detail). Have a maximum of 3-5. The job here is a 'category of life goal', e.g. 'Forest' for forest building, and 'Supermarket' for making money for a supermarket corporate account - one of these will take precedence over the other for you.
(4 items in pop-up list. These will not affect 'what to do next' order)
In the 'Column Type' inspector, make a pop-up list of Eliminate, Automate, Streamline, Delegate. In that order, 'Eliminate' at the top.
Finally, go to the Reorganize menu and select 'Keep Sorted'. Set it up as follows:
Check (tick) Due, First to Last
Check (tick) Priority, First to Last
Check (tick) Duration, Lowest
Check (tick) Job, First to Last
* * *
If one completes this file with a list of basic tasks (they could even be general projects but listed as tasks), without making sub-lists of tasks
, the list automatically sorts itself conveniently into 'what to do next' order. Yes, urgency is taken into account, so those daft, short, urgent (due soon) things can get done, - but these are tempered by the task's priority. Quick-to-do tasks are presented first so that you become effective.
Once the list is sorted, it's important to know how to read
the list. You will find that, say, a third of the way up the list from the bottom, are tasks that take more time and that are important, while above those will be less important tasks that can be done more quickly. At this point in the list, the user may wish to prioritize higher-priority tasks that take longer, over those that have lower priority but are quicker to do. The clinch factor here is this: how long does a task have to take, before its priority means that you have to prioritise it over a less important task
. The system I have proposed, puts important stuff that can wait, lower down in the list of what to do next. Swapping the 'Due' and the 'Priority' columns around provides an interesting perspective, but presents what I would call an artificially 'selfish' work mode. Priority goals take precedence over everything and important tasks which are less in line with what you want to achieve, get pushed dangerously down the list. I still think that sorting by urgency (due date) and then priority, works better. It's important not to allow into
your 'to do' system, tasks which are not in line with your self-tempered responsibilities.
In judging priorities (what to do next) we thus become aware of the truth that life inevitably involves compromise, as we juggle things we have
to do, with the things we want
It would be possible to experiment with including a column called 'Acceptability'. This being a column which allows tasks to be ordered according to how much you felt like doing that task! While this may be a revelation to the user, explaining why we procrastinate, it helps one to understand why we often avoid important tasks: simply because we do not fancy doing them. Ultimately, self-discipline comes into play and the 'Acceptability' column can be banished so that one can 'forget oneself' and focus instead on what needs to be done.
It might be good if the OmniFocus team could contemplate the above techniques and consider making them implementable by users of OmniFocus. It can be seen that prioritising is more than a matter of one level of importance. To recap, at least five factors come into play when one is prioritising tasks: 'urgency', 'priority', 'completion time' and 'life goal alignment'. I have deliberately not included the OmniFocus' 'context' parameter in this list as I am writing about priorities. Clearly, if one has a high priority task and a low priority task to complete when out at the post office (say), then OmniFocus' 'context few' comes into useful play to allow tasks appropriately to be grouped and dealt with.
Finally, it's important to state the obvious: that no to-do list is ever definitive; it is always a living, changing work in progress. - All part of the rich tapestry of life.
I would welcome readers' thoughts on the above and hope that these ideas are useful.