Taking notes and learning are integral to CaptureNotes and CaptureApps. Our raison d’être is essentially productivity – we want our users to squeeze more juice from every orange. And one of the core tenets of productivity is prioritization. If you have no goals, you’ll probably flounder. If you have too many goals, yes, you’ll probably flounder as well. Having priorities helps save time & energy, and you can can more good things done with less “busyness”. So with a massive set of goals and to-dos, how do you prioritize?
Getting Started with Prioritization: Make a List!
The obvious first step is to collect all your projects and tasks. In Getting Things Done, David Allen prescribes keeping a folder of your random tasks and ideas, which you review regularly (e.g., weekly). Don’t worry about priorities when you collect – just capture what needs to be done. If you have a large project, you may want to list out the most important “next steps” so you don’t over-complicate your next phase.
Select Prioritization Methods
1. Simple: The A | B | C | D | E Method
Perhaps the easiest method that is the “A-B-C-D-E method”. Simply categorize your to-do list using a hierarchy:
A: Must Do. If you don’t do it, there will be consequences!
B: Should Do. If you don’t do it, there will be negative effects, but not catastrophic failure.
C: Nice To Do. If you do it, there will be positive effects.
D: Delegate. If you can outsource or assign the task, do it!
E: Eliminate. Recycle bin!
2. Moderate: Difficulty vs. Value Matrix
Read your whole list over once so you know all the things you’re considering. Since prioritization is so subjective, you can make it more precise using a more mathematical approach. For each item on your list, you’ll assign a value of 1-10 (with 10 being the higher end of the scale (not like golf) for both the DIFFICULTY and the VALUE of doing the task. If something is easy, 10 and if something is extremely worthwhile, 10. If something is hard, 1 and unimportant, 1. Assign the values quickly – don’t spend a bunch of time contemplating or debating. These values are are relative, not absolute – compare them to each other. At the end, review your evaluations (in a spreadsheet, you could sort the values descending to see what is most important to do). If something is easy with tons of value, HIGH PRIORITY! If something is hard and has little impact, NO!
3. Moderate: Pareto Analysis
The Pareto Principle, AKA the 80/20 rule, says the the biggest results come from just 20% of our effort. Rank your to-do list in order of importance, adjusting slightly in regards to Paretom, adding the contribution of this task to the overall outcome of your goal or project. In other words, rank your tasks according to their outcome. In the end, focus on the top 20%.
4. Complex: CARVER Matrix
CARVER comes from a military method of target selection developed for Special Forces in Vietnam. CARVER stands for Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect, and Recognizability. The CARVER matrix has been adapted outside the military for management and setting goals. With the Difficulty vs. Value Matrix described above, you weight each column and sum the scores to determine highest priority (high values bubble to top). CARVER has more specific categories to extend that approach. You can read a more in-depth business analysis of CARVER here.
Some Key Productivity Tips
Two Minute Rule
From Getting Things Done, if something on your list comes to your attention and it would only take two minutes to complete, just do it now. “Touching” tasks over time adds a tax that you eliminate by completing it right away.
If you have others available to help you, and the results will be as good or better than you’d do yourself, then consider handing off. Don’t delegate to people who bounce tasks back to you, though, because you’ll waste more time.
If It’s Good Enough…
As demonstrated in the cult film Ed Wood, “Cut | Print | Move On” when something reaches sufficient quality. If perfect is the enemy of good, good is great for your time allocation. You can always iterate on something over time to make it better.
Eat a Frog
Focusing on your “frog” (your most challenging task) is a great way to start your daily routine. When your energy is high, it’s easier to focus and complete a task. Not only that, but it’s psychologically beneficial to complete something important – the rest of your day will feel more rewarding.
Roadblocks & Stopping Points
If you’re working on something that is a priority but you hit a snag, consider putting it to the side and moving to the next item. If you’ve eaten a frog but there are obstacles to completing it, rather than wasting time, you may want to put it to the side, perhaps delegating or requesting help, and then coming back to the task. You’ll make more progress in the long run.
How Do You Prioritize
There are no silver bullets to productivity, but there are some good ideas to try. We’re always keeping an eye on what works (or doesn’t) so we can complete more work that leads to real progress. The key to that is knowing how to set goals and then how to prioritize tasks to get there. Whether it’s a simple ranking or a complex matrix, the end result should be momentum towards success.
We would love to hear your preferred techniques.