Managing priorities

I confess, I struggle a bit with to do lists and, well… getting things done. And I’ve read David Allen. My problem isn’t with writing a to do list. That’s fine. It’s just that then I have a big list of tasks staring me in the face. No, actually, they’re more like a small crowd of noisy people jostling for attention who keep moving around so I can’t focus on any of them. Trying to get them to organise themselves into what’s the top priority for right now sometimes seems almost impossible.

The thing is, what’s most important changes from day to day. Planning to speak at a church in two Sundays time is suddenly very important today because I’m behind with letting them know what I’ll speak on. But now that I’ve had that conversation with the service leader the priority of this task drops back because I’ve got a Trustees half-day meeting on Saturday and we’ve got some exciting and important stuff to discuss and decide on. So that’s now my main priority.

One of my favourite bloggers is Michael Hyatt, whose inspirational posts pop into my inbox each day. And today’s post, when you feel overwhelmed by your workload pulled some threads together for me that may help.

Whilst I write tasks down in a notebook, it’s not very dynamic. If I’m doing things properly I need to evaluate and then re-write my task list fairly regularly. Being a Myers Briggs N rather than an S I’m not so good at this. I’d also rather have a task list that syncs effortlessly between my MacBook Pro and my iPhone. If the threshold of effort required to maintain the list is too high (and that’s not very high at all) the whole system becomes moribund. I’ve tried some very good apps, but none has quite worked for me.

So I was pleased when Apple introduced “reminders” with iOS5 – here was a simple way to list the tasks I need to remember. But it still wasn’t helping me function effectively the way I’d hoped. What I’d missed, and Michael’s blog post caused me to see for the first time, was that I need to prioritise my tasks according to Covey’s hierarchy of:
A—urgent and important
B—important but not urgent
C—urgent but not important
D—not urgent or important

iCal reminders allows me to do this (Priority: High, Medium, Low, None) but I also realised (duuhhh!!) that I can review these priorities dynamically throughout the day. I don’t have to re-write a list, I can just change the priority and by setting iCal to sort by priority my most important tasks are always at the top. Now, when I feel either flooded (too many things to do) or becalmed (I’m sure there must be something I should be working on) iCal reminders can help get back on task.

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