Information overload

How to break free from priorities and get productive with lists


Many years ago somebody recommended me to use priority lists, basically start each day by prioritizing the tasks of the day and then execute in that order. At the end of the day you were supposed to have completed your most important tasks be left with a great feeling of accomplishment. I have to say this was probably some of the crappiest advice for productivity I have ever received! It sounds good in theory but it simply didn’t work for me.

Real life doesn’t care about my make belive proprities. Real productivity comes from doing the most suitable task at every given moment. What makes a task suitable? In short, your current circumstances. Always focusing on your “top priority” task will block you from accomplishing a bunch of other stuff while you are waiting for the right circumstances for your top priority to arise. This is where your lists will power charge your productivity.

Free your mind
A great benfit of keeping extensive lists is that if you don’t have to keep evertything in your head. This will remove constant mental reminders of things to do. This used to bother me a lot, but no more. The way to use lists for your everyday tasks is to tag them in different ways to make sure you can find an appropriate task at any time. I believe you will find something very similar as part of David Allen’s GTD but that whole method can take years to implement. If you get using lists right, you get a huge productivity boost very quickly. To get started I propose using these categories:

  • Phone
  • Computer
  • Office
  • Your boss’ name
  • At home
  • Later
  • Wish list
  • etc

If you are using Microsoft Exchange for example tagging your tasks will be very easy and then you simply use the filtering options to find tasks that are suitable at this moment. For example if you are not at your computer there is no idea looking at tasks that require a computer but you may have your phone at hand and have time to do some phone calls so looking at all tasks tagged “phone” will be a good starting point. Another example is if your boss stops by your office, take a look at all tasks tagged with his/her name to see if there is anything you can take care of right away. The way you can categories things are endless and only you can find your own categories.

When you use tagged lists like this you will always find something suitable to do and it will be the most efficient task for the current moment because when you know that you are looking at tasks that CAN be dealt with the second thing you do is consider your energy level or the time you have at hand. Everything combined will guide your decision on what to do.

Reaping the Benefits
When you look back at your day you will focus on everything you did get done and any task completed is a success. Never again will you have to feel crappy beacuase you didn’t complete a task you never could anyway. So scrap those crappy prioritized lists and start using lists the efficient way!

What is your preferred method today?