Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Prioritization 101

One of the chief obstacles to managing complexity is deciding what do do first. I have a tried and tested approach to this that has stood me in good stead in the past. At one time I directly supervised 400 staff. Seriously. On a bad day the phone never stopped ringing and this system weathered the storm. If you're having a hard time try it.


Pen and A4 paper.

Prepare the list.

1. List absolutely all tasks you need to perform in any order. Use lined A4 paper and add one task per line. If a task description is too long for one line split it into separate tasks. Use as many pieces of paper as necessary. Do not even think about prioritization.

2. Put the list away and do something else but keep a pen handy to write down all the stuff that will inevitably pop into your mind as you concentrate on the other thing you’re doing.

3. Add the new tasks to the list.

4. Repeat as necessary, remembering to keep a pen and paper with you at all times to jot down new tasks.

Prioritize the list.

1. Look down the list and find “the thing that must be done to the exclusion of all else”. Mark it as the highest priority by adding (1) next to it in the list.

2. Repeat until all the tasks are listed, incrementing the numbers as you go. If you have more than one piece of A4 paper after having completed this process, transfer the top priority numbered items onto a single dated piece of A4 paper.

3. Archive the other pieces of paper and keep them to explain why they were de-prioritized. They will never get done. If you miraculously complete the tasks on the high priority sheet you can revive them. If people need to be informed that these tasks will never get done, do it now.

4. Look through the list and find any tasks that would facilitate the highest priority task. If there are any, they are now the highest priority task and should be done before the highest priority task. When reprioritizing tasks in the list, re-number them as fractions. e.g. if a task becomes the highest priority add it as task 0.5. If a task becomes higher priority than 2 but less than 3 make it 2.5.

When to do it.
Each morning, before you do anything else, copy all of the tasks to a new piece of A4 paper and date it. Re-numbering them as you go so you have a new task list 1,2,3 etc.

That's the simple bit. All you have to do now is the work!

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