Why ABC Priority Codes Don't Work

Hi Folks,

Before you spend another minute creating yet another list with ABC, 123, or high-medium-low codes as a way to define your priorities, read my essay this month. You may discover there’s a more natural path for getting you what you need to get the right things done.

All the best,




“How do I set priorities?” Because I hear that so frequently, I assume most people think they could and should be doing it better.

The “ABC” priority codes don’t work. Listing your top 10 things you think have to get done, in order, doesn’t work. You’ll have a different priority set at 8:00 tonight than you will at 10:30 this morning. And sometimes the most strategic thing for you to do will be to water your plants. Like, when you’ve been in six meetings, felt beat up in five of them, and by 4:30 your brain is scrambled eggs, and you barely have the attention span of a gnat. That’s the time to water your plants and fill your stapler. Why? Because you can’t do anything else, and you’re going to have to water your plants sometime anyway.

On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, there is no algorithm or formula that will last very long, or is really worth trying to nail down in some written or coded system. The four criteria that you will use to decide what to do are (in order of precedence):

Context (what can I do where I am?)
Time (when do I have to do something else?)
Energy (how wasted/fresh am I?)
Priority (what has the highest payoff for me if I do it?)

This excerpt is from a recent issue of David’s Productive Living newsletter. It’s free and sent about every 4 weeks. You’ll find essays from David Allen, thought-provoking quotes, and productivity tips you can use every day.