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  • Reply to David Allen's post about ABC prioritization

    See my web page http://web.ncf.ca/an588/abc.html
    which is a reply to David Allen's newsletter post
    "Why ABC Priority Codes don't work" http://www.davidco.com/newsletters/archive/0512.html .

    I find it's useful to record priority level when I write down an action. I agree with what David Allen says except his conclusion; I don't see any reason not to do write down priority levels. I find it saves me time as compared to using his system in a purer form.

  • #2
    I liked your article, you make a good point.
    When David Allen says that this or that works or doesn't work, it's not really true because it depends. It might not work in some cases but work in others.
    I feel like his newsletters are basically just repeating the same thing over and over so I don't read them.

    You know contexts, projects, next actions, etc, everything is just information. It all comes down what is useful information to write down and what is not. Sometimes priorities are useful information so why not write it down? No real reason to.

    I can make a similar case that contexts don't work or next actions don't work but the truth is sometimes they're useful information and sometimes they're not. After using gtd for a while I know what is useful to me and what isn't. I break gtd rules all the time myself. I do whatever I want with it to make it work better for me personally.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
      I find it's useful to record priority level when I write down an action. I agree with what David Allen says except his conclusion; I don't see any reason not to do write down priority levels. I find it saves me time as compared to using his system in a purer form.
      How satisfied are you that you have your higher levels (20,000ft+) sorted out? The reason I ask is that I believe that the more congruent and complete an understanding you have of your own goals and purpose, the less need you have to record priorities in your system.

      To me, the "holy grail" is that you can look at your NA list and within a minute or two intuitively know exactly what you need to do at that time. That can only happen when there is no incongruity at the higher levels.

      For me, developing the higher levels is sort of like working out priorities in advance for actions I haven't even thought of yet.

      Comment


      • #4
        The ABC priority code was associated with the DayTimer paper organizer, but more widely taught by Franklin, later Franklin-Covey. A represents something that must be done today, B something that should be done today, and C something that could be done today. The approach taught was to make a daily list, and assign A, B or C to each item and then a numeric code representing an order: A1, then A2, then B1, et cetera. This was to be done every day, and then traversed in order.

        Contrast this with the more fluid approach of GTD. There is a clear distinction between things that must be done today and everything else. The use of a star or flag to mark priority items, or equivalently, the use of a hotlist, is optional.

        I have seen a fair number of people proclaim that GTD doesn't work. Almost always they have misunderstood some key idea, usually substituting something more complicated or silly, e.g. "Every next action must be associated with a project" or "Each project can have only one next action." These are often called straw man arguments in rhetoric and logic: attacking a non-issue.

        I do use a star/flag because the list software I use supports it, and I find it helpful. Anything more would be too much for me.

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        • #5
          I have seen a fair number of people proclaim that GTD doesn't work. Almost always they have misunderstood some key idea, usually substituting something more complicated or silly, e.g. "Every next action must be associated with a project" or "Each project can have only one next action."
          What you've just said yourself is exactly a straw man argument.

          These are often called straw man arguments in rhetoric and logic: attacking a non-issue.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by treelike View Post
            For me, developing the higher levels is sort of like working out priorities in advance for actions I haven't even thought of yet.
            EXACTLY!!! That is a really key point. When you know what your higher levels are then it becomes obvious what the priority is of the various projects and actions. Unfortunately for me getting to that state of really clearly knowing is an ongoing process.

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            • #7
              If you name a priority as a context though True Believers of GTD wouldn't have any objection to it.
              Gtd does use priorities, it just names them differently. Someday/maybe is a list for low priority stuff. Also think about a "surf" context. It's basically a context for low priority computer actions.

              Priority is just another attribute and a way to group similar actions, it's essentially exactly the same thing as context.
              Why browse through 100 actions each time when only 5 are important? Why not just flag them and save time and effort. You're not going to lose anything. In fact you're just saving time.
              The whole point of gtd is in externalizing your thoughts. So if you really think that something is high priority you might as well externalize that information. If everything in your life is roughly the same priority then you don't need it.

              Same thing with contexts btw. If you spend all almost all of your time in the same context then contexts aren't very useful. But if you switch between contexts a lot then they're useful.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by supergtdman View Post
                What you've just said yourself is exactly a straw man argument.
                Actually, I was being polite by not directly criticizing the original post, but raising the possibility that there might be a misunderstanding.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by treelike View Post
                  How satisfied are you that you have your higher levels (20,000ft+) sorted out?
                  Not very, actually. Or I'm not sure.

                  The reason I ask is that I believe that the more congruent and complete an understanding you have of your own goals and purpose, the less need you have to record priorities in your system.
                  That may be. I'm not convinced, but I'll keep an open mind about it. Maybe I'll find out eventually, the hard way, or you can try to explain why it would work that way.

                  Note that I'm not explicitly recording priorities; rather, I'm writing things on different parts of the page, so that I can choose to read only the higher-priority ones. Later if I've gotten a clearer understanding of my higher levels, I may still sometimes be tired and only want to read a small number of actions; and unnecessarily reading actions that would take a lot of energy might still be numbing.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                    Actually, I was being polite by not directly criticizing the original post, but raising the possibility that there might be a misunderstanding.
                    Thanks for the consideration; however, I enjoy discussion, and if you disagree with something I've said I'd like to hear exactly what and why. Be warned that if I disagree with you I'm very likely to answer back, though. If you think there might be a misunderstanding, please tell me what you think it might be, because then either the misunderstanding can be straightened out (and I would learn something), or else I can assure you that the misunderstanding isn't there.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                      The ABC priority code was associated with the DayTimer paper organizer, but more widely taught by Franklin, later Franklin-Covey.
                      David Allen in his newsletter doesn't specify that this is what he's talking about. I searched on the Internet and found many systems that were called ABC prioritization; no one of them seemed clearly the most prominent. The arguments in his newsletter don't seem to be directed against that particular system (e.g., having to re-write the items onto the next day's list if they're not done) but against the idea of recording priorities at all.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Oogiem View Post
                        When you know what your higher levels are then it becomes obvious what the priority is of the various projects and actions.
                        I'm glad you like treelike's point. However: no matter how obvious the priority of something is when you read it as an action in a list, you have to actually read it in order to recognize its priority. If the higher-priority ones are already marked with asterisks or something, then you don't have to read the whole list every time to find the one most important one.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                          David Allen in his newsletter doesn't specify that this is what he's talking about. I searched on the Internet and found many systems that were called ABC prioritization; no one of them seemed clearly the most prominent. The arguments in his newsletter don't seem to be directed against that particular system (e.g., having to re-write the items onto the next day's list if they're not done) but against the idea of recording priorities at all.
                          I think a lot of the fundamental material is pre-web, and reverberates down the corridors of time to the present day. A lot of what I have heard and read from davidco makes it clear that DA is ok with hot lists or similar things. He is on record as saying he often creates a pre-trip list, and moves items from context lists to that list, as a form of hot list.

                          I think I am fairly widely read on the issue of priorities. I am familiar with the ideas of Mark Forster and Michael Linenberger, for example. I believe it is fair to say that DA has largely won the day on this issue: priorities are sometimes useful, but not universally so.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                            If the higher-priority ones are already marked with asterisks or something, then you don't have to read the whole list every time to find the one most important one.
                            I would suggest there's a difference between marking high priority items with asterisks, and adding ABC 123 priorities next to each item. Items that are high enough priority to require an asterisk usually remain high priority until done. But if you've rated priority in relation to each other (ABC/123), that prioritization will need updating constantly as things change.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                              you can try to explain why it would work that way.
                              It's not so much that there are no priorities in GTD, in fact priority is probably the most important thing. So important that it's not in the system, it's in your head.

                              If we could rate every goal/ AOF/ Project, maybe "Be healthy" is a 10, "Buy Aunt Betty's birthday present" is a 5, etc then we could make a formula that would result in a priority number. Then, by a complicated method of evaluating how every next action on our list relates to each project and higher level we could calculate the priority of each item. This of course would be ridiculous and it would take the whole day to keep the system going and nothing gets done. This is however what our brains do all the time. The clearer a picture in your mind is about who you are and where you want to go, the more accurate the result from this "brain number crunching".

                              But I call it the "holy grail" because probably very few people have their higher levels organised to perfection. And I'm glad you said you weren't sure because a) it adds weight to my point but more importantly b) you realise that developing the higher levels is a lifelong process. I reckon that most people who would say they have the higher levels sorted are kidding themselves. You have to test your conclusions against real life and it can probably take a lifetime.

                              So I would never criticise you for using priorities in your system in the way you describe. Far better that than to force yourself to set higher level goals which aren't really true to you. Let them develop organically, I say.

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