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Prioritizing Next Actions that are in different contexts

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  • Prioritizing Next Actions that are in different contexts

    Question about how to flag top priority Next Actions.

    I've been placing all my NAs into context-based lists, such as

    @Computer
    @ Calls - Work
    @ Calls - Personal
    @ Office
    etc.

    But what if there's a top priority that trumps all the contexts? For instance, what if I have a specific Next Action within the @Computer category like "Complete Penske spreadsheet" and that is my absolute top priority. Despite being near a phone, or in the office, or any other context, my top priority is that Penske file, no matter what. How is that captured in the system?

    Moreover, what if there are, for instance, 5 top priorities that I have to complete as soon as possible, over a couple of days, ahead of everything else, regardless of their contexts? For instance, those 5 actions could include a phone call, finishing a spreadsheet, painting the porch, writing a letter, and submitting timesheets at work. They're all in different contexts -- one's @Call, another's @Office, another's @Home, and another's @Computer.

    How do people gather top priority NAs when they're in different contexts? I'm trying to avoid, for instance, making all my @Calls because I'm near a phone, and then realizing that I had an item in the @Computer that was much more important than any phone call.

  • #2
    Maybe have a TopPriority category. If you have a system that enables you to assign multiple categories to a task (e.g. HandyShopper for Palm!), you can mark an action as both @Computer and TopPriority.

    Comment


    • #3
      natural priorities

      so far I am using natural priorities, which seems to be what David Allen recommends. In this kind of situation (which I also encounter), I depend upon a quicj, intuitive scan of my next actions-- because I often need to choose *the context* not just the next action. Occasionally I will star a high priority action so it stands out.

      So, I'm in the office in the morning and I quickly scan my next actions to see if there are high priority (starred items) in any context, which might help me choose what context I am going into... if I have a report that is top priority I'll see it and go into @computer mode, or an important phone call dictates @phone mode...

      But I refuse to go further than a star for high priority items because otherwise I get lost in a maze of priorities and changing priorities...

      Mind you, I'm just a beginner here.

      Comment


      • #4
        I approach this issue from two angles. Sometimes I make a firm decision that I am going to do the task on a particular day, and then I will put it on my calendar. I try to limit what I put on my calendar so that it is truly my hard landscape, and I do not become numb to what is on there. My more common approach is to use the due date function of the task list to tickle the higher priority items to my attention first. If I am not going to do it, I simply change the due date to tickle it for another day. On any given day, only about a dozen actions have a "due" date. This due date serves the same function as my tickler file; my real due dates go on the calendar. I suppose you could also use the priorities to do this. You could set the default priority for new tasks to be something other than one, and then change the priority to one for a few of your higher priority tasks that you don't want to lose in the shuffle. If you decide to do this, you have to make sure you consistently scan your entire next action list and not just the few priority items.

        Comment


        • #5
          If you're doing the weekly review, those high priority items should always be brought to mind at least weekly. In addition, if, as David promotes, you are scanning your lists throughout the day, you will, again, be reminded of your high priority tasks and you can make the conscious decision to put yourself in the necessary context. For example, as I'm waiting in the doctors office for an appointment, I scan my NA's and, since I've got to sit there anyway, I scan a few more contexts. I notice that I have that high priority NA where I have to be at my computer. After I leave the doctor's office, guess where I'm heading? If you're living GTD, these important tasks will automatically be brought to mind.

          Comment


          • #6
            I like to use Michael Hyatt's idea of having the context category !Today. The exclamation mark moves the category to the top of my action lists and gives me somewhere to drag my most pressing tasks to. Here is Michael's post on the subject: http://michaelhyatt.blogs.com/workin.../04/index.html

            Comment


            • #7
              I have sort of the same categories as you do, and I generally use them for ruling out contexts that are not valid at the moment I wish to do a next action.

              As you say, there could be times when you are able to pick a number of NA's, equally importent, as your next one, but I doubt that you will have much trouble deciding excactly which one to pick.

              Usually your choice will be influenced by
              • time available
              energy
              • context

                Good luck

                Peter

              Comment


              • #8
                I, too, use the "!TODAY" category to denote tasks that are simply urgent and trump other merely important work because of their overriding urgency. Otherwise I sort my tasks by due date and resources (how much work it will take to get them done).

                Comment


                • #9
                  I uncheck the category name so that the urgent task goes into the "Unfiled" category of the Palm or "None" category on Outlook. The "None" category sits at the very top of the task list on Outlook, so it's easy to see those few items which MUST be done today.

                  Frank

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Prioritizing Next Actions that are in different contexts

                    Originally posted by Scott716
                    But what if there's a top priority that trumps all the contexts? For instance, what if I have a specific Next Action within the @Computer category like "Complete Penske spreadsheet" and that is my absolute top priority. Despite being near a phone, or in the office, or any other context, my top priority is that Penske file, no matter what. How is that captured in the system?
                    GTD theory posits that, contrary to traditional time management practices, prioritization should be intuited from moment to moment rather than predefined. But that only works if you're looking at your lists as regularly as you should. Once you habitually look at your @computer list whenever you're at your computer, identifying "Complete Penske spreadsheet" as the top priority at each perusal should be easy enough.

                    A hard landscape item, on the other hand, goes on your calendar as an all-day item on its due date, not on the action lists. So if the spreadsheet is due today, it goes on the calendar for today, and you review review your calendar entries before proceeding to the action lists. Then regardless of the context you're in, you know what to take care of first. If your Penske file is on the calendar for today, and you're not at a computer, then you now know you need to get to a computer. The same goes for next actions in other contexts. If it's not due today, but it's on your calendar, it will come up in your weekly review and on your @computer list on the days leading up to the due date, and you'll be able to identify it as a priority.

                    The reason for not flagging them as priorities is that your immediate context may compel you to close an open loop regardless of its lesser significance. I might be working on a bid that's due today, and someone might call with a question which requires me to call a supplier on the East Coast by 2 p.m. PST (I live in Los Angeles), after which they'll be closed. If it's 1:45 p.m., then my intuition tells me that it's better use of my time to take 5 minutes out from working on the bid and call the supplier rather than leave a potential customer hanging unnecessarily for an additional 24 hours. The bid is significant, but the call takes priority at that moment (significance and priority are not the same). On the other hand, if I genuinely sense that every minute counts, then the call will have to wait until tomorrow. Only hard landscape items are a priori in GTD; everything else is to be determined in the moment.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Prioritizing Next Actions that are in different contexts

                      Originally posted by Scott716
                      But what if there's a top priority that trumps all the contexts? For instance, what if I have a specific Next Action within the @Computer category like "Complete Penske spreadsheet" and that is my absolute top priority. Despite being near a phone, or in the office, or any other context, my top priority is that Penske file, no matter what. How is that captured in the system?
                      In a 'pure' GTD system, your calendar holds two types of items: time specific and day specific. Time specific is a no-brainer... appts, meetings, etc. Day specific are events specific to that day but are not tied to a particular time.

                      In theory, day specific events are reserved for only those items that absolutely have to get done that day. It may be cheating a bit, but I also drag n' drop tasks onto my daily calendar (marking them as all day events) that I really want to focus on (and hopefully complete) during the course of the day.

                      Regardless of its absolute due date, if it's a task that needs attention that badly... to the exclusion of any other intuitive selection process, then it is close enough to 'day specific' for me. Is it 'pure' GTD? Maybe not, but it works for me and I prefer to leave the task in its appropriate context and use the calendar as my focus tool.

                      Also, this by no means implies that I abandon my contextual scanning during the course of the day. That behavior is, quite simply, an ingrained habit by now.

                      A side benefit is that it makes a nice, impromptu log for review purposes.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Why not prioritize the context itself? If there is something that absolutely has to be done at the computer, then at some point you have to make sure you find your way to computer.
                        My 2 cents
                        George

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          in context

                          calendaring is good to force the issue
                          i use Q1 as a context as in Covey's Urgent & Important Qudarant 1 in stead of !today... same concept
                          but it seems lke the task that is urgent has a context.. @computer since its a spreadsheet. jsut get thee to the computer review your list & intuit that that is the one to work on.
                          if you can't recall that you need to be at the computer today to do Penske, then use calendaring or !today

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by George
                            Why not prioritize the context itself? If there is something that absolutely has to be done at the computer, then at some point you have to make sure you find your way to computer.
                            My 2 cents
                            George
                            This is an issue that has nagged at me for years and I'd appreciate any insights people can provide. The point is, sometimes the next action is to switch contexts. For example, if I'm not at my computer, but should be writing something, I need to take the action of going to the computer. In other words, GTD presents contexts as "above" actions in a hierarchical sense. In that view, the context is a given and we just look what actions we can take in that context. But context may also be "below" actions in the sense that we have to first consider what action to take, and then switch contexts.

                            This problem is acute for those of us who do most of our work on a computer and who always have a computer available. Many people - myself included - define contexts based on type of work: writing, brainstorming, reading, etc., but this has always felt a bit forced to me because I have no clear procedure for deciding which context I want to be in.

                            Thoughts?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by walkerw5
                              Originally posted by George
                              Why not prioritize the context itself? If there is something that absolutely has to be done at the computer, then at some point you have to make sure you find your way to computer.
                              My 2 cents
                              George
                              This is an issue that has nagged at me for years and I'd appreciate any insights people can provide. The point is, sometimes the next action is to switch contexts. For example, if I'm not at my computer, but should be writing something, I need to take the action of going to the computer. In other words, GTD presents contexts as "above" actions in a hierarchical sense. In that view, the context is a given and we just look what actions we can take in that context. But context may also be "below" actions in the sense that we have to first consider what action to take, and then switch contexts.

                              This problem is acute for those of us who do most of our work on a computer and who always have a computer available. Many people - myself included - define contexts based on type of work: writing, brainstorming, reading, etc., but this has always felt a bit forced to me because I have no clear procedure for deciding which context I want to be in.

                              Thoughts?
                              I don't know if this answers your question, but as one of those who primarily works on a computer, if there's something that's work-related that has to be done on computer it goes in the @work category, not the @computer category. Same with pone calls since at work, I'm always by a phone.

                              This methodology stops my high-priority work-related "stuff" from getting lost in the contexts.

                              Comment

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