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GTD, FC and "Priorities"; semantics?

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  • GTD, FC and "Priorities"; semantics?

    As I've been reading throught he first few "chapters" of Ready for Anything, I've had a few aha moments regarding Prioritizing which has shed light, for me, on the perceived friction between GTD and the Franklin Covey approach.

    It occurs to me that the concept of "priority" is multi-factorial. (wow, I've been deposing too many scientists lately). The concept includes both an urgency factor, and an importance factor related to some goal or area of our lives. It's the combination of these two that causes difficulty.

    The ABC priority system forces the user to meld the two factors together, without any clear formula for doing so. The Quadrant approach forces the user to explictly separate the two. That's why the merger between Franklin and Covey was so bumpy. But in either approach, you're tracking "priorities" in your system.

    What I've come to realize is that when David talks about NOT tracking your priorities "out there" in your system, he's referring to the Importance factor. When GTD users object to this, they're usually thinking of the Urgency factor.

    DA has no objection to tracking Urgency, in terms of the time-sensitivity of a project or action. (I think this point is alittle more clear in the CDs than in the book). Indeed, that Urgency factor is essentially static. The due date is what it is. To the extent Urgency changes, it is an external change caused by the inevitable march of time.

    However, the Importance factor is purely internal and therefore extremely dynamic. That is the factor that cannot be systemitized.

    So maybe we need to change our vocabulary and talk about "significance" rather than priority. This is just my thinking. Hope it helps.

  • #2
    Quick Recap

    All -

    Here's a quick recap of the Franklin Quest/Hyrum Smith Priority system:

    A = Vital (Tied to your Governing Values, and is "life-sustaining" or has more to do with "Quality of Life.")

    B = Important (Should be done today. This is where many of the urgencies fall. Hyrum himself said that most people have a lot of "B's" on their list.)

    C = Optional (Could be done today. This is filler stuff. It's not urgent, and it's not adding too much to the overall quality of your life. It's not moving you closer to being self-actualized with your Gov. Values or Long-Range Goals)

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for the outline of the ABC definitions. It's been awhile since I've used them.
      I think that definition demonstrates the limitations of the system. As DA points out in the Ready For Anything book, where does something like "need new tires" fit into that system? It's probably a "C" while it needs to get done. But if it doesn't get done, sitting on the side of the highway waiting for AAA certainly does impact the quality of your life.

      Comment


      • #4
        Whenever I tried to apply FC to work situations, I basically said to myself, well, work is vital as a means to an income for me and my family. Therefore all work items are A items.

        On the other hand, if I did not have to work, then almost none of the stuff would even be on my list, let alone have an A before it.

        So then, work items are always A. The things that would most ensure my progress and success in work, (or maybe just ensure that I do not lose my job) are the A1 items.

        This would probably mirror the prioritisation criteria that the owner of a business would apply. After all, keeping the business going is done the same way no matter who you are – the business can’t distinguish.

        “A = Vital (Tied to your Governing Values, and is "life-sustaining" or has more to do with "Quality of Life.")”

        I REALLY wish I could make my life sustaining values A1 items in a typical day. I would love to mediate for an hour a day, spend quality time with my family, learn a musical instrument, and so on. But then, of course, I would lose my job. Sadly, economics determines my prioritization scale, and takes all my best hours, and I have to squeeze all the Life-Sustaining stuff into the odd bits of time that show up.

        Esquire, I find “significance” to be a much more realistic criterion, because things that are significant gain their significance from the context of the individual. In my case, holding on to my job is extremely significant.

        (In a previous job, we used to argue a lot about prioritization. We were told to make certain clients “A” clients. When I asked how “C” clients were to be treated, no one ever gave me a straight answer. And we got just as much heat if a "C" client or an “A” client complained about poor service.

        That’s the thing that always bothered me about prioritization: what happens to the stuff further down the pecking order? Does it ever get done? In a busy office that correctly prioritizes, it never will get done. Therefore, why is it on the list on the first place?

        Yes, it’s tremendously satisfying to get genuinely important stuff done first in the day – but I believe that’s the sole objective of prioritization: to make sure the big stuff gets done; but it provides no definitive procedures for middle or low priority items. It could in fact be said to be extremely ruthless.

        The unexpected skill I had to develop in that previous office was the skill of making heartless and untruthful excuses (lying) to low fee clients. Has anyone ever read a book, or even a chapter of a book, on how we should go about dealing efficiently with our middle layer priorities? I haven’t).

        Dave

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        • #5
          BusyDave:
          Hey, your story sounds familiar.

          I could never figure out how to explain to my boss that I wouldn't be able to do the ridiculous assignment he just popped into my office with, because it wasn't one of my "big rocks" that week!

          Seriously, unless you run your own business, many of the "priorities" (both hour-to-hour and larger scale) are set largely by others. And even if you do run the business, many times of those "priorities" are set by the customers.

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          • #6
            I am a long-time user of FC and have recently been using GTD with a FranklinPlanner.

            I agree that the FC methodology has limitations. ABC prioritization is, in my opinion, more trouble that it is worth. The Master Task List concept is, however, one of FC's best ideas and is similar to GTD's Next Action Lists.

            I have created next action lists with custom tabs in the planner. Most items get captured here on the appropriate list.

            I review the lists daily and transfer a next action to the Daily Task List on the day I intend to complete it. This prevents a long list of items that never get done and have to be forwarded. The key is that ONLY those things I intend to complete that day show up on the DTL. Prioritizing this list has not added any value for me.

            While this may seem like an extra step it helps me reduce the large NA lists to more manageable portions for each day.

            Comment


            • #7
              I think the definition given above that all "A"s must be value-based is wrong--even for the way that FC teaches in the seminars. "A" simply means it must get done today--regardless of the reason. It doesn't make any difference if it does or doesn't make your heart glow with life-fulfilling satisfaction. If that was a criteria, no one would ever pay their mortagage on time. And if you have to go through the logic of rationalizing which of your values you could attach paying the mortgage to, you're shooting beyond the mark and wasting brain power.

              That being said, what's wrong with giving your own priorities a level of urgency? If the bank can make your mortgage due on a certain day, why can't you assign deadlines for things that are important to you?

              We should understand what "must" really means. There is no such thing as an absolute need. Every "must" or "need" is simply in exchange for some chosen benefit. There is always an "or". "I must breathe or I will die." "I must pay my mortage or I will have late fees and a poor credit rating." "I must exercise or I will become less healthy and energetic." etc.

              C

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              • #8
                That’s the thing that always bothered me about prioritization: what happens to the stuff further down the pecking order? Does it ever get done? In a busy office that correctly prioritizes, it never will get done. Therefore, why is it on the list on the first place?
                This reminds me of Mark Forster (www.markforster.net), who like DA advocates against the use of priorities. In his view, it all comes down to commitment. Everyone has loads of things they'd like to or feel they have to do, but you can only achieve as much in the fixed amount of time anyone has available.

                You have to get real with this list of things and for each one make a clear decision: am I going to do it (i.e. to commit to it) or not? This leads to what you could call a "commitment list". As far as this list is concerned, priorities have no meaning, since everything on it will get done. (My personal take on this is that you can use the priorities or Covey quadrants while deciding what to put on your commitment list).

                In the book "Managing Multiple Projects", a similar idea is expressed via the concept of "gatekeeping": i.e. tracking up front what gets into your system, what you'll agree to commit to, and keeping the rest out.

                Marc.

                http://squonk.blogs.com/

                Comment


                • #9
                  Agreed: there are always more good ideas than time to do the

                  Marc - excellent points. We had an epiphany at my company a couple of years ago after we all attended the GTD seminar. We made a mutual commitment to acknowledge that we will always have a lot of good ideas we will choose not to pursue. Spreading your resources too thin is a recipe for catastrophe and mediocrity. We strive for excellence (but not perfection - we gave that up too).

                  It's been a transformational decision. Our mantra is "Do less... better." It's been very energizing and our team focus is vastly improved.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    CiKub:
                    I think you make the precise point. Urgency, in terms of WHEN something needs to get done by, is entirely appropriate to track in the system. "Importance" is simply too dynamic, fluid and amorphous a concept to be systemitized.

                    Personally, I prefer GTD's idea of only putting things that MUST get done today on the daily calendar (that is, things that will die, or no longer be operational or relevant if they aren't done today).

                    If you consider "A" priorities for things that must be done today "for whatever reason", I'm not sure what that means. If the reason is anything other than the fact that the task cannot be done at all if it isn't done today, then you've still got alot of thinking to do everytime you look at your "A" items.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Esquire
                      If you consider "A" priorities for things that must be done today "for whatever reason", I'm not sure what that means. If the reason is anything other than the fact that the task cannot be done at all if it isn't done today, then you've still got alot of thinking to do everytime you look at your "A" items.
                      I consider it appropriate to make something urgent if I am committed to it. For example, if I have a goal to read a book with 30 chapters by the end of the month, I need to make sure I read a chapter a day (or exercise to lose weight, or whatever). That would be an "A" task--not because someone expects me to deliver something, but because I have a comittment to myself. Why should only external comittments have "must do" priority in our lives?

                      If you set a few "A" tasks for yourself during a day, whether for external committments or internal goals, why would you have to do any thinking about your list each time you look at it? You've already done the thinking at the beginning of the day (or week). Now you just "do" (unless you are interrupted, which I think is the main reason DA discourages daily lists).

                      C

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                      • #12
                        long post -- priorities versus sequence

                        I think the idea of priority goes even further than importance or signficance or urgency.

                        what is boils down to me is really about sequence. -- with a sequence i know what i want/need/have to/ do in what order -- doesn't really have to do with urgency or importance as i'll explain in a minute, what i really don't want to have to do is make many decisions in the heat of the battle as to what to do next.


                        something "important/significant" and urgent may still not be the first thing i work on in the morning -- it might be to look over the paper or talk with a colleague -- so i dissassociate priority / urgency from what i need to do instinctively -- what i do do is sequence what i need to do based on some decision making criteria that may change day to day -- to use davids nomenclature -- based on urgency, priority, or energy/time available.

                        its about sequencing for me.


                        the sequencing thing is wjat FC ABC/123 stuff tried to get at but i think it overanalyzes the point -- the priiorities that we often get when looking at a typical list is that they are all A priority and FC then wants you to sequence them to a1, a2, a3 then b1, b2 b3 so you can spend the whole day doing nothing but prioritizing and not doing -- really frustrating

                        the epiphany for me is that GTD is most effective when compared to traditional time management techniques in a paper based organizer world -- for those of us that cut our time management teeth on palm /outlook technology -- this is not a subtle point -- we can't see the reason for some of DAs suggestion

                        but think about it
                        the way that i think the problem we see in trying to reconcile DA GTD with FC -- in a paper based organizaer world -- the biggest waste of time is putting a 20 item todo list together and then only doing 1 or 2 of them and then copying the list to the next day --real futility as the list snowpiles day after day.

                        the GTD approach is more elegant -- forget about the zen -- just look at the practicality

                        the calendar has the stuff you must get done on a particular day -- one list of all your commitments both timed and untimed.

                        in the time slots where nothing is being done -- rather than trying to prioritize the rest of the non calendared list you go to your list of things you can do at the office or while you are out on errands or at your computer

                        i can imagine a planner with one page devoted to each of these "contexts" thus making it easier to choose from a myriad of possiblities once you've taken care the must dos.

                        but this assumes that you haven't planned your entire day away to begin with. -- that is your choice. If you have a report due friday and today is wednesday, your hard lanscape calendar entry may be to schedule one hour at 1:00 to work on it -- the trick is that the more you schedule the hard calendar, the more likely something will come along and wreck it, the less you schedule, the more decisions you have to make because you have more flexible scheduled time --

                        so where do you draw the line-- what i usually need is the ability to hard schedule about 4 hours of the day and have 4 hourse to work on either stuff that comes up dureing the day and is more urgent or on things on my NA list.

                        i like sequences -- so i do like to number the things that i'm going to do first second third -- it doesn't matter to me that one is more important or urgent -- those things should have their own place on the calendar -- what is important is that in the heat of the battle during the day i don't want to have to make decisions -- sequencing makes that go away -- i can then focus on action -- think of what you do when you go on vacation -- you create a long list of things to get done -- usual;ly in some order -- haphazard but the act of sequencing them allows you to clear off a lot of stuff in a real hurry -- imagine if you could do that every day -- i think sequenceing is the key -- but don't get hung up on priority/signficance or priority when looking at #1 versus #2 etc -- if those are really critical or important -- scheudle some hard landscape time for them -- just don't tie up the whole day in schedules you impose on yourself -- something will wreck that plan.

                        thats why i wish my palm todo app had more than 5 priorities so i could sequence what i want work on that day in some order -- have used some things like big todo which allows 10 items but would like more sequences.


                        notice that in a palm app world -- the problem of copying your list over from one day to the next becomes trivial which is why people who start gtd on a palm don't see why david prefers undated unprioritized NA lists -- that would be the way you would implement on paper --

                        i think that if DA had started his business after the advent of the palm his workflow might look a bit different in execution -- the technology has changed some of the basic problems that traditional time management techniques had

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                        • #13
                          Doesn't your calendar do the sequencing for you? Take this example... I knew when I walked in to work at 8:00 this morning that my main priority was to take a bill downtown to be paid. It had to be done today, but at no particular time. I had a 10:30am meeting and at least 2 other 'top priority' items that had to get done today. I just added 'Pay bill' to my calendar at 9am to be sure it gone done. Then I follow the sequence of my calendar. Two of my other 'priorities' involved being online to place an order. Since I always check my email and NA lists first thing in the morning, I placed those two tasks on my calendar for 8:30am. I also needed to stop and get gas and run by the ATM before the out-of-town meeting at 10:30, so I added those tasks to my calendar at 9am while I was out and about. I completed all my tasks, but not necessarily in priority order. I did them in the order that best fit in to my hard landscape. So the calendar set the sequence. Maybe I am overusing the calendar... Just a thought...

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                          • #14
                            I support the idea that sequencing is really what I want to get at when I create a "prioritized" list. But the A,B,C thing still works in that all of the "A"s must get done first. In otherwords, it's helpful to segment everything I want to do in a day into categories so, for example, you have 20 tasks you would like to get done in a day, it's mentally easier to segment them by must, should, could, rather than trying to order them from 1 to 20.

                            A calendar can do the sequencing, but I prefer not to put lots of timed events for things that don't really have a hard time slot to do since it obscures the "real" appointments.

                            C

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by drummergirl
                              Doesn't your calendar do the sequencing for you? Take this example... I knew when I walked in to work at 8:00 this morning that my main priority was to take a bill downtown to be paid. It had to be done today, but at no particular time. I had a 10:30am meeting and at least 2 other 'top priority' items that had to get done today. I just added 'Pay bill' to my calendar at 9am to be sure it gone done. Then I follow the sequence of my calendar. Two of my other 'priorities' involved being online to place an order. Since I always check my email and NA lists first thing in the morning, I placed those two tasks on my calendar for 8:30am. I also needed to stop and get gas and run by the ATM before the out-of-town meeting at 10:30, so I added those tasks to my calendar at 9am while I was out and about. I completed all my tasks, but not necessarily in priority order. I did them in the order that best fit in to my hard landscape. So the calendar set the sequence. Maybe I am overusing the calendar... Just a thought...
                              Your description is exactly how I understand GtD to work best. The Calendar tells you where you have to be and what resources are available at that time, and your context list fills out the rest of the schedule. You can use the context lists to choose in the moment or plan/schedule for those gaps in the Calendar. The nub is that I don't want something that's critical lurking in my NA lists waiting for the "right moment". If it's that important it deserves to be in the Calendar. IMO, the NA list is best used for short-duration and reasonably mindless calendar-slack stuff. I don't think you are over-using your Calendar.

                              I think that everything in the system should, by definition, be important. The only distinction is whether it is Date-sensitive or not. I don't think there is any more place in the Action lists for unimportant stuff than there is for Quadrant IV in Covey's system. Someday/Maybe should be filled with important or potentially important stuff that is currently not Doable. If you've got stuff that lingers in your lists forever it probably needs to be dumped out into your Inbox and re-Processed to see if it really belongs in the system - just leaving it untouched serves no purpose. The idea of date-stamping your entries makes sense here - and so does treating your Someday/Maybe in the same way as your reference files - there neeeds to be a date on which the item becomes "Dead" (or re-Processed).

                              The one thing that I find ambiguous about this type of discussion is that I don't really know what each person means by "Priority". Does it mean Important, or does it reflect the result of weighting Urgent and Important? To me, Priority should reflect Importance only. As discussed in other posts, Urgency is taken care of by the use of Calendar Reminders. To me it's moot whether you think something is important or not when the item is a "Must Do".

                              Andrew

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