After a business group talk I gave, someone asked me how to figure out what the highest priority task is. He looked at his project list and felt they were all equally important, and then he ended up not doing anything because he felt unsure.
I told him about David Allen’s four criteria model for prioritizing, which takes into account more information than simply how important a task or project is. The criteria are context, time available, energy available and priority.
Context means “what can you do given where you are?” When you’re at the office, you can look at physical files on your desk, but you can’t when you’re home. When you’re in the car, you can make phone calls, but you can’t shop on Amazon (not safely, anyway!)
Time available means selecting tasks that fit into whatever time is in front of you. If there’s a fifteen minute break before your next meeting, you can probably slot a few short tasks in there. If you have the whole morning before a client appointment, it might be a good idea to do a planning session.
Energy available means matching tasks to the amount of energy they need. At the end of the day, you may not be good for anything except some data entry or doing an expense report. During a high energy time, tackle a project that needs some brain power. That also means not wasting those energy-rich times on browsing your email inbox.
Finally, priority means that, given what you know about the previous three criteria, what thing makes the most sense to do right now?
Not everything can be #1 on your list. Using these criteria gives you a way to get something done that makes the most sense and allows you to use your time more effectively.
It’s more realistic than simply deciding what the most critical thing to get done is. We are all constrained by resources, time and energy, so it’s logical to consider those factors.