The 4-fold Model for Deciding What To Do: a time management technique for prioritization



This is actually an aspect of Getting Things Done, but it's too good a time management technique to pass up even if you don't use the rest of GTD.

It seems like common sense to say that you should do the highest priority item on your to-do list. But quite apart from figuring out what that is, there are several cases where that's not even true:

  • The most important thing you need to do requires internet access/a telephone/your business partner/your notes...but you're by yourself with no computer, lousy cell phone coverage and without any files.
  • The most important thing you need to do is an important report, presentation, sales call, or something else that requires focus and creativity... but you're brain-dead after a six-hour meeting.
  • The most important thing you need to do will take an hour and a half to do... but you only have 10 minutes before you have to meet a client for lunch
David Allen therefore recommends deciding your next task based on the following criteria:
  1. Context: don't try to do anything for which you don't have the tools
  2. Time Available: don't try to do anything if you don't have the time to get a reasonable amount of work done on it.
  3. Energy Available: don't try to do anything that you're frankly not up to doing right now; you'd just have to re-do it later.
  4. Priority: having eliminated all of those off your task list, do whichever is the most important. With a much-pared-down task list, it should be easier to determine what that is.
If you're still having trouble determining your top priority, you may find it helpful to read through Stephen Covey's distinction of Important vs. Urgent.

Doesn't sound like you? Go back to Time Management Hacks and look for a time management technique that fits you better.

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