Stop Trying to Prioritize — Just Work on Your Timing

Originally published on March 20, 2012

I’ve discussed at length how you should get rid of your to do listimmediately and the harmful effects of the Zeigarnik Effect which is that voice in our subconscious that nags at us to finish the unfinished. People often ask me how they should prioritize the things they do because they look at their list of tasks and it’s a big mess. Every time they get something done they have to add two more things to the list. Well, not to belabor the point the list itself it the problem. Simply figuring out which tasks are more important than others doesn’t change the fact that there are still 30 things on your list and you won’t suddenly forget about all the other “low priority” items just because you rearranged the order. You need to work on your timing of tasks and knowing what has to be done when.

Carpe Diem

This famous saying about seizing the day is actually part of a longer phrase Carpe Diem Quam Minimum Credula Postero which means Seize The Day and Put Minimum Faith in the Future. There will always be more tasks and more things that you need to get done. It would be foolish to think that simply arranging tasks in a pecking order will have any bearing on your productivity or your life tomorrow or even an hour from now. Obviously, it’s important to think big picture when setting long-term vision for a company or personal projects, but when it comes down to actually getting things done, we must live in the moment. You assign your self a task at the relevant moment, you complete the task, and you move on. You don’t worry about what you have to do next because your system will “assign” it to you when the time comes. You are delegating the responsibility of worrying about these things to a system of productivity, the system of Less Doing.

Ok But How?

Essentially, any kind of reminder system that is disruptive in nature, like email, a text message, or even a regular old calendar reminder that pops up and makes a noise will do. You can set an appointment for yourself in your calendar or use my personal favorite, to send yourself a reminder via email with all relevant information and at just the right time. Some examples:

  • Grocery Shopping — Email yourself the list at 5:30PM when you know you’ll be on your way home
  • Year long book project — You do your best writing on Saturday mornings, set reminders for 6am on Saturday’s and include notes relevant to each chapter so when you wake up on Saturday’s you are presented with the info needed to fuel your creativity
  • Getting paid by a client — Email them your invoice with a set for 1 month from now
  • Waiting on an employee to produce a long-term project — Set a follow up email every week to check in and see how they are progressing
  • Meeting someone new in a public place — Have their number and description sent to you a few minutes before the meeting
  • Making lists of things to buy for an upcoming baby — Forward those links from Amazon to for 4 months from now
  • Get to the gym three times per week — use send your self recurring reminders approximately every 2 days
  • Write in your journal — use iDoneThis to send you nightly prompts about your day that you simply reply to
  • Check in with your project team every Thursday afternoon — Use ReSnooze for recurring reminders at regular intervals

On a personal note, I got the idea for this blog post while walking the dog this afternoon, rather than making a note in Evernote or adding an item to a to do list, I sent myself a email for midnight, knowing that I would probably be up around that time with my 9 week old son, and I’d be able to get some writing done. That means I got to go to bed with a clear inbox, a clear (nonexistent) to do list, and a clear mind.

Where to start?

How to figure out the best timing for things is up to you but that’s one of the reasons is so great, it’s built-in snooze function allows to you to push things off that come back to you either at the wrong time, or if you are waiting on someone else, they simply haven’t been accomplished yet. Take a good look at your list, whether it’s your to do list, bucket list, leap list, whatever form its in, and really think about WHEN these things need to get done or take place. You want to attack these items in such a way that things can get accomplished as soon as reasonably possible, because there will always be more stuff. The good thing about this system is that once you use it, any new task that comes up simply needs to be “timed” and then put out of your mind. If a task seems to large, then you need to break it up into what I call “micro goals” and then assign timing to each one of those bite sized tasks. Remember, the first rule of Less Doing is to optimize, so you wan to get your tasks down to their leanest, most basic form, so you can power through them.

Stop Trying To Prioritize, Work On Your Timing

Timing tasks is a skill but fortunately it’s an easy skill to pick up and you will quickly get to a place where you become an expert at optimizing your time and resource allocation so that things get done efficiently but most importantly, you start doing less, and living more.