How do I prioritize my to-do list?
November 6, 2010 6:52 PM Subscribe
Okay. I made the to-do list. I broke the tasks into small, actionable pieces. Now how do I decide which piece to do first?
I am trying to get myself more organized, and I've found a lot of helpful tips on Metafilter, in books like Getting Things Done, and on sites like Lifehacker. Making lists is generally high on the list (heh) of Useful Methods For Getting Stuff Done, so I've been doing that a lot, with some success.
However, I keep running into a problem: once I've got my list, I have great difficulty figuring out what to do first. I look at my dozens of action items in all different areas of my life--classes, multiple research projects, side projects, mundane domestic errands, personal care (e.g. meditation, recreation, exercise), social obligations, conferences, et cetera--and all of them seem equally important and mutually exclusive. If I work on this article, I won't be analyzing my data from that other project. If I do my laundry, I won't be getting started on this problem set. If I read these papers, I won't be making a birthday card for my friend. And then I panic a little and end up not doing any of it, because working on any one task makes me worry about the people I could be disappointing by not working on some other task.
Obviously if I spend enough time thinking about it I can figure out the pros and cons of each item, which things can stand to be done late, which things will take how much time, which things are probably more important in the long term. But I don't think it'll speed things up much if I spend fifteen minutes noodling over every item, and in any case it sounds exceedingly tedious.
So what's a quick-and-dirty way to figure out what task to get started on each time you pick up that list? And how do you put all the other equally-urgent tasks out of your mind while you're doing it?
Note: it seems like the "obvious" answer to this is "Just pick something and get started, it doesn't matter what it is as long as you're getting something done." But that never seems to work for me. I need an algorithm. Even a nonsensical one might help.