Where Logic Meets Love

A Split-Second Prioritization Technique

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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A Split-Second Prioritization Technique | Faith Permeating Life

It's been a while since I shared a priorities / life planning tip. So since this is a busy week for me, and we've had some heavy topics lately, here's a quick post with a strategy I've been employing to help me prioritize tasks in the moment.

Although I don't personally have ADD (that I know of), there's no doubt that I find multiple things competing for my attention at various moments throughout the day. I might start on something, then remember something else I meant to do but didn't write down, so I open up a new browser tab to take care of it, just as the phone rings and my attention is diverted again. The most challenging aspect of this is having things that slip through my mental cracks -- things forgotten almost as soon as they're remembered.

The main rule I live by to deal with this is write everything down. At work, I know that anything not written down immediately will fly out of my brain and not come back until my boss asks about it again. I've finally learned that the words "I'm sure I'll remember" are a red flag telling me something is in my short-term memory and needs to be added to my to-do list or calendar as soon as possible. If I'm lying in bed about to fall asleep, I grab my phone and text a reminder to my e-mail address.

I also use an "inbox zero" approach, which -- the way I do it -- means everything in my e-mail inbox is either a message to respond to, a to-do item, or information for an upcoming event. Everything else is filed away to folders. I use Boomerang for Gmail and Reply Later so things I need to take care of at some point in the future stay out of my inbox until I need them. I also use Google Calendar reminders to e-mail me when something is coming up that I need to take care of.

But even these systems can't capture everything, and I found myself getting frustrated at how I would get sidetracked. I'd suddenly remember I meant to take some meat out of the freezer to thaw, and then when I walked into the kitchen I'd see the half-made sandwiches on the counter that had been interrupted by a phone call, so I'd end up finishing the sandwiches and then forgetting out the meat until hours later.

I finally came up with this helpful, if imperfect, rule: If I'm deciding between two tasks in the moment and one has a visual reminder, I do the other one first.

Meaning if I walk into the kitchen and see the sandwiches, I ignore them until I've finished taking the meat out. I know it's unlikely I will forget about the sandwiches altogether because I will see them when I turn around or come back in the kitchen again, but I don't have anything to remind me about the meat.

This rule has a corollary: If neither task has a visual reminder, or I have to do the visual one first for some reason, I create a visual reminder for the other as quickly as possible. I scribble a Post-It, I add it to the to-do list next to my computer, or I text it to my inbox.

These tips may sound obvious, but the biggest hurdle for me was acknowledging just how much I rely on visual reminders. I like to act like I have these great memory and can keep track of so many things, but it's only because I make extensive use of the tools available to me. So when I'm being pulled in multiple directions, I use this strategy to figure out which task I'm most likely to forget by acknowledging my limitations.

How do you remind yourself of tasks to be done? When you remember multiple things at once that have to get done, how do you decide where to start?

7 comments:

  1. I definitely need to write something down or it leaves my brain. I find my calendar program on my computer extremely helpful - but again, if I forget to add an item it's unlikely I'll remember it! I like your idea of doing the thing that doesn't have a visual reminder if sidetracked. I think I might have to start doing that too!

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    1. Yup, that's the catch with using tools and systems -- you have to remember to use them! I rely so heavily on my notepad at work that if something's not on there, it might as well not exist.

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  2. This is such a good idea! I also try to write everything down, but then I end up forgetting what I needed to write down. (I guess I'm kind of a mess!) Thanks for the links to the email programs, as well--they both look very helpful!

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    1. The e-mail programs are great, although each with their limitations -- ReplyLater doesn't have a way to manage or change reminders you've already set (that I know of), and Boomerang Gmail is limited to 10 "credits" per month. But between the two, and Google calendar e-mail reminders, I manage to do OK :)

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  3. This is a very good idea. My only trouble is that I tend to have so many things out for visual reminders that I don't notice them anymore. But then I probably do have ADD or SPD or something else with initials. :-) I'm going to try the Boomerang program.

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    1. Yes, I kind of glossed over this point, but it's vital to first have a limited number of reminder systems that work for you and that you check regularly, and then put as much as possible into those systems. Otherwise you end up surrounded by Post-It notes and then you miss things anyway!

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