Sometimes it’s nice to be told what to do. Some people prefer that and choose jobs and professions where there is fixed amount of work and it’s clearly what needs to happen when and how.
These type of jobs are becoming less and less available and popular as we choose freedom of and action.
As knowledge work expands there is no longer a simple system to decide what’s next. At any moment you can do a multiple things. All almost equally important and time pressing. Factory module of working you start with 1 the move to 2 and so on is no longer applicable. It’s your choice to decide what needs to be done, whether it’s task A or B.
You need to know what’s important, what’s more valuable, what are the time limits to get the job done.
There are couple ways of how to decide what to do next.
First you can go with your gut feeling. Look at the items on your list and just pick one that’s most attractive. It’s is your decision to figure out what’s most attractive is, maybe it’s the easiest one, maybe it’s the most mentally challenging etc.
If you want more structured approach you can try GTD 4 criteria model for deciding your work. This model focuses on analysing tasks from four perspectives which in turn should tell you what is the task you realistically can do.
context – defines a place or tools necessary to complete a task. If your are running errands your focus will be on shopping list, if you are sitting next to a phone then you can review your @calls list. Consequently if you are in a plane or commuting there is no point look at your @office list because you’re not there.
time – every once days are combination of meetings, conference calls and discretionary time. Deciding on the next action you need to look at the time available before next scheduled event. There is no point in starting a task that will take you a hour to complete if all you have is just a twenty minutes.
energy – through out the day we go through a cycle of high and low brain activity, the events of the day will also impact your ability to concentrate and perform. As result there is only so much you can effectively do in one day with out proper re-charge. At times you might be totally drained out of energy after a long day off meetings so you will not be willing to look at anything more than low value, easy tasks just to finish the day.
priority – the remaining criterion used when assessing the choice of the next actions is priority. It comes last on the list as it’s depends on the other current context your in and available time and energy. This is very relative and subjective category. The key question is given all the goals, projects, responsibilities what is the one thing which accomplished will make you feel good about the day.
There are multiple ways of incorporating these criteria into your productivity system. One way to do it is to define some generic time and energy slots and apply them to your tasks. If you use application like Remember the Milk or similar one you can tag your tasks by adding expected duration like 15min, 30min, required energy high ,low, context and priority etc.
A simpler way is do the assessment just as you go through your list.
Next time when you’re stuck and not sure what to do check how much time do you have what’s your context and energy level and pick a task that you can complete.
Do you have any system helping you decide your next action? I would love to hear about it.
Photo by: Jason McHuff