Priorities and To Do lists. Only work on things that are really important

A To Do list is a very powerful tool. The key thing with a To Do list is you have to break things down into small steps: this is another great example of the principle divide and conquer. The tasks must be clearly defined, small, achievable and affordable. This way, we can achieve short-term success and maintain motivation.

But the most important thing is that these tasks must be prioritized, and when I am saying prioritized, I mean prioritized by importance. It doesn’t matter the due-date criteria, nor even the urgent criteria. The only criteria that really matters when we are creating a To Do list is to prioritize the different tasks according to their relative importance.

For example, the table below shows a four-quadrant To Do list:

Due Soon Not Due Soon
Not Important

The upper left (Important and Due Soon) is obviously the number one to work on immediately; the lower right (No Important and Not Due Soon) is also obviously the last things to work on.

Due Soon Not Due Soon
Important 1
Not Important 4

After finishing the tasks in the upper left (Important and Due Soon) a very common mistake is to move on to the tasks in the lower left (Due Soon and Not Important), but we have to say: “Stop, this task that’s due soon and not important: I won’t do it! Because it’s not important!“.

Due Soon Not Due Soon
Important 1
Not Important 2 4

And magically, we have time to work on the tasks that are not due soon but are important, so we can solve the problem of something that is due next week when we are not under time stress because it is not due tomorrow.

Therefore, this is how the priority must be considered in the four-quadrant To Do list:

Due Soon Not Due Soon
Important 1 2
Not Important 3 4

Summary: we have a very limited time available and we have to use it wisely, so don’t waste your time making things that are not important and only work in things that are really important!

-These Notes have been taken from Randy Pausch, during a talk at the University of Virgina. This is part of his legacy.-
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