Productivity and GTD

Secondary Projects (or the fallacy of priorities)

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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Have you ever felt really overwhelmed by your work? I mean those situations where you feel you have no time to do anything and just try to deal with one fire after another. If you are reading this blog, it is more than likely you have been there a few times.

One of the things that happen when you are so busy is that you get the sense you do not have time to deal with things that are not so important, since you need all your time to solve the problems generated by the crisis. Another bad thing that happens when you live on a perpetual crisis situation is that you end up abandoning any organizational system you were using, which leaves you at the mercy of chaos.

You know what? It turns out that most of the fires that you have to put out, come as a result of ignoring things that seemed less important because you were also putting out other fires when they appeared. Put another way, you are in a vicious circle that can only be broken by you. If you do not pay proper attention to secondary projects, chaos and lack of control could take possession of your life.

Why is this happening? Well, largely is due to how various time management systems have taught you to set priorities. When something important appears you assign it priority 1 in your head. When something less important appears you assign it, say, priority 3. As constantly new tasks with priorities 1 and 2 are showing up, tasks with priority 3 are never done. The problem is that priority of things is relative and also changes over time. You need to have all those tasks and projects in a physical place (not in your head) where you can review them from time to time and reassess their priorities within the whole set.

There comes a time when a secondary project crosses a certain line and becomes a danger. When the tires of your car reach a certain level of wear, you have to change them. No priorities are needed. If you decide to distinguish between priority 2 (“I need to change them”) and priority 1 (“I desperately need to change them”), you will end up doing things to the limit and living in a perpetual state of crisis.

How would you solve it? With a Projects List, which is a complete inventory of your open loops that need more than one action to be closed, and a Someday/Maybe List, which is a container for those projects you might have to do at some point in the future but still have no commitment to carry them out. If something is in the Projects List, you must decide what the next action is and review its status frequently. If something is in the Someday/Maybe List you should evaluate its necessity on a regular basis, and make it come to the fore if needed, or keep it there, or eliminate it if you no longer need it.

In GTD, there are only two levels of priority; either something has to be done as soon as possible or not. Period.

All of your tasks and projects have a relative importance to you, but only when they are compared among them. In order to define trustworthy priorities, it is necessary to maintain a complete and updated inventory of all your open loops, no matter how important you think they are. And this inventory should be reviewed often enough.

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