Sorting actions by energy level required, etc.

How about sorting actions not only by context,
but also by level of energy required?

I’m experiencing a further boost in feelings
of freedom, overall energy and motivation as
I implement the modifications I describe here
to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD)

One of Allen’s highly effective, though wonderfully
simple, innovations is to sort actions by context,
so that when you’re deciding what to do right
now, you can present yourself with a list of
useful actions that are doable in the place where
you are right now (at home, at work, on the computer,
out shopping, etc.)

Now I’m starting to further subdivide my action
lists by amount of time required and by level of
mental or physical energy required, so that I can
now present myself with a list of actions every
one of which is not only doable in the context
I’m in, but is also actually and practically doable
here and now, with the amount of time and energy
I have available right now.

I have two ways of implementing this: one on paper
and one on the computer. They’re pretty much
mathematically equivalent, and allow me to quickly
and easily find a list of actions doable within
the current context, time and energy, and further
sorted in order of priority, energy and time.

One of the fantastic things about GTD’s sorting by
context is that it greatly cuts down on how often
you have the frustrating thought, “I can’t do
that right now”. I was marvelling about this and
asked myself what other wonderful but simple ideas
nobody has thought of yet. This time something
sprang to mind: why not pre-sort by time, energy
and priority as well as by context?

I don’t know whether this has been done by others
already. I know there’s lots of GTD software
out there, but a Google search for
‘GTD software “sorted by energy”‘
didn’t turn up anything.

My understanding of GTD is that usually, if the list
for a context is short enough, maybe 10 or 20 actions,
then you read the whole list each time, first
selecting by time, then by energy, and finally sorting
by priority.

Well, for one thing, my lists aren’t just 10 or 20 items.

Now when I first add an action to a list, I assign
it a time, energy and priority. One advantage of
this is that, like Allen’s sorting by context, it
helps force me to clarify the action as a single,
specific physical action; especially when I consider
energy, which involves imagining myself actually
doing it. Once I’ve gone through those couple of
seconds of hard thinking, actually doing the action
can be like coasting downhill.

The time represents how much time I need available in
order to feel comfortable starting on an action. I’m predicting
how I’ll feel when I start, not the end result. It could
be longer or shorter than the length of time I think the
action will take, depending on how open I am to interrupting
that particular action. I like having a list of quick actions so
I don’t have to read over a longer list and regretfully reject a lot of actions
I wish I had time for.

I have a separate page for each amount of time
(quick, 5-minute, 15-minute, 1-hour and 5-hour).
The higher the priority, the further to the left
on the page I start writing it.
Vertical position on the page indicates a gradation
of energy from high-energy at the top to easy at
the bottom. If I’m not at my top energy level, I
cover up a top section of the page when I review it.

In this way, once I’m displaying the doables, those
which will catch my eye first are those with the
highest priority, highest energy and longest time
required. On the computer, I display them sorted
by priority, then by energy level (highest energy
required first), then by time. At home, where long
chunks of time seem rarer, I’m doing the longest-time
doables first, while at work I sort them the other
way to get the quicker items cleared off the list.

Rather than repeating the discouraging question,
“Do I have the energy to do this right now?”, I’m
asking myself, at different times, the energy-boosting
questions “How much energy will I need to do this?”
(from 1 to 9) and “What energy level am I at right
now?” Addressing the highest-energy doables first also
encourages an “I can do it!” attitude, and leaves
a downhill ride for the remaining actions.

Also by Cathy Woodgold:

book review of “Getting Things Done”

Time Management

Home page


About woodgold

Interested in math and science; social justice and the environment; natural health care, barter systems, voting systems and other systems for empowering large numbers of people
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