Prioritizing and Planning: The Urgency Trap.

A big problem when it comes to task management and planning is assigning priorities.

Don’t you just love software that presents you with a lot of priority options when adding a new task? For example, you can set the priority to ‘Important’, ‘Medium’, ‘A little bit medium’, ‘Something less medium’, ‘Not so medium’. Sometimes these priority-levels are expressed as numbers, which is even “better”! Priority of this task? 7. No. Wait. It’s 6, yes that’s it. Or maybe 8.

Not very helpful.

To figure out the priority of a task, I look at two factors: Urgency and Importance. This is based on a well known concept in Time Management, Covey’s 4 Quadrants. In this concept, tasks are split up into four different categories:

1. Important and Urgent
2. Important and Not Urgent
3. Not Important and Urgent
4. Not Important and Not Urgent

A lot of people sort their Todo List by Urgency (i.e. due date). This is where it goes wrong. The key is that Urgency says nothing about Importance. An urgent task can be important, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s pretty clear that tasks that are urgent and important should be done right away (Real Actual Work).  So which task will you pick next if your tasks are sorted by due date? Tasks from category 3 – Nag Tasks, because they are also urgent. But didn’t category 3 say ‘Not Important’? It sure did. So why am I working on this? Simply because there’s some feeling of urgency to these tasks.

The Nag Tasks (3) are the worst kind of tasks. They usually don’t help your long term goals and interrupt you from important things. There’s just too much of this stuff: writing useless emails or documents, or pointless assignments. To make it worse, after working an entire day on category 3 tasks, you feel like you did a lot of work but didn’t really achieve anything. It didn’t help you get closer to your goals.

So, after working on Real Actual Work-tasks, you should start on tasks in category 2 (“Zen Work”). This forces you to eliminate (or delegate) as much as possible of category 3 tasks, or postpone them until you’ve done enough work in category 2. Many category 2 tasks have to do with achieving long term goals, whether it is brainstorming about new ideas, building relationships, doing research or simply relax to become more productive.

The ordering of tasks in Thymer allows for a mix of using deadlines and the importance you assign to a task. Adding deadlines to tasks will automatically sort them if you want, but they can simply be dragged into a new planning that better reflects the importance. A special flag is available to mark certain tasks as extra ‘important’.

Here’s an example of a todo list, in which some todos have deadlines, some have not. Some deadlines will be missed, as the tasks are not really important.

Preview of Thymer — Team Productivity done right!

Organizing and planning is hard. What has to be done? By whom and when? And how much time does it take? Problems we too had to deal with when developing our products.

To answer those questions we tried many different web applications. But we kept going back to using notepad (you know, todo.txt) or plain ol’ paper. Why?

Two things. First, data entry took too much effort. Second, there was still no clear way to tell what to do next. No easy way to do planning.

If using the system takes too much effort and is too complicated, you stop using it. This is where most apps fail. We decided to build “Thymer” to fix our problem.

Thymer is the way to manage and plan tasks without effort. It’s as simple as paper. And because of our unique single page design you always know exactly where you are.

But don’t take our word for it – check out the screencast and see for yourself!

(00:00 introduction, 00:35 adding todos, 01:40 planning, 02:20 deadlines, 03:50 projects, 04:42 time tracking, 06:20 working in teams; deleted scenes)

Starting out as a side project we use internally, we now think this web application might be valuable to more folks. That’s why we decided to polish it and turn it into a separate product.

Private beta will start soon. Interested? Sign up here.

PS: While doing the screencast, we made quite a few mistakes – but we learned a lot! Want to know more? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to blog about it.

What? You don’t have a blog?!

Our new blog is live! With this blog we want to keep you updated on our latest developments. New features! New ideas! You’ll find them described right here. Occasionally we will rant about anything web and startup related, and share some of what we’ve learned so far. Also, we will write about our mistakes, so that other startups may avoid them.

Read more about Stunf (the company) and the Team.