Managing Priorities

I’m at the end of day three of another very intense, but enjoyable and satisfying week. I’ve been in Seattle the past two days and am headed to LA for the next two days before finally making it home after being on the road for the past two weeks.

As I was getting ready to go to bed in order to wake up in time to make my 6:40am flight, I was rolling my one remaining priority for the week around in my head. I was thinking to myself, “two down, one to go.” And I realized I have been using a construct of “three priorities a week max” for a long time.

Now, I do a lot more than three things a week. But, on Monday mornings as I’m going through my daily information routine, I usually carve out a few minutes to make sure I have my priorities for the week firmly lodged in my brain. I limit myself to three as I don’t think you can have more than three “highest priorities” at any given time. When I start the week, I make a clear mental commitment to get these priorities (or P1’s in Zynga speak) done. Each day when I wake up, I think about what I need to do to get closure on these priorities.

Some weeks I have three, others I have one or two. I always have at least one. And they are always important. Occasionally I can’t get one done and it rolls over into the next week, but once something becomes a P1 it stays a P1 until it gets done. And I can never have more than three P1’s. And they should all be able to be completed by the end of the week. But most importantly, they are clearly defined and easily explained (e.g. if you walk up to me and ask me what my P1s are for this week, I should be able to recite them without thinking.)

While I have plenty of things that I’m working on that have a much longer arch than one week, I find this weekly rhythm to be very grounding. I have a clear sense of accomplishment on a weekly basis, I clear the decks of big priorities, and I regularly tackle hard stuff that just needs to get done. I also have many more than three things that I complete each week, including things that regularly come up that are as important (or even more important) that whatever I’ve defined as my P1s for that week. But I don’t shuffle the priorities around – by having the big ones for the week set at the beginning of the week, I have a clear set to focus on whenever I need to re-ground myself.

One more to go. I’ve got two days to get it done. And I’ve got plenty of time on my remaining two plane flights to knock it off.

  • Like the idea of identifying 3 priorities for the week…

    How do you manage days w/in a week?


    I almost find that I have to have some sort of structure whether it be blocks of time for calls, email, etc. or else the day itself gets pulled in 101 directions.

    Anything you’ve found particular helpful or insightful for dealing with your days?

    • I schedule everything. All calls. Everything. I have 30 minute blocks
      and many things take 5 minutes so I have enough slack time throughout
      the say.

      • It was a hard realization for me that I had to factor in ‘slack time.’ But operating under the assumption you’re going to be productive every waking minute is probably even more ineffective.

        I like your approach.

  • Crazy to see this posted tonight because I just committed to my “Three Things” list today, just this morning. I have a bunch of stuff on my daily to-do list, but my 3 Things are high level items or big goals for the week. Don’t know why my mind likes to work in 3’s.

    • 3 is a wonderful number. My favorite in fact.

  • Great post Brad. This is so effective but yet people think it’s too simple, it can’t possibly work.

    We built Teamly to help people focus on what really matters, and get the right work done:

    It incorporates personal productivity management with a people management tool.

  • That’s a sound philosophy. I usually have one thing per day that’s a top priority. If I get that one thing done, I’ll be in a great place for the week. Like you, there are lots of “to-dos” but these are the most important. Thanks for sharing Brad!

  • Great post Brad. It is common for business leaders (and engineers) to feel overwhelmed by their huge to-do list. I advise them to think in terms of a Pareto chart ranking the importance (severity, urgency, etc.) of the tasks and focus on killing the top 3-4. Its a leap of faith that you can be successful not trying to address everything simultaneously, but they soon realize that they make more true progress and are less bewildered.

  • Anonymous

    This reminds me of Marc Andreessen’s post from a while back about personal productivity. His version was having an index card with 3 to 5 top priority items and I think they were daily tasks instead of weekly, but I’m definitely noticing a pattern emerging 😉

  • I like the idea of 3 big priorities per week, and making sure each really gets done.

    Clay Johnson (co-founder of Blue State Digital, fmr dir of Sunlight Labs, and now lead of Big Window Labs) spent some time blogging on this topic last year. These two are worth reading:

    After reading the second one, I started using the Pomodoro technique (and app), with mixed success. Last week I actually did a trial of using pomodoro for every task the whole week, working off a prioritized list (as opposed to the top of my inbox) with decent success. This is in some ways similar to scheduling everything in a calendar in 30 min blocks — main point is to get you to focus on one thing for a solid block of time. Sometimes 15 minutes of focus can help you solve something that may have been dogging you for weeks in scattered time.

    • Are you a Mac user? Check out Vitamin-R. I’ve only been using it for the last few days but it’s been a huge improvement. It’s based on Pomodoro technique.

      • Thanks – I will give it a shot. Vitamin-R actually does one thing I wish Pomodoro did — shows you the name of the task-in-progress while you’re doing it.

  • That’s the secret behind it really, if it’s P1, it has to stay that way until its over and done with. Shuffling your priorities isn’t very productive.

  • If we all used this approach for Diet, Fitness and Personal Health (physical and mental), our countries healthcare costs could be cut by 1/3.

  • Anonymous

    This post speaks to me for sure. I have been doing a form of this for the last few years. I also ask anyone who works with or for me to do this as well. It certainly helps bring the most important goals for individuals and companies to the top. One aspect I would add though is that I try and break them into things you can control (like complete product spec) versus things you cant control on your own (like get deal signed with company name). This not only helps productivity but moral, since people feel like they are accomplishing goals every week. Nice post!

  • I am doing this now in conjunction with using RescueTime to analyze what actually happened during the week to impact the priorities I set. Sometimes having data like that in combo with glancing back at your calendar, your sent mail, etc can help you tweak behavior to improve the next week. Great post Brad, this really resonated with our team.