Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Or just throw a dart at 'em

So am I just weird, or are there other people who also come up with incredibly intricate and anal ways of making decisions?

There's a software product called Life Balance that I find intriguing and have considered using for time management and task planning. I've played with the demo a little, but I'm reluctant to add yet another digital tool to my routine because I already spend so much of my time at the computer. (Please don't ask why I decided to start a blog now....) I often find my lo-tech organizing tools to be more effective, not necessarily because of their intrinsic capabilities compared to software, but because psychologically I feel a certain relief when I can get away from the computer to use them. I'm not sure how much of this relates to the computer per se and how much to the office and desk environment, since I don't own a laptop. For now it comes down to the same thing, and I'm afraid if I put more of my planning and weekly review on the computer I'd be more resistant to doing it.

Let me share a lo-tech technique I often use to prioritize tasks, purchases, or just about anything that can be written down in a line or two. I find it useful any time the list of items to be prioritized gets too long to pick out the top item at a glance. I like it because it enables me to harness intuitive judgment in a systematic way. It works very well for isolating the one or two most important items from the collection. It bogs down if the goal is actually to put the entire list in order of priority, but since the whole point of prioritizing is usually that I can only deal with a small fraction of the list right now, that's usually not an issue.

So this is how it works: first, write each item on an index card and put the cards in a stack (in any order). Now pick up the first two cards and decide which of those two items is more important (or urgent or whatever criterion we're prioritizing by). Place the "winner" and "loser" on opposite sides to start new stacks. Then pick up the next two cards from the main stack and decide which of those goes in the winner stack and which goes in the loser stack. Repeat until you've gone through all the cards in the initial stack. If there's an odd number of cards, place the last one in the winner stack by default. Next, pick up the winner stack and put it back in the middle, then go through it the same way you did with the original full stack. Repeat until you get down to one card, and that's your top item. If you need to identify number two as well, just repeat the process with the remaining cards.

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