Setting Priorities

Let's talk about priorities.

How many times have you heard that prioritization is important? Probably a lot - but how many times have you heard that prioritization is hard because of ACTUAL LIMITS OF THE HUMAN BRAIN?

Yes, that’s right, our mind can't prioritize, it’s not your fault you are bad at prioritizing that’s just how we’re built – but there's hope, like with just about every other limit of the human body we can use tools to overcome this limit.

But first we have to understand the problem, there are two common well know and well researched human traits that completely mess up our ability to prioritize:

  1. We can’t determine the objectively absolute value of things we can only compare two things - sales people know and use this all the time, how many times have you entered a store to buy something and the salesperson showed you 3 options: one that doesn’t do everything you need, one better than you need but very expensive and the one you ended up buying? The salesperson wanted to sell you the middle option so he or she gave you one worse alternative to make the product look good in comparison and one expensive alternative to make the product look cheap in comparison.

    This affects us when prioritizing because we can’t take something and objectively assign it to low/ medium/ high priority – we compare it to the previous task we prioritized, to whatever we talked about in the meeting that just ended or just to something we thought about a minute before.

    If you prioritize a few tasks and one of them is clearly a bit more important than the others you will give it higher priority than the rest (so if most tasks are medium priority that task will be classified as high priority) – but if you had prioritized an almost completely different collection of tasks that are more important (but just by a bit, so they are still medium priority) and got that first task again, but now it’s just a bit less important than the previous medium priority tasks so it's clearly should be low priority.
  2. We consider common event more likely and therefore more severe – if you have two tasks, if you don’t complete the first on time your boss or client will scream at you, if you don’t complete the second task in time you might die – what will you do first?
    While everyone understands the second task is way more important being screamed at seems more real (because we have personal experience in being screamed at, or at least seem people being screamed at) and our subconscious mind feels it’s more severe – so we are very likely to do that first task before the second.

The good news is that we can overcome those two problems, first use an objective scale to prioritize tasks by: instead of having high, medium, low use “not doing this will get me fired”, “not doing this will delay the project”, etc. and then work on tasks in order of priority without getting to lower priority tasks until all the higher priority tasks are done.

You can do this with just pen and paper, all you do need to some discipline – but things can get very complicated when you take things like deadlines into consideration, that’s why we’ve made Task Zebra.

Task Zebra is the newest software from Nbd-Tech, it's a to do list with smart prioritization – it will give you an objective scale to prioritize against and will take into account things like deadlines and tasks that have to be started after a given date – it will also let you track invoices and payments because we know that, especially for freelancers, if you want to eat and have a roof over your head getting paid is always high priority.

Task Zebra, located at, is available by invitation only – we are sending invitations out very slowly, no more than 4 invitations every day – but, as a special offer to the blog readers if you request an invitation using the our contact form we will send it to immediately, just reply to this message to get your invitation.

By the way, people subscribed to the yaTimer newsletter got this message a week ago, if you want the occasional special offer or special access to Nbd-Tech products subscribe here

posted @ Tuesday, February 7, 2012 1:49 PM

Comments on this entry:

No comments posted yet.

Your comment:

 (will not be displayed)

Please add 4 and 8 and type the answer here: