What Happened to My Priorities?

I remember when I first started trying to get organized years ago. I started off with a Handspring Visor and then moved up to a Palm III. I also remember struggling with prioritizing my tasks. Should I clean the bathroom first, or shave the dog? Which was more important? I think I spent more time fiddling with the priority numbers than actually completing the tasks.

Getting Things Done Doesn’t Prioritize Tasks

Apparently, Getting Things Done (GTD) does not bother with task priorities and Donald over at Life Optimizer gives a great explanation as to why (read the full story here). I never actually thought about this until I saw his post, but it raises another question:

What should you do with the priority settings in your task-management software?

The obvious solution to me was to use the priorities to organize my Projects. Let’s take a look at a simple project to upgrade wordpress (just an ex., get the official steps here):

  1. Make Backups
  2. Deactivate Plugins
  3. Upload New Files
  4. Upgrade Database

In this example, we see the Priority for each task will just correspond to the order in which it should be completed. Each task directly depends on the one before it.

It also just so happens that Remember The Milk has exactly 4 priorities to chose from. The simplest way to set a priority for a task is to click the task to highlight it and press a number (1 thru 4). This will set the tasks priority and add an indicator. Priority if 4 is the default, so you see no indicator.

What if your Project has more than 4 steps?

Since each task in the project depends on the one before it, you would simply re-prioritize (or re-number) the project each time you complete a task or each time you finish all tasks you have already prioritized.

What if I can do groups of tasks simultaneously?

This is great! Just give these tasks the same priority. Once you hit a task that depends on one or all of them, move up to the next priority.

  1. Thing A
  1. Thing B
  2. Thing AB
  3. Thing C


There is no need to agonize over priorities on your task list. The only time priority really matters is within a Project and, since we define a project as a sequence of tasks, setting prorities should be a no-brainer. If you would like to implement priorities into your Remember The Milk usage, keep in mind that you can search for tasks with a specific priority (ie. search for “priority:1” to find first priority tasks). You could even use this knowledge to get rid of the “-next” tag. Just give your Next Actions a priority of 1 and search on that.

How do you prioritize your tasks? Can you think of another way to use priorities to help get things done? Leave a comment.