Unclear on Your Priorities? Do a Thought Experiment
But they're all important!"
When everything seems like it's off-the-charts important to do today, a thought experiment can help you figure out your actual top priority.
Here's how to do it: Look at your short list of tasks to do, and pick one. Now imagine that you had only gotten this item done today. Quickly run through the story of the day in your mind, culminating with getting ready to leave your desk, with only this item accomplished. How do you feel in reaction to that?
Then do the same for each of the other items on the list.
As you run through the scenarios, useful information will occur to you. You may realize one task depends on another being done. You may remember that your boss particularly asked you to do one of the items now. And, you will discover which task is most likely to bring you satisfaction at the end of the day.
Armed with that information, it will be much easier to decide which task should be done first. Which really is your top priority?
This thought process is often quicker than a full-blown decision analysis, because when you hear yourself tell the story, you respond to it emotionally. You get quick feedback from your subconscious about what's good/bad or right/wrong about each option. Then, like a scientist, you can compare the results from the different experimental conditions, and reach a conclusion about what will bring the best results.
One of your tasks is worth doing first. With this "thought experiment," you can quickly figure out which.
This article originally appeared in the Thinking Directions newsletter on 2/8/9.