How I prioritise TODOs

I’ve used different methods for managing my TODO list. For the last few years, I’ve been using a simple file format called todo.txt that I keep synched between my different devices using my NextCloud server. It lets me add some basic info like priority and due date to simple, one-time tasks.

Prioritising, though, is a hard part of using TODO systems. If you can assign A, B, C, D priorities to each task, what does that priority mean?

Is it an absolute value, independent of any context? In this case, bucket list items like living in Trieste get the highest priority, and dumb, tedious things like buying stamps get lowest priority. Although that’s reasonable, it means the everyday things you have to do get sorted to the bottom of the list.

Or is it just a relative ranking — so all the B’s are more important than the C’s, but less important than the A’s? This also causes issues with very long lists. You either have to use a lot of different priority letters, or have a lot of tasks with roughly the same priority.

I’ve recently changed to use a contextual priority instead. What are the things that I need to get done right now? Those go at very top priority — even if they’re dumb and boring. After those, I have a small set of tasks to choose from next. And then a bigger set after that, and so on.

I decide to break it down by powers of five, since I figured having five top-priority tasks to do would always let me take one or two off the list each day. So, I’ve got 5 tasks of priority A, 25 of priority B, 125 at C, 625 at D, and room for 3125 at E.

Yes, I have a lot of TODOs. I tend to keep everything from household chores to life goals to movies I want to watch to businesses I want to start in my one big file. It’s got 1510 tasks in it right now.

As I finish or delete tasks at priority A, I can look through a small set of priority B tasks to do next. As that pool of B tasks gets smaller, I can borrow some from the C’s. And so on down the line.

It’s working pretty well so far. I’ve noticed myself getting more done, and getting more personal projects moving forward. I figure if I have 1-2 tasks for every project in B or C priority, I can know that it’s going to move forward eventually.

I know not everyone keeps 1500+-line TODO lists, but if you’re one of them and you try this structure and it helps you, please let me know.

One thought on “How I prioritise TODOs

  1. Howdy!

    I do them on paper (the satisfaction from crossing something out that has been done, is tough to beat…) and then it is a algorithm that changes depending on my mood, phase of the moon, tide levels and if I need to shower, that prioritizes ease of accomplishment and absolute necessity.

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