Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Touch Once vs Prioritization

While I am thinking about Zero Inbox as I write this, the issues are the same with the more general Getting Things Done (GTD) system and a wide range of other productivity methodologies.

This is all obvious in retrospect; it is simple arithmetic, but that didn’t stop me from missing it and its implications.

It is a relatively normal morning. Hot chocolate in hand, I am about to sit down to about 100 new email messages (plus a backlog of not-so-new ones.)

The traditional wisdom is that if I can handle a task in under 3 minutes, I should do it immediately rather than putting it onto a to-do list. This on the face of it sounds sensible but turns out to be problematic. Even with perfect estimation, the worst case here would be that every task took 3 minutes and nothing went onto the to-do list, this would take 300 minutes — 5 full hours.

That is not sustainable. It doesn’t allow prioritization. It doesn’t let me even skim every email for doing triage.

It simply can’t work.

What I have been doing was setting that threshold at 15 minutes rather than 3 minutes and occasionally misestimated a task that took 45 minutes as in the less than 15-minute category.

With that misestimation and that strategy, the meantime was just over 4 minutes. 400 minutes for pass through my new email  — almost 7 hours. The problem was not that I was leaving messages in my inbox / pushing them into the future. The problem was that I was all too often starting tasks without prioritization.

What I need is a triage system. A triage that system lets me drop that 3 minutes limit to 30 seconds.

When it is not possible to do everything, not everything will get done.

You can choose which of those things won’t get done.

Or not.

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Written by Russell Brand

Russell has started three successful companies, one of which helped agencies of the federal government become very early adopters of open source software, long before that term was coined. His first project saved The American taxpayer 250 million dollars. In his work within federal agency, he was often called, “the arbiter of truth,” facilitating historically hostile groups and factions to effectively work together towards common goals

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