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The question is simple:

I have 30+ projects in several categories : Work, Personal, Daily, Self-improvement etc.

Each project contains several tasks in different aspects of my life: Intellectual, Spiritual, Professional, must-do errands, Health etc.

So I end with 600+ tasks in different projects, different categories and different aspects of life.

Ho do I prioritise ? I mean, how do you decide If 600 tasks are important, urgent both important and urgent or not important/not urgent etc. ? And how do you maintain this list? I have gathered all my tasks and proceed with some of them each day, but I am starting to lose track. Just to keep this list updated I need hours and hours of work each day/week that I should spend in doing things.

I have become paranoid about time management over the years and I am disappointed because after reading every book available out there and testing all methodologies, it seems that some is completely wrong.

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Sometimes, its best to drop the system and just wing it. Seeing that you have 600 tasks lined up, I think you have reached that point. – AsheeshR Jul 5 '13 at 13:45
I honestly do not understand your point. I admire gtd and all methodologies to get stuff done, so I need a system. I think I have found the perfect system for me "except" prioritising. – Radolino Jul 5 '13 at 13:50
When your productivity system starts cutting into your actual productive/work time, then your system has gotten out of hand. A stopgap in such a scenario would be to just drop the system and plough through work. Then, in easier times, rebuild it based on your actual requirements. Or see if you even need it all. – AsheeshR Jul 5 '13 at 13:57
Forgive me if this is an impertinent question, but are you taking on too much? Speaking personally, if I can't cope with prioritising all the tasks on the tasks on my to-do list, then I certainly can't cope with actually doing them all. – Kramii Jul 5 '13 at 15:38
@Krammi , no worries. I do not know, maybe yes I do maybe not. But I can't do other than that, I mean I can't quit my job today so I 'll have to deal with it the best possible way. – Radolino Jul 5 '13 at 15:51

I understand your problem very well: the core of GTD (ore many other approaches) is "writing everything down" to free the mind.
That's a good thing, but it can lead to such overload as you describe it.

My recommendation:

  • Prioritize your projects
  • only write the one very next action for each project on the list you review often
  • decide, which projects you want to work on this week and pick some tasks for those projects.

Some years ago, I read the GTD book by David Allen, and it all seemed to be a great concept. The more tasks there were and the longer my lists got, the more difficult it became... and finally I had very long lists and they were unusable for me, because I had no overview, I skipped the weekly review, as the lists were too long and it all got out of control.

What helped me get back to control (not perfectly, but at least more than before) was the approach of Michael Linenberger: Master Your Workday Now. For me this is by far the best and most realistic approach for task management.

The key is to

  • decide which "critical" things absolutely have to be done today (e. g. which are those tasks which would you make stay longer at work in the evening, if you did not have finished them in time?) and to concentrate on those.
  • to avoid "artificial" deadlines, because they teach you to ignore all deadlines (even the "hard" ones)
  • to have a short list for the day, which only shows those things that have to be done today and those which you should do today, because they will become "critical" in the next days
  • to have one or several lists which you review regularly, but not all of them each week

This is very well explained in the book and as I said IMHO it is a very practical approach.

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Thanks for your reply, but what "new" are you telling me here? This is all known and told over and over. Practically, it fails. Or you should review weekly tasks that enter hourly in your list and get fired ! – Radolino Jul 6 '13 at 13:52
@RobertoDelgazzo: I do understand your frustration. For giving a more concrete answer, you might give more detail in your question what you're actually doing and what tools you are using for maintaining your task list(s). You say, "this is all known". Did you read Michael Linenberger's books, especially the one I mentioned in my answer? – MostlyHarmless Jul 6 '13 at 20:17

The key to this is actually in both ends - the very high level biew; and the detail view.

First off, you have 'Must do errands' - so subconsciously you have already prioritised.

Look at your highest level headings - are all these things you need to do? They may be, but it is worth confirming this before you waste time going into depth.

Now look at the subtasks - 600 seems to be a very large number, so I'd be concerned you are going too deep.

As an example I manage a team who deal with a technical community of about 10000 people, I sit on various committees, I lead two professional organisation chapters, I have a rock band, I have a family with 3 children, I moderate 3 Stack Exchange sites and manage the blog for one of them, I mentor various individuals around the world...

...and I have less than 100 tasks on my list.

Many tasks don't need a level of detail.

For example under Personal / Health I have:

  • Go to the gym 3 times a week
  • Don't eat takeout more than twice a week

That's it. I know that I have varying routines at the gym (I alternate upper body, lower body and cardio) but I wouldn't bother writing it on a list as it is too low a level of detail.

Similarly you can do exactly the same with work and all your other topics. Part of prioritisation experience is to understand what level of detail is appropriate. As you pointed out, managing a list of 600 tasks on a continuous basis would take so much time it would just be unworkable.

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From one side you have "break down into smaller tasks" and from the other "you do not need such level of detail". Which is the best approach? If you have a "website creation" project, breaking this down to 60 tasks is quite ordinary. So having 5 projects like this one means 300 tasks which all have to run together. I have also a rock band and administer 6 websites, a day job, go to the gym etc. If you throw all tasks in a "next action" list, here comes the chaos! If you set priorities on everyone of them, it will cost you several hours of organising every day.. – Radolino Jul 5 '13 at 13:21
This is why you don't go to that level of detail.It is unworkable – Rory Alsop Jul 5 '13 at 16:24
If you follow the agile methodology for splitting tasks, then you can't have a task that takes over 4 hours. Every task that takes longer than that, must be broken down to smaller trunks. So, "design first page" takes 4 days and has no meaning to keep it like a task. Must be broken down to "find palette", "design header", "write css" etc. – Radolino Jul 6 '13 at 8:13
Remember Agile, like other techniques, will not fit 100% - use what works from the techniques you find useful. – Rory Alsop Jul 6 '13 at 13:23
That is what you are getting - I have been doing this for 15 years, have managed delivery across 18 countries over multi-year projects, and believe me, you don't do it by spending all your time categorising or prioritising tasks. At this load level you need to change the way you describe tasks. All senior programme managers I know deal the same way - grab what works for you. Sorry, but there is no single method that will work for everyone. @Kramii's technique works, GTD works (up to a point) - they all work a bit. – Rory Alsop Jul 6 '13 at 14:26

Ease the burden on yourself: set aside time to CROSS OUT items on your lists, for any reason you like. This is "Productive Procrastination" - choosing NOT to do certain things so that you can get other stuff done. And it will simplify your life and let you breathe.

Still keep writing things down, i.e. "dumping to paper", but then, a day or so later, review the list for anything that is still critical, and throw all the other items away - so freeing! You're not going to get to them anyway, because you simply haven't got enough time to do everything your brain can think of to do, or that you "should" do.

By the time you would have gotten to them, your whole set of circumstances and priorities will have changed, so a small task that is more than say a three months away should be deleted, unless you really truly want to do it, because in 3 months, or whatever horizon you choose, everything will have changed, and what was important now will be irrelevant then... and if it's still relevant then, then you can put it back on the agenda then.

A To-Do list that is longer than about 20 items is not a to-do list; it's an unnecessary burden; trim it.

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Could you lump tasks together and prioritise them as a bundle? One way to do that would be to prioritise entire projects, then prioritise the tasks in only the highest priority projects. Or, divide projects into phases, and only prioritise the tasks in the next phase.

Another approach would be to come up with a system where you don't have to re-prioritize regularly. For example, set an initial priority on your tasks as you add them to your list, and add a review date so you know when to update the priority. This date will be sooner for higher priority stuff.

Finally, if you're completely overwhelmed, just scan the list and pick out enough absolutely critical stuff to fill the next week. Rinse and repeat weekly.

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this is what I am doing. Because I am a technical support agent at the same time, many tasks occur through the day and list must be re-prioritized, I lose track and only do the most critical stuff. OF course I forget important but not urgent tasks. – Radolino Jul 6 '13 at 8:15

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