When Everything is High Priority

by Krishna on September 24, 2007

Then nothing is high priority.

For this reason, it is very important to understand the difference between “severity” and “priority”. At any point in time, there may be many severe issues. In fact, every issue you have may be severe. But you have to prioritize which you would handle first.

For instance, a building is on fire. Everything is burning – furniture, books, papers, computers, etc. And people are trapped inside. In terms of severity, every aspect of the situation is a severe crisis. But you have to prioritize saving the people first. Maybe next you need to save important data. And so on.

Prioritizing high severity tasks is a challenge. Many people get overwhelmed because there is so much to do and there are so few resources and so little time. And because of that, they decide not to do anything. And things get worse. People start running around like headless chickens.

A better way is to take one or two tasks out of the basket and start tackling them, while ignoring the rest. An example of where you could apply this is your professional learning. If you are working in the web development space, there are hundreds of topics you could learn in architecture, design, coding unit testing, etc. If you want to learn everything, you will not learn anything at all. Better to start somewhere and keep building on that knowledge.

It is also important as a manager to prioritize for others. For example, if when your tester finds critical defects in a module, it is important to establish what bugs should be fixed first, rather than marking everything as high priority. Also, the priorities for new tasks or bugs should be given by considering the existing tasks in hand.

And finally, watch out for things that have the potential to become high priority. Health issues are the most visible example. We neglect our health for years until the neglect catches up with us. Despite our claims to have “long-term vision”, most of us are fighting the last war instead of preparing for the next one. If your planning starts today, the less number of severe issues you will have to contend with in the future.


Alexey Linkov October 3, 2007 at 6:56 am

This is so true that when ppl have all their tasks in bold red, they end up doing much less. Check out this post http://www.43folders.com/2006/10/01/priorities-vacuum/

btw, do you practice GTD? I’ve just started but even now it makes so much difference

Krish October 3, 2007 at 11:01 am

Thanks for the link, Alexey. Very interesting post.

I don’t practice GTD, although it is a good system. I am a little more random, though there is some method to the madness. Some of my habits are explained in this article where I did an analysis of productivity by Marc Andreessen

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