Getting Things Done - The Four Criteria Model
The Four Criteria Model
I mentioned the idea of context in my earlier posts about Getting Things Done, and that is the first criteria in this model that you apply to make instant decisions about what to do next. Context is all about where you are and what tools you have at your disposal. The other criteria are Time, Energy, and Priority. Applied in this order, you can very rapidly filter your list of possible actions and make the best decision about the very next thing you can accomplish.
Context: Allen makes the observation in his seminar that if the most important thing you have to do is clean your garage, but you're at work, then the importance of that task is really irrelevant at that particular moment in time. Tasks (to do items) should always be labeled with their context to make filtering an instantaneous process. For example, before I leave the office for lunch each day, I scan my task list by filtering on @Errands to see what I can accomplish while I'm out and about. (The "@" symbol forces your context labels to the top of the list in any information management software like Outlook or Palm Desktop).
Time: Once the whole list has been filtered for context, the next criteria is available time. If I'm looking at my list of @Office actions and see that the most important thing I can do will take one hour and I only have 30 minutes until my next meeting, I continue on down the list to see what the most important thing I can do is that I can accomplish in 25 minutes or less. Estimating time for tasks is a vital element in making the Time criteria effective.
Energy: So far I've taken a look at what I have to do in terms of my context (at the office) and my available time (25 minutes). The next decision is to honestly evaluate my current energy level. There are time during the day when I feel ready to take on the world? I'm so full of creative juice that nothing seems too big to tackle. These are great times to do what I call "blank sheet" tasks. Everyone has them -- the tasks where you are creating something starting from a blank sheet of paper. At other times, I'm felling pretty drained and the best thing for me to do is something mechanical and rote where I don't have to have a lot of mental clarity. This is oftena good time to process "stuff" in my Inboxes (e-mail and analog) or catch up on filing.
Priority: This is the fuzziest component of the model. There are many things that can determine priority including externally dictated deadlines. In practice, having filtered on the first three criteria, your remaining action choices should (hopefully) be relatively easy to prioritize.
The techniques and strategies David Allen has spent a career developing provide enormous potential to help you boost your personal productivity to new levels and give you a sense of control over you life and work you may never have felt before. My fellow Office Zealot Laura J just posted that her Inbox is empty for the first time since she began working at Microsoft five years ago.
It's a feel good matra: "Get into empty" (say it out loud and you get "Get In to empty). Try it.