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31 Jan

What to do when there are too many flags and everything is prioritized

Datum: 2023-01-31 08:00
Raised red paper flag against a clear blue sky.

The per­son who wants an email to stand out from the rest can tag it with a red flag. If cer­tain papers are more impor­tant, you can place them at the top of the pile. If some­thing needs to be done as soon as pos­si­ble, you can mark it as being high­ly pri­or­i­tized” in your to-do-list.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

This is all well. But, in real­i­ty, those emails marked with red flags tend to accu­mu­late so that you even­tu­al­ly can­not eas­i­ly deter­mine what is impor­tant and what isn’t. The piles might even­tu­al­ly con­sist of only impor­tant papers, so that at the top of the pile” no longer becomes rel­e­vant. And the to-do-list will most like­ly only have the pri­or­i­ty-tag high”; there is no high­er”, high­est”, or not to men­tion high­est of the highest”.

Sud­den­ly high­light­ing-tools have lost all mean­ing and become use­less. What is marked with a flag, high­light­ed or tagged no longer sticks out from the rest, and we are back where we start­ed, at square one.

Reclaim the tags

If this all sounds some­what famil­iar, decide on what the email­ing flag real­ly means, what the cri­te­ria for using the tag for high­ly pri­or­i­tized” tasks real­ly is, and what actu­al­ly qual­i­fies to be placed at the very top of the pile. By doing so, you will reap the ben­e­fit of what these tricks are actu­al­ly intend­ed to do for you, and they will once again help you in your dai­ly work.

Do this

  1. If you are in the habit of mark­ing emails with red flags — think through what the pur­pose of doing so real­ly is. Per­son­al­ly I rarely use the email­ing-flag, but when I do, I do so to make it clear which emails I intend to respond to next, since I in that moment intend to do noth­ing else than reply to these very emails. If an email con­tains some­thing that I need to remem­ber to do lat­er (but not imme­di­ate­ly), I add a to-do-task to my to-do-list instead of mak­ing it with a flag, since I want to be able to pri­or­i­tize con­scious­ly amongst all my to-do-tasks — not just amongst the ones I have received” via emails.

    If you are tempt­ed to flag an email to make it eas­i­er to find lat­er, try doing search­es for your emails rather than scrolling until you find them. Our var­i­ous email­ing pro­grams are gen­er­al­ly very quick and easy to search in.
  2. If you place papers at the top of piles in order to remem­ber to do some­thing with them, begin writ­ing the dif­fer­ent things as to-do-tasks instead. If you don’t, you will have two (at least) lists — an actu­al to-do-list and a infor­mal list” con­sist­ing of every­thing that is at the top of piles or pinned and post­ed around your office in places where you can­not miss or for­get them.

    The more lists” we have, the hard­er it is to pri­or­i­tize con­scious­ly and accu­rate­ly. But if you only have one list, it becomes eas­i­er to do the right thing first instead of wing­ing it” and dong things as you hap­pen to come by them in your office.
  3. If you tag your tasks as hav­ing high” pri­or­i­ty before you have an overview of all your tasks, and before tak­ing into account the even more impor­tant tasks which might be added to your list (and which you need to do before the oth­er tasks, only not right now) — then you need to change how you mark high­ly pri­or­i­tized tasks. Since pri­or­i­ty is a com­bi­na­tion of how urgent and how impor­tant a task is, you might very well need to revise and reorder your pri­or­i­ties through­out the day.

    This is why we can­not deter­mine on before­hand what pri­or­i­ty a task will have lat­er, since pri­or­i­ties are set from one moment to the next in rela­tion to the tasks we have to do right now, and how impor­tant ver­sus urgent they are. There­fore, only set the pri­or­i­ty for a task (for exam­ple, as high”) in the moment when you are about to choose which three tasks from your com­plete list of tasks you wish to do next.

    Or, you could let the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion-tags” to indi­cate how impor­tant tasks are instead (since impor­tance tends to be more con­sis­tent over time com­pared to what needs to be pri­or­i­tized, at least in the short-run), and thus mak­ing high” indi­cate that the task con­tributes to the accom­plish­ment of your goals to a great extent, nor­mal” indi­cates that it influ­ences your goal-attain­ment to an aver­age extent, and low” means that the task hard­ly has any­thing to do with your goals at all.

New nuances

If you make it clear to your­self in what sit­u­a­tions you should flag some­thing, set a high” pri­or­i­ty for some­thing or put some­thing at the top of the pile, these meth­ods of mak­ing some­thing stand out from the rest will regain their sig­nif­i­cance and actu­al­ly help you in your work. You are now cre­at­ing nuances in the vast amount of infor­ma­tion you need to relate to and process every day, and thus make it eas­i­er to ori­ent your­self, do the right thing at the right time, and find what you are look­ing for faster when you are in need of it.

Do you do things differently?

Do you use flags, pri­or­i­ti­za­tion-tags or piles in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent way than those which I have men­tioned above? Tell me.

(By the way, this is what you can do when every­thing is impor­tant and urgent at the same time.)

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