how to decide what to do in a particular moment

most people have life goals and dreams: buy a house, have kids, save for retirement, whatever. david allen calls these 50,000 ft. goals. unfortunately, we don’t really get good training on how to work consistently towards those goals over time. let’s put aside for the moment that goals like ‘saving for retirement’ are actually incredibly narrow-minded and mostly stupid). 

fortunately, allen gives a great remedy for this. one of my favorite part of the getting things done (gtd) piece of methodology is the four criteria model for deciding what to do in the moment. it’s an important part of keeping your moment-to-moment decisions aligned with your big picture life goals. there are other parts of the gtd system that help keep daily activities aligned with life goals, but i’ll write about those later (preview: they include the weekly review and the all-encompassing project management system).

anyway, the four criteria model goes like this: in order to be the most efficient, whenever you need to decide what to do in a certain moment, use these four criteria in this order:

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context

where are you? what can you do where you are that you can’t do anywhere else?

time available

given your context, how much time do you have available? if you only have 30 minutes, maybe you shouldn’t take on a huge, heavy-thinking task. if you have 3 hours, maybe you shouldn’t spend a bunch of it checking email.

energy available

what time of day is it? are you feeling rest and clear-headed? are you tired? have you made a bunch of decisions already today? do you not really feel like being productive?

priority

only now, considering your context, time available, and energy available, should you assess the priority of the things you could get done. of course, you should always handle the highest priority task… but only once you’ve gone through the other three criteria.

now, this was surprising to me at first, but now that i’ve been using it for over a year, i really understand how it helps me be productive almost constantly. these criteria (combined with other parts of the gtd methodology) allow me to feel totally confident from moment-to-moment that i’m using my resources most efficiently and doing exactly what i should be doing in the moment i have.

more on that in part 2.