Why go looking for something else when Apple gave me all this stuff included in the price of my machine? So yeah, I tend to use the built-in default for most things.

I have this thought constantly when I’m trying out new apps that I think will solve a problem I’m having or will make a workflow better. Most of the time, the cost of an app or subscription doesn’t justify the often minuscule improvement a non-default app provides.

I had previously written them off as “cheating”, telling myself that I ought to be able to read the printed version, if only I was more disciplined. Now audiobooks are the only option for me, and I love them. I play them at 1.5x speed, and I have “read” more books in the last year than I have in total since primary school. Information used to be imprisoned, but now I can access it easily. It used to be frustrating thinking about how much knowledge was being held hostage inside the books I’d never be able to get through, but now I can “read” that information anywhere.

I took me a while to “get into” audiobooks. I always put off trying them because I thought they wouldn’t be as nice a reading experience as reading a book (whether physical or digital) but I was definitely wrong. I have a bit of a commute to work by car, and I used to listen almost exclusively to music. But sometimes listening to music in the car isn’t a great experience either with all the exterior noise, so I gave them a try and realized how great they can be. Not every book really works as an audiobook though. I really enjoy listening to fiction with audiobooks, but non-fiction is a bit of a frustrating experience, especially if there are lots of tables and figures referenced. Also being able to use my commute time to “read” and adjust the speed means I can get through a ton of books I wouldn’t be able to get through if I were only reading regular books.

In short: it is probably a mistake, in the end, to ask software to improve our thinking. Even if you can rescue your attention from the acid bath of the internet; even if you can gather the most interesting data and observations into the app of your choosing; even if you revisit that data from time to time — this will not be enough. It might not even be worth trying. The reason, sadly, is that thinking takes place in your brain. And thinking is an active pursuit — one that often happens when you are spending long stretches of time staring into space, then writing a bit, and then staring into space a bit more. It’s here that the connections are made and the insights are formed. And it is a process that stubbornly resists automation.

tl;dr – ask yourself these questions to prioritize your to do list, then take the necessary action.

Is the consequence for not completing this task…

  • P1 immediate and severe? Do it first.
  • P2 not immediate but severe? Time block.
  • P3 immediate but not severe? Task batching.
  • P4 neither immediate nor severe? Do it if you have extra time, or don’t lmao

I had trouble using the Eisenhower Matrix or really any task priority system until I started reframing the language commonly associated with them. Particularly the term “Important”. All my tasks are important, that’s why they’re on my to do list. But I found instead of thinking “How important is this task?” I ask myself “How severe is the consequence for not completing this task?” which usually helps give me a clearer picture as to how important it really is. By extension it also helps clarify what “Urgent” means as well: “How immediate is the consequence for not completing this task?”. My revised priority scheme looks something like this:

  • P1 consequence is immediate and severe.
  • P2 consequence isn’t immediate but is severe.
  • P3 consequence is immediate but isn’t severe.
  • P4 consequence is neither immediate nor severe.

After tasks have been sorted, most guides will tell you to do your P1 tasks, schedule your P2 tasks, delegate your P3 tasks, and complete your P4 tasks only if there’s time (or just delete them).

The problem I’ve seen most people run into though is with their P3 tasks. Firstly, they have a hard time deciding what is on their list that “isn’t important” (though hopefully this can be solved using my revised matrix and prompts) and secondly, they don’t have someone they can delegate their less important tasks to. I also fall into this camp, as I don’t really have anyone I can delegate my work to, so I work with a few modifications to this scheme.

P1 tasks are priority and are completed ASAP. Personally, I’m at my sharpest in the morning and my capacity to do good, deep, work lessens as the day goes on. If it’s important, I’m doing it as soon as I can in the day.

P2 tasks are important though they will usually bear metaphorical fruit after some time. What usually falls into P2 for me are habits, routines, practice, etc. It’s not a terrible consequence if I miss a day, but over time would mean squandered potential. These tasks are block scheduled i.e. each task gets its own block of time to be completed.

P3 tasks aren’t quite as important, usually don’t require as much brain power, but still need to get done. Usually things like chores, administrative tasks, answering emails, phone calls, etc. I batch schedule these tasks i.e. block off a time in my day to take care of these all at once.

P4 tasks are completed if I have time, will power, or energy left after all the important tasks are done for the day.

The knowledge sector’s insistence that productivity is a personal issue seems to have created a so-called “tragedy of the commons” scenario, in which individuals making reasonable decisions for themselves insure a negative group outcome. An office worker’s life is dramatically easier, in the moment, if she can send messages that demand immediate responses from her colleagues, or disseminate requests and tasks to others in an ad-hoc manner. But the cumulative effect of such constant, unstructured communication is cognitively harmful: on the receiving end, the deluge of information and demands makes work unmanageable. There’s little that any one individual can do to fix the problem. A worker might send fewer e-mail requests to others, and become more structured about her work, but she’ll still receive requests from everyone else; meanwhile, if she decides to decrease the amount of time that she spends engaging with this harried digital din, she slows down other people’s work, creating frustration.

Many apps these days feature some streaks system to try and make sure you touch the app every day. This isn’t just true for creepy social media apps. Plenty of productivity apps are in on the action, too. This “don’t break the streak” mentality is table stakes for most habit apps. These streaks can quickly become a weight around your neck. You get more invested in continuing the streak than the actual benefit of the visit.