Short term prioritization

It seems like short term prioritization is a really useful skill. Its something I can do reasonably well, but I feel like there’s something I’m missing.

My current habits work like this: I often write down a list of things my brain generates as important to do. Things that my brain is like “you IMG_20160106_133559should do this.” Often my brain has been pinging me about several of
these for the last half hour. For example, today this looks like:

  • Theorize about x-risk
  • Plan day
  • Plot about coffee?
  • theorize about epistemics
  • plot about fashion workshop
  • w2p
  • pymc3 thing
  • planning request

Most of these don’t mean to me what they seem like they mean. They’re just the first word handles I found. For example, “Plan day” really means something like “make sure I leave enough time to get to a meeting in SF and check that I know where I’m going”. “theorize about epistemics” means something more like “think about why I feel uncomfortable talking to people in a way that seems linked with not getting better at how I pay attention to evidence”.

Writing down these word handles lets me quickly flit between different options more easily and thus clears some working memory for thinking about the choice as a whole. My next step is to go over the list and mentally note, circle or rewrite the ones that seem especially yummy or anxiety inducing.

Then I’ll select 2 or 3 from those as my next action items that I’m actually planning on doing and write them on a separate list. Having this short list makes me feel more decided and motivated to start them. I cross them off as I do these tasks and when I’m done I refill the short list with more items. Currently I’ll also write down items I do even if they weren’t on original list and then cross them off, but I suspect this may not be good.

While evaluating items, I’ll often pay attention to each item and try to evaluate how important it seems. I’ll often note if its urgent in some sense and whether I’ll have the mental energy to do the task. Sometimes I try to pay attention to how valuable an item is, but my methods for doing this seem pretty crude and based mostly on affect and maybe briefly visualizing what other things in my life the task affects.

Its this last area where I think I could improve the most. I need better heuristics or methods for evaluating the tasks values. Perhaps I could do fermi estimates for the value of different tasks, but this seems pretty difficult, especially for reflection-type tasks (which are often the most valuable), and I suspect I won’t do it. Maybe I could do very short free-writes about why the difficult ones are valuable? Or just writing down the main effects I think of?

I’m supremely curious how other people do short term prioritization like this.