How to prioritise – the four Ds

PriorityOver the Christmas/New Year break I have been busy thinking about my plans for 2016. As usual, there are way too many things I’d like to include, so I will need to prioritise. Thinking about how best to use my time, I started thinking about creating a 2-dimensional chart; Things I want to do and Things I need to do. However, as soon as I started populating my chart I realised I needed 2 more dimensions, relating to Money and my Overall Plan. So, I have now created a system that I call the 4Ds. HT to @1Sue3 for retrofitting names beginning with D to my dimensions.

Desire relates to things I enjoy doing. When there are too many things competing for too little time I have found in the past that I have under prioritised the fun things. No more! From now on (well from about two years ago actually), fun has a much heavier weighting in my planning prioritisation process.

There are some things you have to do. If you have a regular job you have to fulfil it. If you have taken on a contract you have to deliver. There are duties placed upon us by others, such as the need file tax returns etc. It is important that in your planning all of the ‘real’ duties are planned for.

However, there are often many things we allow to slip into the plan that are not true priorities. They are there because we were not brave enough to say no, or because we did not think clearly about the implications of saying yes to something that turned out to be bigger than we expected, or because we have let somebody else set our priorities. Duty is a D that needs monitoring. You should be contributing back to society etc, but duty should not drive the whole prioritisation process.

Most of us have to find time to prioritise money, either acquiring sufficient money or making sufficient savings. For example, if finding an alternative insurance provider is going to save a chunk of money, then it needs prioritising. The extent to which Dollars should contribute to the decision, compared with the other three dimensions, will be dependent on your needs (actual and perceived). My design (see next point) is to try to reduce my need for money (i.e. spend less) and thereby reduce the extent to which money is a key driver in my plans.

For me this is the big one in terms of priorities, i.e. making sure you actively design your future. Think about things like where do you want to be in 1, 5, 10 years from now. The answer to these questions will help you prioritise. If you want to work abroad you might want to learn a language, if you want to be a data scientist you might want to study R and Hadoop, if you want to be a qual researcher you might want to study the underlying theory and also spend some time working with skilled practitioners.

Putting the plan into use
So, when I am asked to speak at an event, write an article, run a workshop or whatever, my decision used to be largely driven by whether I had a space in my diary. Now I ask:

  1. Does it take me in a direction I want to travel, i.e. does it help design my future?
  2. Is it fun?
  3. What about the cost/income?
  4. Is it one of those things for which I feel I have a duty to do?