Licensee BadgeTraining Badge
Submitted by dbsabzb on


I'm trying to rationalize a dilemma in my head about MT's guidance in Right of First Refusal about scheduling priorities vs. the GTD methodology I've implemented.

MT recommends putting priorities on your calendar, but GTD states to only use your calendar for things that must get done that day (not things you'd "really like" to get done).  To me, time to work on priorities falls within the latter.  I'd really like to focus on priority X today, but priority X isn't blowing off if I push it until tomorrow.

Obviously if I CONTINUE to push priority X it will be a problem, but I'm trying hard to put very hard edges on my calendar.

Do I just need to expand my definition of "what must absolutely get done today" to include priority work?  Am I being silly for not including priority work in what must absolutely get done today? How do you all handle this?


eagerApprentice's picture

Hi DB, 

I love the GTD model and have been using it for awhile as well. I'd say, stick with what works - and if you see a place for improvement, consider blending them together without changing the core GTD rules.

I'm less familiar with the Right of First Refusal about scheduling priorities from MT, but I'd generally say - stick with GTD IF that has worked for you - and maybe try to fit the RofR in there, our but in a different way that will have the same general impact as if you had put it on your calendar.

Maybe during your 10,000FT review each week?



Trigger Networks:We are Global ERP/CRM Cloud Co

dan west's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Hi DB,

Priorities are all about picking which things you want to get done. I tend to maintain 4 separate lists:

- Things to get done today

- Things to get done by the end of the week

- Things to get done in the quarter 

- Things to think about getting done sometime

In your example, if you can push X to the following week/month then you don't necessarily need to block the time. But eventually you will need to put it in your calendar. I think Mark's central point in that cast is we need to schedule time to do work. Work is a lot more than just going to meetings. It took me a while to realize this. But once I started blocking out time to do other work, I instantly became more effective.



buhlerar's picture

I understand your question, and I've had the same question in the past.  Haven't listened to this week's cast yet, but Mark has alluded to the concept of evaluating your "real" priorities by checking the calendar and seeing what is being worked on.  And although I can't claim to be a GTD master, I'm certainly familiar enough with the issue you've raised.

I think you're creating a little bit of a false dilemma, though.  It's true that GTD says the calendar is for items that take place at a specific time.  But think about most of the items on your calendar -- how many of them absolutely couldn't be rescheduled?  Obviously almost everything could be, because it happens all the time -- one of the participants has a conflict, or another part of the project was delayed so we need to push this out to next Monday, etc.  You wouldn't think twice about putting a lunch meeting on Tuesday's calendar, but you could have just as easily scheduled it for Wednesday (or next week, or next month).  So you don't literally believe that it could ONLY happen at that specific time, yet it goes on your calendar without question simply because you made some sort of agreement to put a stake in the ground.  Everyone knows the stake can be uprooted and planted somewhere else if necessary, and the bar is often pretty low, so don't read too much into the phrase "must be done on a particular day."  That's only true because you agreed to do it then, not because it's the only chance in your life to do it.

So calendars tend to only include our agreements to meet with other people -- and too often only the agreements they sent to you -- but why not make an agreement with yourself to set aside time for your main priorities (or schedule time with others, if the priority involves them)?  GTD does emphasize context over ABC prioritization, at least on your next action lists, but that shouldn't be interpreted to mean that all tasks are inherently of equal value (even within GTD).  You didn't mention if you're doing weekly reviews, but within GTD this might be even more important than the next actions lists, and would be the perfect time to identify priorities and make sure they are on the calendar.  Does this mean your calendar can't change?  Of course not -- rarely do they NOT change -- but next week you'll do another review and if it didn't come together as you planned, you address your priorities again.

flexiblefine's picture

I recently caught up on the free podcasts from the David Allen Company, and there's an exchange in one of them where David Allen Himself talks about making focus lists for things like "stuff to work on today" in addition to the canonical context lists. (I don't remember which one it is, since I listened to them all in a row.)

If David Allen says it's okay, you shouldn't have any qualms about adjusting the tenets of the system to suit how you want to work. The point is "getting things done" without the capital letters, not strict adherence to a particular vision of "Getting Things Done."

Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

jib88's picture

You can put time on your calendar to work on a "top priority" without being too prescriptive about what that priority is. Try blocking out various repeating chunks on your calendar to ensure you have the time set aside. Then at the beginning of the week/day/block (whatever works for you) look at your lists and decide what is the highest priority. The key is to have time set aside for your work instead of letting your calendar get filled with other people's priorities.

I had a similar dilemma as yours, and found the need to block out time overwhelmed the GTD principle. I very rarely have anyone question the blocked time and whether they can preempt it. When they do, I address it on a case-by-case basis. But even so, it's TONS better than having someone just assume they can schedule an hour with you because you have the slot free.


dbsabzb's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

 Thanks all.  GTD has been so insanely effective for me, which is why I am loath to deviate (my boss wonders how I manage to stay on top of every little thing she mentions).  However, I really do want to find a way to schedule concrete time to work on specific priorities.  I think I'm willing to stretch the hard edges of my calendar a bit to focus on priorities.  I'll try it out for a month and put a note in my tickler file to report back :)


dbsabzb's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Follow up time for those who currently block out priority time on their calendar - How much time are you blocking each week (ballpark/average)?   I believe that, in EE, Drucker recommends something like 3 hours twice a week.  Curious what you find works in practice.


dan west's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

 3 of those hours are for tasks I'm directly responsible for completing. 

The remaining 2 are for following up on tasks that I'm reliant on other people to complete and to follow up on tasks I've delegated ("Where are you with task X?").

mattpalmer's picture

 I've been thinking quite a bit about this, because I respect the opinions of both M&M and David Allen, and I wanted to try and rationalise the two seemingly opposing opinions on how to manage your calendar.  Finally, I think I've got something: the methodologies are different because they're talking about completely different things.

In an MT podcast I was listening to recently (sorry, can't remember which one, I'm plowing through interesting-looking backlog casts), Mark disparaged a calendar that only had your "must be done at a specific time" tasks as nothing more than an "appointments list".  I remember saying (out loud, even), "yeah, that's the whole point!".  You need somewhere that has your list of "must do at this time" tasks, because your regular "next actions" list is likely to be far, *FAR* too long to be able to scan and get that information easily.  A list of appointments *is* a "GTD calendar"; your "everything else" lives in your list of next actions.

However, an "MT calendar" is something (almost) completely different.  To M&M, your calendar is a communications tool.  It's a way for people to ask the question "are you free to talk about X?" without having to ask you directly.  This is great for scheduling meetings, of course -- put all the attendees' calendars into a digital pot, tell it how long you need, leave to simmer for fifty milliseconds, and it'll work out when everyone's free and book it.  Much more efficient than e-mailing (or, heaven forbid, having to ask everyone in person) what they're doing and when would be a convenient time to talk about X, and oh that doesn't work for Suzie and what about... aaargh.

But, as Mark is fond of saying, just because it's efficient doesn't mean it's effective.  The problem with blocking out time on your calendar, to say "I'm going to be stapling new cover sheets on my TPS reports from 10 to 12, do-not-disturb" is that, unless those TPS reports have to be out by 12, you're blocking out possibly important and useful things that could be done between those times.  Suzie's only available in the morning, and you *could* have done that stapling in the afternoon, when nothing else is going on, but you've said "I'm busy between 10 and 12", and so X doesn't get talked about, even though it'd be quite helpful if it got talked about today rather than next month.  By blocking out *specific* times, you're taking a *guess* at when it might be a good time to do that stapling, and thus conflicting with things that *do* have to be done at that specific time.

That's not to say that I think the MT advice on calendars is terrible advice, I just think it's driven by the limitations of the technology rather than by what would be most effective in the perfect world we wish we inhabited.  What calendaring systems really need, to be GTD-effective, is a way to tell it "I need N hours of unallocated time between 8 and 6 on Tuesday".  Then, if an appointment would mean I end up with less than N hours available, it doesn't get booked.  You then do the work that you want to get done that day in the "leftover" time that your calendar keeps available to you.  You could even have a default of always keeping N hours free every single day (which is what HNUT appears to do).

Hell, perhaps modern calendaring tools already do this.  I keep my calendar in a text file, after all...

Npollard's picture
Licensee Badge

Could you not interpret this guidance as making sure that your calendar includes work on priorities rather than blocks of time doing "Priority Work". So if your #1 priority was growing a sector of your business then make sure that your calendar includes time on that priority and so on - that might be meeting with key new customers etc. Isn't the point to make sure that your time is spent on your top priorities (i.e. not that you have blocked out time to work on them)?

rwwh's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

@mattpalmer: I agree with your analysis, except for one thing: for many of your "next tasks" you need not just total unallocated time, but uninterrupted time. David Allen's system tells you to make sure that whenever you have "x" minutes until your next appointment, you can quickly find a task that will take you "x" minutes. This will work fine for the shorter tasks, but if there are things on your next action list that take 2 hours to complete, you will find out that they never get done unless you start scheduling them in your calendar.

This also relates to the right of first refusal (recent cast). Basically, if you plan your important but "movable" action on Tuesday morning, your calendar takes care of the right of first refusal. If the automated system does not find a suitable time slot, someone may come and ask you whether you can change your calendar to accommodate the new meeting.

Please note that David Allen also says that his system does not deal with differing priorities....

mfculbert's picture

The recommendation to schedule time for your priorities comes from Peter Drucker I believe. For the last year I have been scheduling 90 minutes blocks for my top priorities every week. The time is set aside to work on the top priorities but the actual work is not defined.

When I get to the appointed time in my calendar, there are no conflicts. At that time GTD tells me what the next actions are in that area of  priority. I really don't see any conflict.

Nigel's picture
Training Badge

David Allen would agree with MT's guidance on scheduling your priorities (so too would Covey and Drucker).

GTD teaches us to capture our "stuff" and to triage it into contextual next-actions.

Allen goes on to say (in GTD, Ready for Anything, and Making it All Work) that you can schedule time with yourself to work on those next-actions.

He says that it is our responsibilities that beget projects which in turn beget next-actions.

It is an effective behaviour to schedule specific time on your calendar to work by yourself on a next-action that produces a specific deliverable in service of one of your priorities. David Allen encourages us to do this. So too does Covey when he talks about spending more time on the important rather than slavishly addressing only the urgent. And Drucker says (I paraphrase) that to make the important routine, we must calendar it.


P.S. It would be cool if M&M interviewed David Allen on a podcast and asked him the "should I calendar my priorities" question.

dbsabzb's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

" The recommendation to schedule time for your priorities comes from Peter Drucker I believe. For the last year I have been scheduling 90 minutes blocks for my top priorities every week. The time is set aside to work on the top priorities but the actual work is not defined.


When I get to the appointed time in my calendar, there are no conflicts. At that time GTD tells me what the next actions are in that area of  priority. I really don't see any conflict."

I think that this solution best merges the 2 philosophies.  I'll be testing it out this coming week.


fchalif's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

It's important to recognize that M&M have provided a lot of guidance that is meant to be considered together when judging a cast like "Right of First Refusal" cast. When M&M suggest that you use your schedule for much more than meetings and time specific appointment, i.e. schedule your priorities in order to ensure you block time for these, they have already taken into account that the Manager is doing One on Ones, giving feedback, coaching and delegating each of their directs. The activities related to the Trinity are already scheduled, except for some feedback that occurs as it happens.  So for a Manager to schedule time for their priorities, they include activities related to the Trinity AND the other objective(s) a manager may have on his plate.  

For example, i find i have to schedule two hours per week for a weekly review. It is by default scheduled for a Thursday afternoon, yet it often ends being done on a weekend, as i then have 90 minutes of uninterrupted time. It is a priority for me since i find i am much more effective when i do the weekly review, i get the clarity i need. the fact that i do not have uninterrupted time is mostly my fault. i often say yes to other requests for my time, some for which i need to say no, but others from my Directs who need coaching, my peer Directors or most often, a customer.

The MT guidance is to me more much prescriptive than that of GTD, yet i find that MT fits in very nicely. It's all about setting your priorities.