How to Decide What to Do at Work: A 4-Part Model

May 18, 2020

Categories: Work

Many people go about their work activities haphazardly. They respond to whatever seems to be most important in the moment, without doing much thinking about what they should be doing and why. This way of doing work makes it challenging to make consistent progress on our most important tasks.

There’s a better way to decide what actions to engage in at work. In his book “Getting Things Done,” business consultant David Allen shares a 4-part process for deciding what to do in the moment. The process isn’t complicated, but it has been helpful for me in organizing my work day and deciding what work tasks to prioritize.

Question #1: Context

The first question to ask yourself is about the context right now. In other words, where are you? What is going on around you? Are you at work, at home, in the car, etc.? Do you have your computer and Internet available? For some tasks, you might have to be in a certain location (e.g., your office) or have a certain tool available (e.g., your computer). The context is the first limiting factor that will help determine what you should be doing right now.

Question #2: Time Available

The second question to ask yourself is how much time you have available. If you only have 20 minutes before you have to attend a meeting, this time period will limit the options available to you.

Question #3: Energy Available

The third question to ask yourself is how much energy you have available. Check in with yourself. Are you feeling upbeat and energized, or worn out and exhausted? For certain activities, you might be able to take them on only when you are feeling energized and well-rested.

Question #4: Priority

The fourth and final question to ask yourself is what the priority is right now. In other words, given your context, time available, and energy available, what action will give you the highest payoff? Where could you get the biggest bang for your buck?

Follow Your Intuition

It’s a good idea to listen to your gut and follow your intuition. Sometimes the answer won’t be crystal clear, and that’s okay. There’s not always one “right answer” to the question of what you should do right now. But if you walk through the four steps of the model on a regular basis, you will be more likely to engage in the action that is most important and helpful for you at the moment.


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