The Priority Engine

or: "Gamifying Procrastination"

I have this need to create. Unfortunately, I also have a lot of things that consume my time, leaving 'spare time' immensely valuable to me. I've devised a system that allows me to get things done while also balancing the things that are important to me. One of these days, I'll code something up that does all this (Timeful was close, but alas, Google bought it and wrecked it), but I thought I'd write it down here - it's a useful technique on paper too.

  1. Create a TODO list with everything you might want to do, INCLUDING entertainment time. Open-ended things should have time limits. Large things should be broken down into single-task chunks (or treated as open-ended tasks)

    • Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour

    • Play Overwatch with my son for an hour

    • Update calendar

    • Edit podcast episode for an hour

    • Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)

    • Start Too Quiet proof of concept

    • Write blog post about productivity system

  2. Assign each task an expected utility value of 1-10. In economics terms, utility is the expected satisfaction or value that one gets out of a thing. Important things have more. So do really fun things.

    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour

    • [3] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour

    • [8] Update calendar

    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour

    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)

    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept

    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system

  3. When you have time to do a thing, always do the highest value thing on the list.

    • [9] Write blog post about productivity system

  4. Every time that you work on something on the list, adjust its value:

    1. If you complete the task, remove it from the list

    2. If you don't complete the task, reduce its value in the list. I typically reset entertainment tasks down to 1, but halve the value of ongoing 'productive' tasks.

    • [3] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour

    • [3] Play Overwatch for an hour

    • [8] Update calendar

    • [2] Edit podcast episode for an hour

    • [5] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)

    • [5] Start Too Quiet proof of concept

    • [DELETE] [9] Write blog post about productivity system

  5. Every day that something is on the list, increase its value. I typically double values because that makes important tasks increase faster than non-important. However, that means that the lowest value tasks hit the top value in about a week (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128), as I usually max out at 100. But do what you want.

    • [6] Watch Netflix with my wife for an hour

    • [6] Play Overwatch with my son for an hour

    • [16] Update calendar

    • [4] Edit podcast episode for an hour

    • [10] Plan #gmparty episodes (requires an updated calendar?)

    • [10] Start Too Quiet proof of concept

      Edit: doubling values falls apart in long-term usage, as tasks quickly get to the max and just stay there. Something needs to be figured out for a long-term time scale. Go logarithmic instead of exponential, perhaps?

  6. Repeat, adding new tasks as needed. If something new is really important, feel free to add it to the list with a value higher than 10, so that it can work alongside things that you've already ignored for a few days... but I'd argue that such tasks shouldn't really go into the Procrastination Engine if they're that important.

This system allows you to simply add stuff to a list, and forget about it until it's time to do it. The more things get ignored, the more pressure is added to do those particular things.

Note: a todo list that allows priority sorting is useful, but most only give you a low/medium/high priority. That's not really good enough.