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The common advice for managing your day is to develop a list of priorities. But top productivity guru David Allen says that such "ABC priority codes" – A for your most important items, C for least important – don't work.

"You'll have a different priority set at 8:00 tonight than you will at 10:30 this morning. And sometimes the most strategic thing for you to do will be to water your plants. Like, when you've been in six meetings, felt beat up in five of them, and by 4:30 your brain is scrambled eggs, and you barely have the attention span of a gnat. That's the time to water your plants and fill your stapler. Why? Because you can't do anything else, and you're going to have to water your plants sometime anyway," he writes in his Productive Living newsletter.

Instead, at any given moment, he advises you to choose what you will do according to the following four criteria, listed in order of precedence:

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  • Context (what can you do where you are?)
  • Time (how much time do you have until you are committed to something else?)
  • Energy (how wasted or fresh are you?)
  • Priority (what has the highest payoff for you?)

You don't need a mathematical formula to determine payoff; he says it's intuitive. At the same time, consider what is truly mission critical and what is essentially frivolous.

He stresses that doesn't mean you shouldn't make a list of what you would like to get done today: "Just remember that the best-laid plans of mice and men are temporary and often ephemeral tools."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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