The anti-priority dogma—er, canon—of GTD and OmniFocus

So I've been playing with OmniFocus alpha to see if it can work for me as a personal productivity/task manager, but as I noted before, the system lacks a way to prioritize tasks. It seems rather obvious to me that you want to identify the important must-do items before you start filling in your day. I could spend all day answering the phone, reading and writing emails, catching up on my feeds, having meetings, doing conference calls ... and not getting done the things that need to get done.

Efficiency is getting things done. Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Apparently, despite a hopeful comment from Ethan Schoonover, there seems to be little hope that prioritization will appear in OmniFocus. I'm only digging into this now, but a discussion thread on the topic revealed a dogma about the Getting Things Done "canon":

Just got started with my sneaky peak, and OF is just plain *awesome*. However, there's one killer feature that is keeping me from moving over from iGTD permanently and taking my chances with the Alpha: prioritization of tasks! I realize that setting priorities is a bit "anti-GTD" to purists, but in my case it's absolutely necessary.....

This requested yielded a number of responses:

Given that the prioritisation of tasks is not canonical GTD, then if this feature were to be added, it would be crucial IMHO that there were a preference to turn this off altogether.

I suppose it's a fine line that the Omni crew are having to tread - whether to aim for a pure GTD implementation or open up to a wider audience practicing variations on GTD or even unrelated productivity systems.

Yes, because one wouldn't want just anyone to be productive -- only those who've drunk the kool-ade.

Stay GTD Canonical, at least for the first release.

Prioritization is not canonical.

Well, while the project may have been inspired by GTD, it is called "OmniFocus," not "OmniGTD."

Omni president Ken Case then weighed in:

OmniFocus has a notion of priority already: it's the order in which you arrange your items. If you want something to have a higher priority, simply move it up in the list.

This gives you much finer-grained control than a typical priority system, which typically only has a few levels of priority: OmniFocus effectively has as many priorities as you have items.

Does that make sense?

It actually doesn't make sense to me, because I'm prioritizing apples vs. oranges. Moving tasks up and down won't help if they are in different contexts.

This all really has me rather stumped. As someone who has gained much from the Franklin-Covey system of prioritizing, I just don't understand the logic to deprecate priority.

As for the complaint that priority is non-canonical... I don't have The Book right here, but I do remember that, when discussing the 4 factors for doing (first by context, next by time available, then by energy available and - FINALLY - priority)

I don't know, but it seems to me that even asking the question, "Do I have the energy for that?" for every task is an invitation to procrastinate. A big long list of contextualized but non-prioritized tasks is pretty darned certain to sap any inspiration from me. On the other hand, priorities can help you focus -- even stimulate energy. You tend to find energy for those tasks that are truly important.

What's really disheartening to me is that I may have to buy and install Parallels just so I can run the Windows-only Franklin-Covey software ... and that is something that has so many negatives I've never given it an A priority. (Franklin-Covey needs to do some work on their belief windows, imho.)

And so I continue to work on paper while the practitioners of "the canon" define themselves out of one more customer? Hope not.

Laura Scott is a designer, tech geek, fiction editor, and author.