How I prioritize a task

Over the course of my undergraduate degree, I have continually strived to become more efficient with task management. In my sophomore year, I realized that I had so many things to do that I could not simply increase my number of hours worked, for I had already saturated my waking life. At that point, I started to refine how I managed my time.

I have experimented with some time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique, but I find that what is more important than working efficiently on one task is choosing which task you need to work on first. Sometimes this can be difficult because it is much easier to work on a task you like over one you fear starting, even if that task is more important.

So, I have developed an equation to help me gauge the importance of a task, so the task I am working on at any given time is always the most optimal one for that day.

Here, I will first list the equation for the “score” of a task; then I will explain the variables; then I will explain the significance. At the end, I will give an example.

\[(\text{score})_i = n_i - \frac{w_i}{3} + 5\times \frac{\log\left( 1 + 8/t_i \right)}{\log\left( 1 + 8/\text{min}_{j}(t_j) \right)}\]

Here, \((\text{score})_i\) is the score of a task \(i\).

\(n_i\) is how important the task is, in your opinion, on a score of 1-10.

\(w_i\) is how much you want to do the task, in your opinion, on a score of 1-10. The \(3\) underneath it represents your “wisdom” in some sense. If you find you always do tasks you like before the ones you need to, you should decrease this to \(2\) or lower.

\(t_i\) is related to how much time, realistically, you have to complete this task before it is due. More formally, I define it as the maximum amount of time you can work on tasks other than \(i\), per day, before this task is due. This score is given by:

\[t_i = \frac{8\times T_i - e_i + c_i}{T_i}\]

Where \(8\) is the mean amount of hours you have available to dedicate to this task list per day.

\(T_i\) is the time, in days, before the task is due.

\(e_i\) is the estimated number of hours for the task.

\(c_i\) is the cumulative number of hours you have put into the task.

So, what we have is a score for a task based on:

  • How important you think it is
  • How much you want to do the task (to effectively subtract your bias from the score — tasks which are less fun become “less important” in our heads)
  • How much time is remaining given the estimated time to completion.

For example, right now I have in a spreadsheet:

  • “GR assignment”
  • “February award applications”

The GR assignment (lets call it task 1) has a score of 10.7, beating the February award applications (task 2), which has 10.5.

The point scores are, for task 1:

  • Estimated time = 6 hours
  • Due in = 1.2 days
  • These values imply that \(t_1 = 3.3\) hours, meaning I can only not work on this assignment for 3.3 hours a day
  • \(w_1 = 4\), meaning this task holds around-average interest from me
  • \(n_1 = 7\), meaning this task is important (it is for a difficult class, and the late marks are 10% per day)

Task 2:

  • Estimated time = 16 hours
  • Due in = 7.2 days
  • These values imply that \(t_2 = 5.8\) hours, meaning I can leave this task for some days, and still have enough time to complete it
  • \(w_2 = 3\), meaning I would rather do my GR assignment than write award applications
  • \(n_2 = 8\), meaning this task is more important than the GR assignment

However, we can see that the GR assignment, even though it is less important and more fun, wins. This is because I do not have much time to spare before it is due.

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