Productivity Hack – Prioritize the Lesser Priority

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

There’s something to be said about all of those blogs, podcasts, etc. that talk about prioritizing your tasks such that the most important ones are first. But there’s another way to do it that has led to me producing a lot more content and achieving a lot more goals.*

Do the not-as-important (but still valued and meaningful) things first, then do what you must complete the last minute.

Pretty simple, and it’s been demonstrated time-over-time in the behavioral literature (e.g., Premack Principle) that you can do the lesser of the two likely items prior to the more likely item to increase them both occurring. Yet, so often it’s recommended that we do the opposite. It requires a bit of self-awareness and there's more than just this one principle that goes into it (e.g., goal-setting, lanauage and rule-governed behavior), but it's a start to something you can use immediately. So what goes into this strategy?

Not much – a really clean list of what you want to accomplish, time set aside to work on them, and a little data on how well you predicted it to take you to complete both tasks. That last point is really important. This strategy requires a really good understanding of how long it is going to take you to complete the task with impending deadline – there have been many times that I with inaccurately predicted the task length, or my skill sets (or caffeine levels) just weren’t where I thought they were in given the time I allocated myself. This lead to many, many learning experiences (read: late nights). But it’s also led to a lot of productivity. Here are a few ways that I use this strategy:

Example: Estimating that it will take me 5 minutes to prepare for a semi-blind phone call to someone that I think is interested in our services I purposefully focus on any other task until the calendar reminder pops up notifying me that a call is 5 minutes away. At that point, I scour the internet to learn as much as I can about them, including ways to start a conversation, show value, and assess if we are both mutually likely to want to continue working with each other.

Example: Read that super cool esoteric book that you found online that should be in your coursework prior to reading the what you need to have finished prior to class. I used to only read for my classes (held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) in grad school the night prior to the class. Often times I wouldn’t start until after I read 50-100 pages from other books that weren’t even assigned. This is part of how I increased by pages read in BA (pictured below) in 2013.

Standard Celeration Chart - Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Standard Celeration Chart - Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Example: In preparation for a flight back east, I stayed up working on creating content to be released throughout the week instead of packing. When the alarm went off it was time to pack and pack fast. Made the plane with 30 minutes to spare and wrote three blog posts! ;)

Example: Knowing that the functional reinforcers of shooting baskets are less likely to be contacted after weight lifting (i.e., sore muscles prevent fluent shooting and running), I play basketball prior to lifting weights. When the time sounds indicating there’s just enough time to complete my workout routine, then I switch over to lifting weights having completed both activities for the intended duration.

*I will note that I consider myself *extremely* lucky to have experienced little true adversary in my life. It was due in part to the great support networks around me (shout out mom and pops!), but also just blind luck. This has to be mentioned, as I consider myself extremely lucky. My largest fear in life is running into something like a sickness that slows me down from pursuing my values and daily reinforcers.