Why ‘Make your priorities straight’ is flawed advice?
Ok, let’s check how do you define what priority is. Usually, priority means importance, significance. But how do you tell the difference between important and urgent? The answer is simple in theory — failing an important job leads to a loss of resources and opportunities. But how do you tell in advance the consequence of your actions? How do you know that there is a risk of failure? You should have a model that tells you that something is important. And you should trust this model to draw resources from urgent jobs too important ones. It requires causal inference even if there is only one status preference matrix “important vs. urgent”. So, even the basic meaning of ‘priority’ is complex enough for most people.
But things become much more complicated if you consider that there can be multiple priorities. To establish the order of priorities, you should now make not only simple causal inferences but should apply counter-factual causal inferences (Pearl, 2019). And guess what, that’s not an easy task to handle.
That’s why I consider prioritization an extremely difficult skill to acquire. And it is not the basics of time management, it is a very high-level extremely abstract, and rare ability.
Pearl, J., 2019. The seven tools of causal inference, with reflections on machine learning. Communications of the ACM 62, 54–60.
Chris Argyris, 2000. Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They’re Getting Good Advice and When They’re Not.