A strategy for task prioritization

April 16, 2015

Establish a consistent measurement scale for cost. It can be quantitative or qualitative. Do the same for a measurement scale for benefit.

Create a cost vs. benefit graph, and add all of your tasks to it:

                  ^
      World peace |
                  |   foo
                  |                                  raz
                  |                     bar
BENEFIT           |                                            qux
                  |
                  |
                  |             baz
    Strong coffee |
                  `---------------------------------------------------->
                   Tip the barista                          Scientology
                                           COST

Prioritization can now be determined by a function of cost and benefit. Pick an initial prioritization schedule, such as y = x:

                  ^                                                 ┐
      World peace |                                            .
                  |   foo                                .
                  |                                  raz
                  |                     bar     .
BENEFIT           |                        .                   qux
                  |                   .
                  |              .
                  |         .   baz
    Strong coffee |    .
                  `---------------------------------------------------->
                   Tip the barista                          Scientology
                                           COST

The benefit of any task above the line outweighs its cost, so it should be prioritized. The cost of any task below the line outweights its benefit, so it should be deprioritized.

Here, we see that foo and bar are clearly worth their costs, raz is debatable, and quz and baz are not worth their costs.

Perhaps cost is more expensive, relative to benefit, than as captured above. This might be better represented by a prioritization schedule of y = 5x:

                  ^         ┐
      World peace |        .
                  |   foo .
                  |      .                           raz
                  |     .               bar
BENEFIT           |    .                                       qux
                  |   .
                  |  .
                  | .           baz
    Strong coffee |.
                  `---------------------------------------------------->
                   Tip the barista                          Scientology
                                           COST

Now only foo is worth its cost. Everything else should be deprioritized.

Experiment with different prioritization schedules. Continuously reevaluate the costs and benefits of tasks as new information becomes available and as business needs change.