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ABC123 Prioritized Planning
Source: Michael Olpin, Associate Professor, Health Promotion & Human Performance, Weber State University, Ogden, UT


A simple, yet powerful method of managing the events of our lives involves moving beyond the traditional to-do list.

It is called the ABC123 Prioritized Planning method introduced by Alan Lakein. The focus of this method is to move from crisis management and putting out fires, toward doing, on a daily basis, those things that are most important to us.

The first part of this process is deciding to dedicate 15 minutes each day to the process of thoughtful planning. This could happen either at the beginning of the day or the evening prior to the next day. During the 15 minute daily planning, follow this procedure that has three phases:

Phase I – Make a List

First make a list of everything you want to accomplish today. Don't give any value to anything on the list at this point.

Simply unload onto a piece of paper or planner the things that you want and need to do today.

At this point, it looks much like a traditional to-do list. This may be a long list. That is okay.

Phase II – Give a value to each item on the list using ABC

Put an “A” next to each item on your list that must be done today. These are the vital things that have the highest amount of importance to you.

Important is not the same as urgent and it is necessary to clarify the difference.

The urgent item shouts for immediate action. Many times these urgent things are not necessarily important, but they have the appearance of needing to be handled right now. Answering a telephone or checking an e-mail may appear urgent, but oftentimes lacks relative importance.

We have a tendency to do the urgent things at the expense of the highly important things.

The important or vital task rarely must be done today or even this week. The urgent task calls for instant action. The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and they devour our energy. But in the light of times perspective, their deceptive prominence fades. With a sense of loss, we recall the vital task we have pushed aside; we realize we have become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.
Charles Hummel, President of Barrington University

For example, most people would agree that spending time developing a relationship is very important. Spending quality time with a friend or family member is critical and vital to the development of the relationship. Yet, the amount of time that parents spend talking to each other or their children is very small in relation to the time they spend doing more seemingly urgent, but far less important, items of the day such as watching television or surfing on the internet.

Examples of “A” priority items would include activities like studying for a test that will take place in two or three days; shopping for food, when there is none on the shelf or in the refrigerator; putting some gasoline in the car if your running on empty; going to the gym to workout; having lunch with your best friend; taking your daughter to a movie; spending some quiet time meditating; deciding on a topic and begin researching for a paper that is due in 3 weeks. These are all important items, though they may not be hollering at you to be done “right now.” These important, but not necessarily urgent items must get on your list as “A” items.

Next, place a “B” by each item that should be done today. These are items with some importance to you. An example of a “B” item might be deciding on a topic for a paper that is due in 6 weeks; filling your car with gas when it still has a quarter of a tank left; changing the dirty water in the fish tank.

The items on your list that will get a “C” are those tasks that have very little importance to you. These items could be done, but won't suffer at all if they are not. Examples of “C” items might be washing your car; going to a store to buy a shirt; cleaning the garage.

The value you give items will change as the events in your life change. What was once a “C” item, such as cleaning the garage, might soon become a “B” item if you can no longer get your car into the garage and you have nowhere else to park your car. The level of importance of working on a research paper changes as the due date for the paper approaches. The key point is that you are the one who is evaluating the relative importance of each of the items on your list based on how you currently perceive them.

Phase III – Prioritize again using 123

In this phase of the planning process, give a numerical value to each item on the list based on its relative importance to you.

First, move through the “A” items and compare each one. Ask yourself which of these very important items is the most important of all. That item gets a “1” next to the “A” so it becomes “A1” on your list. Proceed through each of the A's until you have given a ranking to each. Then proceed to the B's and then the C's. (See the example of a prioritized daily planning list below.)

Example of Prioritized Daily Planning >