Notice something about the ritual of pulling petals from a flower and saying, “she loves me, she loves me not?” There are only two choices – yes or no, one or the other. Makes it all pretty simple. You can force this technique on yourself when you’ve got lots of things to prioritize and are struggling to decide among them.
Say you’re writing a presentation for your senior management and have 15 points you feel you have to make. But you know that there’s no way you’ll get to cover more than 3 of them. Here’s how you can use a forced comparison to help narrow the list:
- Write all 15 key messages on individual sticky notes and place them on a wall or desk.
- Select two messages and compare them, asking, “If I could only make one of these points, which one is more important?” Place the one you pick at the top of the wall or desk, with the other below it.
- Pick up another sticky note, asking the same question relative to the top-most sticky note. If the new sticky note is more important, it goes on top, and the others move down. If it’s not more important, keep moving down and asking the question (Is this one more important or is that one?) relative to each sticky note until it’s appropriately placed based on its importance.
When you’re done, you should have a fairly quick prioritization, getting you out of the trap that everything is equally important. The technique works well either individually or with a group that’s trying to prioritize things in a whole variety of situations. So try it, or try it not…try it!