Prioritize Patiently | Marshall Shen

Prioritize Patiently

Prioritize Patiently

With the help of tools like AI, productivity has increased in various aspects such as writing articles, planning and executing tasks at work, and writing software.

While this allows me to accomplish more, it also means I face a heavier workload and experience increased stress. As a result, I reflect on my time management, identifying what works and what does not, and take planned action to improve it.

The conclusion: prioritize time with a delayed sense of achievement and a sharper sense of purpose. To make it more memorable, prioritize patiently.

What I know works:

  • Plan before acting. Whether it’s going on a trip or working on a complex project, taking the time to think of a clear plan before taking any action gives a sense of direction.
  • Take breaks. Stay away from devices, carve out time to exercise, and enjoy doing nothing. Taking intentional breaks switches off the processes in our mind.
  • Pay attention to sleep, diet, and exercise. When I do well in these three areas, I feel great and I am more productive. Health is the foundation of everything.

What I know does not work:

  • Multitasking. Human beings have a single-thread processor. We cannot multitask. Trying to accomplish multiple things at once leads to suboptimal results and takes a toll on mental and physical health.
  • Instant sense of achievement. Rooted in instant gratification, if we do things based on what seems to be most urgent, it doesn’t yield the best results, which can lead to unnecessary frustration.
  • Constant context switching. Context switching is a very costly mental activity. Switching from doing one thing to another in short sprints of time leads to exhaustion and suboptimal results.

Based on what works and doesn’t work for me, I re-adopt the following three tools in my pursuit of patient prioritization.

Big Rocks

Based on Steven Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, the concept is to utilize the most productive time to concentrate on the most important task (First Things First). Before embarking on the day or week, identify the major priorities (big rocks) and structure the day around them. Allocate smaller time slots for less important tasks (such as email, Slack, etc.).

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that combines focused work periods with breaks. For example, you would work with deep focus for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. This technique emphasizes the importance of taking regular breaks during focused work sessions.


Popularized by the book “Checklist Manifesto”, having a checklist on hand can be powerful when tackling complicated tasks. It breaks down a complex task into manageable chunks.

To effectively combine these three tools and prioritize tasks, a general framework is to:

  1. Before starting your work day or week, identify the most important tasks that need to be completed. These are your “big rocks.”
  2. When faced with complicated tasks, create a checklist to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This will help you stay organized and focused.
  3. While working on these tasks, use the Pomodoro technique to set time limits for focused work and breaks. This will help you maintain productivity and avoid burnout.