Feb 04

So the challenge is this: given the design constraints of a whiteboard (where the ink can’t be moved but can be erased), what is the best way to show priority of items on a todo list?

The idea of reordering the items isn’t very practical because it involves completely erasing everything when priorities change and rewriting the list every time. Likewise, using numbering doesn’t work well either because let’s say you have:

  1. Fix plumbing problem on sink
  2. Buy wedding gift for best friend
  3. Mow the lawn
  4. Return DVD rental

…and for whatever reason your friend decides to call it off last minute, you now have either a list that says, "1 3 4" or you have to erase and rewrite all the numbers for each item (not to mention it’s impossible to glance across the room at a long list and see the highest priority items without discerning all the numbers).

The solution is simple: make a dot next to each item of a size that is proportionate to it’s priority (larger meaning higher priority). This way you can enlarge a dot when it grows in importance and shave off a bit if its priority drops. Erase the items as you complete them and add new ones in their place as necessary. I’ve used this method for about a year now and while it may be old hat to some, it could be new hat (?) to others. My friend David just showed me a screenshot of a 37 Signal’s Writeboard that has started using the dot size of items to represent priority so it seems there is some validation to this method and that others are thinking along these same lines too. Try it out for yourself.
(and if you find it useful Digg it!)

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3 Responses to “lifehack: whiteboard dot-size priority trick”

  1. […] I recommend the “dot-size” priority trick if you use a whiteboard or notebook. Anytime you have more than 20% of your items flagged as priority, I guarantee that your effectiveness on tackling any one item will be diluted. The mindset when assigning priority should be “what three things this week will have the greatest impact on advancing our cause?” Notice this is different than “what are the three most pressing items on my plate this week?” The latter is a reactive vs. proactive approach – you can get into reactive mode where you let your todo list drive you. Urgency is completely independent of Importance – but that’s a topic for another post… […]

  2. John Blayter says:


    I have been using the dot size hack now for about a month and I must say that it is a lot easier than numbering by priority. Just part of the human nature after the number change you want to erase the white board and put them in numerical order. With the dots I don’t have that OCD feeling that I have to erase and start clean.



  3. Zeratulss says:

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    Study company Zogby International also showed that every fourth resident of the United States have their own representation in the web-site or internet-stranichka. Creating internet-dvoynikov most passionate about young people (18-24 years of age) – 78% of them have personal Web page. In doing so, 68% of those surveyed said that the World Wide Web, they do not appear in its original capacity, their virtual overnight seriously different from the real.

    Only 11% of Americans would agree implantable microchip in his brain, which would provide them with direct contact with the Internet. But the situation is changing, in the case of children. Almost every fifth resident of the United States would agree to equip their child safety device which would allow him to track the movement in space on the Internet.

    10% of U.S. stated that the Internet brings them to God. ” In turn, 6% are convinced that because of the existence of the World Wide Web God away from them.

    And how you feel? Sorry bad English.

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