Enable Your To-Do List With Preemptive Multitasking

Preemptive Multitasking is a term in computing used to describe the operating system’s behavior of permitting “preemption of tasks” in distributing the computer processor resources.

To make the idea clearer, we’ll let Mr. Wikipedia define the concept to us:

Preemptive multitasking involves the use of an interrupt mechanism which suspends the currently executing process and invokes a scheduler to determine which process should execute next. Therefore all processes will get some amount of CPU time at any given time.”

Now let’s borrow that concept and apply it to how we should deal with our To-Do List.

The embodiment of GTD himself, David Allen, said “daily to-do lists don’t work”. Yes, they don’t work as such. But if you are like most people, you depend on a regular To-Do List to organize your tasks.

To-Do lists (as such) don’t work. We already know that. One main reason is the shifting of our priorities. How many times have you been interrupted in the middle of a tasks only to be asked to do something else instead? You just screwed your To-Do List.

To-Do lists work. Yes, I just said a couple of sentences ago that they don’t work. They work if we incorporate Preemptive Multitasking in our daily routine.

Interrupt Mechanism

Plan ahead of time. Define some milestone – some point in the middle of your tasks that you can stop working. I cannot recommend enough the Pomodoro Technique on this.

What you do in Pomodoro is divide your work time into 25 minute chunk and take short, 5 minute break between each chunk (Pomodoro).

So, for example, if you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, design your workload in a way that each milestone falls into a 25 minute window.


You should be able to tell your To-Do List which tasks can be preempted with other higher priority tasks. For example, if Task C comes up on my plate at any time today, I have to immediately stop Task A and bump Task B at the end of this list.

You should always be aware of your schedule – priorities, deadlines, ad-hoc requests, etc.

Balanced Amount Of Time

Not all your tasks on your list have the same level of priority. That’s for sure. Some tasks require bigger amount of time dedication and resources.

But in order for you to keep the balance in your job, you should know how much time can high priority tasks exceed without bumping other tasks completely off the list.


Photo Courtesy of flickr user Areldos.

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