A stack of sticky notes with Paired Comparison written on the top one

How to Prioritize Your Life: Paired Comparison Without Fussy Tables

The Paired Comparison Method They Want You to Use

Any Google search on how to do a paired comparison is going to give you a shit ton of articles telling you how to set up a table so you can prioritize your to-do list.

I’m here to tell you, you don’t need a table.

You can write down your to-do list and quickly analyze it to make sure you’re getting the most important tasks done first.

A paired comparison chart that you don't need
You don’t need this! (Image credit: Continuous Improvement Toolkit)

Your To-Do List

To do a paired comparison, first, write down your list of things to do. 

So if you want to shave the cat, write a book, mop the walls, and make a cake, list them with letters in front. 

Like this:

A Shave the cat

B Write a book

C Mop the walls

D Make a cake

A dark gray cat staring at you
You want to do what, now?

Then you start comparing. Between shaving the cat and writing a book, which needs to be done first? 

Well, the cat’s fur is full of chewing gum and brambles, so you probably oughta shave him before you write a book. 

So you write A next to shave the cat. 

Same goes for mopping the walls and making a cake. 

They have less urgency and importance than shaving the cat. 

So two more As go next to shave the cat. 

Then compare write a book to mop the walls.

Writing that book will gain you fame, notoriety, money, fans, and all kinds of other goodies.

It’s WAY more important than mopping the walls. So write a B next to write a book.

Then compare write a book to make a cake.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that making a cake far outstrips the need to write a book.

After all, making a cake takes an hour or two, while writing a book can take years. So write a D next to write a book.

(I’m up to 6 years on my impending book, “17½ Ways to Self-Care When You Don’t Care”!)

A tall stack of cakes with a great deal of whimsy including a teapot cake on top
Wow… when you make a cake, you REALLY make a cake!

Then finally compare mop the walls and make a cake.

Making a cake wins out again.

Mopping the walls is going to take FOREVER, and you’d love to have some cake when you’re done.


A Shave the cat AAA

B Write a book BD

C Mop the walls D

D Make a cake

Then You Count up Your Letters

You’ve got 3 A’s, the most of any letters, so A goes first. 

Then you’ve got 2 D’s, so that goes second on the list.

There’s 1 B, so it’s third.

And you have 0 C’s… mopping the walls just isn’t as important as your other tasks.

So you’ve got this:

A Shave the cat

D Make a cake

B Write a book

C Mop the walls

There’s your order for pursuing tasks. Shave the cat first, then make a cake, followed by writing a book, and ending with mopping the walls.

A dark gray hairless cat
Are you happy now?

I don’t recommend making a list of more than 10. It gets cumbersome. Fast.

I use paired comparisons in concert with the Eisenhower matrix.

The Eisenhower matrix I use before doing a paired comparison for each block
My favorite box is delete!(Image credit: James Clear)

Everything goes into the matrix first, so I can determine what’s urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent but important, and neither urgent nor important.

The tasks that are neither urgent nor important get deleted. 

Everything else goes into a paired comparison list.

I do this with my daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals, just to make sure I’m not losing track of the important in the face of the urgent.

A young woman carrying cleaning supplies including a mop over her shoulder, looking at you with disdain
You want me to mop WHAT?

For further reading on setting goals and productivity, check out Planning to Become a Goalmaster and Five Systems for Goal Setting.







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