Prioritization vs. Personalization

Prioritization vs. Personalization
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When looking to improve productivity, focus and overcome the overall growing pain of information overload, there are different types of solutions being looked at and used: rules, prioritization and personalization. Of course, with each having its own benefits, there are also different challenges, as well as limitations to how much they may help you.


Productivity masters have many sets of rules and best-practices that keep them focused, on task, and progressing as planned. They have a variety of rules and triggers set up to filter messages from various contacts, mailboxes, networks, apps, and more. These sets of rules may be driven from holistic concepts such as David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) or the practical and growing productivity compilation of Nathan Zeldes (president of the Information Overload Research Group).

Unfortunately though, the majority cannot maintain such strict rules consistently; they take time creating (ongoing), updating per changes, keeping them in line, and with all due respect to filtering masters, having a certain email categorized and colored red instead of blue or yellow may assist in the short term, but you will need much more complex solutions for the long term.


Prioritization solutions have a certain goal in mind: to organize better. This could be for your inbox, as seen with Google’s Priority Inbox, Sanebox, and even Microsoft Outlook’s Clutter or Focused Inbox, as well as to-do apps that grant different organization features, categorization, dates, deadlines, etc.

Such solutions automatically prioritize tasks for you based on your history and patterns, yet they tend to miss out individual habits, behaviors, and time management.

As a quick example, think of two emails arriving from the same contact: one email is the report you requested, and the other is inviting you to a BBQ party taking place next week. Per prioritization, both emails would be organized similarly, besides their time of arrival, but they are actually two very different emails, thus shouldn’t be organized the same.

Another example is a common inability to distinguish between important messages arriving from social platforms such as LinkedIn and real clutter; Just because something is from a social outlet, doesn’t automatically make it junk.


Personalization is a different animal with a different goal: to continuously get to know you better. The reason for this may differ, from learning how to sell you better, organize you better, or make you feel better, but the objective is to personalize an experience for you individually (not one-size-fits-all) based on your own needs and behaviors.

If we look at messaging personalization examples, Google has its own comparable with Inbox by Gmail which is personalizing email for consumers by sorting emails per their usage, habits and needs; In 2015 IBM announced two personalization directions: Watson for medical and Verse for corporates, the latter supporting IBM’s email platform (Notes) on the cloud.

An interesting and innovative example that is available today for Microsoft platforms (Exchange and O365) is Knowmail which personalizes the enterprise inbox with AI by the individual’s state-of-mind and availability, including time-saving predictions for frequent actions; Facebook is also a huge player with both its personalized feed as well as its messenger, and just recently they released opensource fasttext on Github to encourage growth and distribution.

As with every solution, there are areas for improvement, in terms of context, delivery and providing what you need, when you need and able to attend to it.

As in a messaging example, we have Whatsapp, and your child’s pre-school group, which is highly, highly active. It can become more personalized by reducing notifications of new messages per relevancy, context and availability, i.e:

  • Does the message include the name of your child?
  • Are you currently in back-to-back meetings?
  • Is your partner viewing the messages (and you may be left alone)?
  • And more options…

If we look outside of messaging, Netflix is personalized with the aim to deliver you more relevant movies for your viewing pleasure. Based on historical viewing patterns and engagement, they can recommend things to watch which will be a true fit, but they can do better by looking at items beyond your historical views, such as calendar, daily activities, important dates, etc. For example, you come home extremely tired after a marathon of meetings, angry bosses, and worrying about your financial situation. As it is movie night, the queue recommends a drama which surely fits your preferences, but your state-of-mind is elsewhere…hence this particular Monday a short comedic TV show would be more appropriate.

Personalization for president

So when we look at solutions to make our day-to-day lives easier to cope with, we have rules which are becoming outdated and irrelevant as our daily scope is more dynamic, demanding, and overloaded. Prioritization is definitely an important aspect, but it is just one part of an entire solution: organizing your messages alone is not sufficient enough to increase productivity. In other words, prioritization is important, but it is an area within personalization, not the other way around. A productive and efficient solution must be fully personalized as to provide real value for the individual.

As we can see by the trend and personalization examples above, a true solution will arrive in the form of artificial intelligence, learning who you are beyond an email subject or contact. Your preferences, time, behaviors and more must be looked at and crossed with your need, as to deliver a more holistic solution that attends to your personal state-of-mind.

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