• Jon Saft

The Power of 4

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

David Allen is widely considered to be one of the world's leading experts in productivity. He is most well known as the inventor of the Getting Things Done system and author of the book by the same name.

When we set out on our mission to reduce stress and increase productivity for people around the world, Allen was one of the first experts we turned to for lessons and tricks. We picked up tons of useful nuggets along the way, but perhaps most interesting to us was Allen's claim that, "the number of things you can mentally prioritize, manage, retain, and recall is . . . (hold on) . . . four!"

We had the same reaction as many of you are probably having right now: that can't be true. I am constantly prioritizing more than 4 tasks at once. In fact, my to-do list is more likely to have 40 things on it than 4. So we dug in, and it turns out, Allen was correct.

The Science

In the '50s, prevailing wisdom told us about a "magic number" of seven, plus or minus two. This theory stemmed from a research paper by George A. Miller in 1956 that showed people could remember or process five to nine things at a time. In 1994, however, psychologist Alan Baddeley dug up Miller's paper and discovered that it wasn't actually describing research, but instead was just a talk Miller gave at a meeting. So Baddeley and others like Nelson Cowan in 2001 conducted their own research and figured out that the "magic number" is actually four.

You can see this psychological phenomenon in action in places you might not expect. Think about your phone number. You remember it without even thinking about. A simple, 10 digit number, right? Or is it actually a series of three separate, 3-4 digit chunks? Do you remember it as 1234567890 or 123-456-7890?

Of course, you remember the smaller chunks. 10 digits is overwhelming, but 3 or 4 is easily manageable.

Applying the Science

The same can be said for your to-do list. Opening a list of tasks with more than 5 or more tasks on it can be enough to make you run for cover, but starting your day with a manageable list of 4 tasks will have you excited to start knocking things off the list.

So instead of letting your task list pile up into a scary pit of despair, Quatro helps you keep it under control by automatically prioritizing and categorizing each task. We encourage you to schedule tasks that can't be done right away, or add blockers to tasks that require additional steps before you can start. Once those are taken care of, we prioritize everything else according to their impact, effort, and due date, and we only ever show you the Top 4 priorities.

Because we know, and science confirms, an endless to-do list can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. But a list of four To-dos? We can manage four.

#science #mental_health

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We love the number 4 so much we named our company after it. For us, the number 4 carries so much power because of its ability to keep us sane. We were sick of being afraid of our daunting to-do lists,