7 key frameworks for prioritization

The Importance of Frameworks

I often find people who get stuck in problems repeatedly and find it hard to solve them — be it struggling with unhealthy habits, building a new routine, or getting stuck in messy tasks at the office. We then try a few techniques and eventually can solve those problems with some effort. However, that leaves us tired, unhappy, and unsatisfied. It is also a very inefficient mechanism for solving problems. Life, as we live it, is a repetition of similar events that occur daily. Our day-to-day lives do not differ much. Keeping that in mind, it is necessary to build frameworks that can help us navigate the many difficulties of our lives. A framework is a templatized thought process that can apply to many situations and help us find answers to complex problems.

Over the next few weeks, I will be articulating the many frameworks I have developed throughout my life that help me navigate my daily life’s complexities and repetitiveness. My goal is to help others solve the many problems they face and learn from their experiences.

Prioritizing Work

Parkinson’s law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Given any problem, we tend to take as much time allocated to it to complete it. If we allocate less time to a job, we tend to complete it by applying more effort. However, if we allocate more time, we tend to reduce the effort and thus take more time to get it done. Figure 1. shows the curve for Effort vs. Time Allocated for the completion of a given effort. It means that given any problem, we tend to take as much time that is allocated to it to complete it. However, we have too many different issues to resolve and very little time to tackle each of them. This often happens with executives, leaders, entrepreneurs, working moms, etc. While many of us struggle to prioritize the work that comes our way and therefore fail to work on the correct problems, some are efficient enough to navigate the complexities and focus on the correct issues. In this article, I want to touch upon various frameworks that help me focus on the correct issues.

Figure 1. Parkinson’s Law

Principle 1: The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule was coined after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto while at the University of Lausanne in 1869. This rule states that 80 percent of the value of the work we do lies within 20 percent of the work we do.

Application: Here is my modus operandi as to how I apply the principle in my life:

  1. Before starting your day, make a list of all the tasks that you have on your plate.
  2. Prioritize them with the amount of impact that they will have.
  3. Once you have done that, take the top 1 or 2 tasks and de-prioritize all the others.
  4. Focus on the selected tasks and do them exceptionally well.

Principle 2: The Delegation Principle

Many of us tend to do the work given to us by ourselves. This model leads to many inefficiencies and doesn’t scale up that well. Ideally, we should follow the following principle:

  • Own it and do it ourselves if the work is a high risk.
  • We should delegate if the work is low risk and requires low skill.
  • If the work is low risk and requires high skill, we should train + delegate.

The principle above will help us scale our work and ensure that the work output risk is well controlled.

Principle 3: The Batching Principle

Many times we get work that is similar and can be categorized together. These include making breakfast + lunch before we head off to the office, doing the morning exercise with meditation, analyzing some data for our managers, and preparing a report. A common technique that I often use is to make a batch of similarly occurring work items and batch them into similar buckets. The modus operandi I follow is as follows:

  • Make a list of all the tasks that I have for a given day
  • Bucketize them by labeling what areas do they belong to
  • Prioritize each bucket and decide on one bucket to tackle for the day
  • Go deep in that bucket and solve all the relevant problems

The technique helps me in the following way:

  • Avoidance of context switches by forcing me to focus on a single task at a time
  • Reaching a meaningful outcome from a bucket, given a lot of items are done together

Principle 4: Performance over the presence

The current working model was developed in the industrial age, where scores of workers had to come together and specialize in a specific skill and work for long hours (~8 hours) every single day. This is no longer true in today’s economy, especially in the knowledge economy. Results and performance drive the knowledge economy. Accumulation of knowledge drive results. The collection of knowledge is a slow, gradual process that compounds over time. It implies that the work results will compound over time and not grow linearly. Furthermore, we live in a result-driven society that is more than ever data-driven. Therefore, figuring out areas of measurable improvements and focussing on efforts that move the needle in those dimensions make more sense than just tirelessly working on a task with no results.

Principle 5: Agility with Hard Work

The world of high technology successfully uses a model called Scrum. Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed it as a methodology to execute projects efficiently. There are four core tenets of the scrum model. These are as follows:

  1. Planning
  2. Daily check-in on the progress
  3. Measuring the progress over a sprint
  4. Retrospectives and Improvement

Let us go through each of these in detail.

  1. Planning your sprint: The first step in any Scrum is to plan your work before executing the set of tasks.
  2. Daily check-in on the progress: The core idea behind this method is to ensure that as you are executing a project as a team, you can check your progress and re-balance work on your plate. This step also helps the team focus on what is going well and call out blockers in the day-to-day execution.
  3. Measuring progress: One of the most critical parts of the scrum framework is measuring the progress on the tasks in terms of the work done in human days. Over time, this helps in estimating whether the team is improving over time or not.
  4. Retrospectives & Improvement: The last and the most critical piece in the framework is retrospectives. Retrospectives help a team reflect on the work achieved in the previous sprint and the lessons learned. The team then introduces a new lesson with every sprint. It is called Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning change for the better or continuous improvement.

Principle 6: The Idea Of Leverage

While it is possible to get a lot of good quality work done by yourself alone, you are still a one-person army and get limited by your environment’s physics and logistics. However, human society is built on the ideas of trust, fellowship, and business. It means that the skills you have can be traded for money and time by others. You can teach your skills to others and expand the impact of your unique knowledge. If you are a teacher, you can create a school; if you are a doctor, you can create a hospital, etc. Institutions are an agglomerate of someone’s ideas scaled up to have a massive impact on human potential through a unique way of solving a problem in a given context. It means that if you can create a profitable outcome (financially, socially, etc.), you can start to get scores of people to follow you and help you become much more productive in the goals you have set for yourself.

Principle 7: Measure What Matters

The key to executing well and prioritizing involves understanding whether you are moving in the right direction or not. OKRs expanded to Objectives and Key-ResultsIt is a framework that is used by several teams, large organizations, governments, etc., to lay down their goals and success/failure metrics to answer the question as to whether they are succeeding or not. There are three critical components of this framework:

The WHYs: In executing any task, project, etc., it is necessary to answer the question as to why this specific task was taken up. Successful teams combine their ambitions with their passion and purpose and work towards a common goal.

The WHATs: Setting clear goals is critical to the success of this framework. The way to set clear goals is by setting clear objectives. Objectives are goal-posts towards which teams direct their effort. Good objectives should have the following properties:

  • Significant: An objective should be substantial enough to move the needle on a project.
  • Concrete: You should define an objective concretely enough so that it is not ambiguous and everyone can understand it easily.
  • Action-Oriented: You should define an objective so that anyone can easily break it down into concrete actions.
  • Inspiring: An objective should be inspiring, so the team feels excited to go after it.

The HOWs: Once you have defined the objectives, it is necessary to determine the key results to measure the objectives’ success. The key results should have the following properties:

  • Specific and Time-Bound: You should define the key results in a particular manner and measure them within a specific time limit.
  • Aggressive yet realistic: You should define the critical results so that they are bold and yet practical enough, i.e., they are met 80% of the time.
  • Measurable and verifiable: You should define the key results in a way that they are measurable, repeatable, refutable, and verifiable. It makes them easier to gauge and test under a scientific purview.

Quotes

  • “Forty-hour work weeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes — train and sprint, then rest and reassess.”
    — Naval Ravikant.
  • “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” — Archimedes.

Useful Videos

About Ravi

Ravi is a poet, innovator, and entrepreneur. Ravi got a degree from IIT and Princeton University and lived in Bangalore and California, working at various software startups. He is the author of Be Buddha and regularly blogs at Ravi’s Blog.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ravi Tandon

Ravi Tandon

Entrepreneur, software engineer, and author. Top writer in Startup. My books and writings: https://www.ravitandon.blog/