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29 Oct

Clear, simple, actionable prioritization.

In yesterday's challenge, we talked about the LNO Framework by Shreyas Doshi. Before discussing the framework, let's first see how Shreyas has described it himself in a Twitter thread:"All your tasks are not created equal. Doing great work doesn't mean that you put in your best effort for every task.

Understand the difference between Leverage tasks, Neutral tasks, and Overhead tasks, and aim for a different degree of quality for each type of task:

As a compulsive perfectionist early in my PM career, the LNO Framework changed my life.

To put it in practice, I prefixed every task in my to-do list with L: or N: or O: depending on what type of task it was, so I could force myself to be intentional about my level of effort.

Here's a side-by-side example of what my to-do list for tomorrow might have looked like before using the LNO Framework (left) and what it would look like after applying the LNO Framework (right).

Notice how LNO makes me spend less time on N / O tasks and more time on L tasks.

Over time, I realized that LNO is also very tied to the concept of tracking & managing your energy rather than time. I took on L tasks when my energy & focus was high, N / O tasks when low. I even did O tasks while watching Seinfeld in the background, just to get through them."

But wait, what is a high-leverage task? What is leverage?

To put it simply, a high-leverage task is something that is a multiplier in the equation and not an adder.

There are tasks that, if not done well, break everything else. They are your multipliers. If they go to zero, everything else goes to zero.And then there are tasks that are “good-to-haves.”

They add to the experience but they don’t break anything if left undone or done to the point of just being good enough. They are your adders. Even if they don’t exist, the important stuff still works.

Focus on the multipliers, not on the adders. Those are your high-leverage tasks. If they go well, either or all of these things may happen:

  • You will get rid of many other tasks you'd have to do if you did not do them
  • Many other tasks will get exponentially easier once you do this task
  • It significantly moves the needle on an important metric you're trying to optimize for in your business

Ask yourself,

“What’s a list of things that if not executed really well will break everything else?”

Focus all your energies on those.I

n Shreyas' example, a partnership meeting with AT&T is a high-leverage task because the opportunity, if bagged, can move the needle greatly on a lot of business metrics. Going extremely well prepared for the meeting would result in the highest potential business impact right now.

What's a neutral task?

Many tasks are important for the success of the mission; they need to be done; but it is okay if you do a good enough job at them. This is the kind of task you would delegate to a junior teammate you trust to do a good job.

These are your neutral tasks. They will need your oversight, but you can still manage to do away with a good enough job, so you can safely delegate them to a junior.

There's an important internal contract a person who cares about quality and craftsmanship needs to make with themselves when they are doing neutral tasks:

That it is fine for some things to be just good enough.

For someone who wants to do an excellent job at everything, not realizing this might create conflict and steal focus away from the high-leverage tasks. It might also turn the manager into a micromanager.

And finally, overhead tasks.

These are tasks, as Shreyas puts it,"

Just get it done. Actively try to do a bad job."

These are tasks that are really low impact and low resolution to be very useful at this point. You lack a lot of information to be any good at doing this right now, or it may be a task that is urgent but not important, or you may not see these tasks directly moving the needle in any big way right now.

But the second sentence of his quote is what is quite interesting to me.

"Actively try to do a bad job."

Why is this necessary to say? Well, because if you're someone like me, you want everything to be perfect.

And the sad truth is everything cannot be perfect.

If as a manager, you're able to do everything perfectly, you're probably not focusing on enough high-leverage activities. And your prioritization is currently a mess since you treat every task with the same urgency and assign it the same importance.

What actively forcing yourself to do a bad job at these tasks does is: it releases the pressure valve inside your head that forces you to be a perfectionist.

(And don't worry, if you're smart, you will still do a pretty decent job even when you try to do a bad job.)

The implementation of the LNO framework is also as simple as it gets.

Dedicate some time to thinking about what high-leverage means in your case.

Then, just color code the different tasks in your to-do list with colors for L, N, and O respectively.

What this will do is whenever you see your to-do list, you won't see the whole of it. Your attention will be directed to the top 2 or 3 tasks with the highest leverage.This in turn will help you focus on the biggest multipliers first, instead of being distracted by small, tactical stuff that feels good but doesn't create business impact.

To end this piece, here's a quote from Paul Buchheit that describes how Apple and Google chose to prioritize building features:

"What's the right approach to new products?

Pick three key attributes or features, get those things very, very right, and then forget about everything else.

Those three attributes define the fundamental essence and value of the product -- the rest is noise. For example, the original iPod was: 1) small enough to fit in your pocket, 2) had enough storage to hold many hours of music and 3) easy to sync with your Mac (most hardware companies can't make software, so I bet the others got this wrong). That's it — no wireless, no ability to edit playlists on the device, no support for Ogg -- nothing but the essentials, well executed.

We took a similar approach when launching Gmail. It was fast, stored all of your email (back when 4MB quotas were the norm), and had an innovative interface based on conversations and search. The secondary and tertiary features were minimal or absent.

There was no "rich text" composer. The original address book was implemented in two days and did almost nothing (the engineer doing the work originally wanted to spend five days on it, but I talked him down to two since I never use that feature anyway). Of course those other features can be added or improved later on (and Gmail has certainly improved a lot since launch), but if the basic product isn't compelling, adding more features won't save it.

By focusing on only a few core features in the first version, you are forced to find the true essence and value of the product. If your product needs "everything" in order to be good, then it's probably not very innovative (though it might be a nice upgrade to an existing product). Put another way, if your product is great, it doesn't need to be good."
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