A simple two-layer prioritisation framework

August 30, 2020

Earlier, I had written about my ultimate productivity hack, which is embracing the mindset that what’s important gets done.

What I didn’t answer in that post was how to identify what’s important.

How do you decide what needs to be done?

The answer is in adopting a prioritisation framework for your work and for your life.

I’ve read and applied tons of prioritisation frameworks and have always found that a simpler heuristic is always better when it comes to decision making.

And so, I’ve come up with a two-layer prioritisation framework of my own by combining existing frameworks. I’ve not researched new prioritisation techniques or processes ever since starting to follow it around mid-2019. So I can vouch for its effectiveness. 

My framework is multi-layer, has simple questions at each layer to filter out ideas until you’ve arrived at “this obviously needs to be done”. You can apply it to your work or personal life.

Layer 1: Does this align with my top goals?

Without goals, trying to prioritise is like walking through a forest on a stormy night heading north without a compass. You’re getting nowhere. 

Most people already have goals that they want to achieve, or are already working towards. It could be to build a side hustle, to grow sign ups or revenue at their job, lose weight, find a suitable partner, what have you.

A prerequisite for being able to prioritise in life or work is to have clear, defined goals. 

Be aware that you can have 1001 goals in life, but only 2 or 3 of them can be active at a time. It’s not realistically possible for humans to achieve greatness in multiple fields in parallel (unless you’re Elon Musk). I’d advise against it, unless you like feeling burnt out and not making progress.

Great, so you have 2-3 goals that are most important to you. They are clear to you and always on top of your mind. 

Next, whenever you get any idea which would take up your finite time and energy available throughout a day, pass the idea through this filter “does this idea align with my top goals?”

No? Write it down somewhere for you to return to it later (99% you won’t), and forget about it.

Yes? This idea has passed layer 1.

A working example from my own life - the current top goals for my new venture are 1) to identify a pre-launch and beta strategy, 2) refining the design and features of v1 of the product.

So whenever I’m working on my new venture, it’s towards these attaining these goals. If I’m browsing on YouTube, I pick videos to watch that are going to help me achieve 1 or 2, and I mark the remaining interesting videos as ‘watch later’.

Layer 2: Impact x Effort

Having goals helps you focus your ideas and filter out those that will help you advance your goals. But you might have 1001 ideas to achieve your goals.

How do you pick which ideas to invest your time and energy into?

To do that, you need to understand the impact x effort matrix.

impact effort matrix prioritisation technique
Source

Impact is the estimation of how much an idea can help you towards your goal. For example, if you have two ideas to improve sign ups for your app, make an estimate of how much each idea could potentially improve sign ups. Is it 10%, 20%, or 50%?

Effort is the estimation of the amount of time and energy it will take to implement an idea. You can measure this in hours, days, weeks, months etc. I prefer measuring it in number of work days.

You want to prioritise ideas that are on the upper left quadrant - high-impact, low-effort. These are quick wins, low hanging fruits, call it whatever. These are the easy wins life is throwing at you. You need to identify, catch, and implement them.

The next set of ideas to prioritise are high-impact, high-effort. Quick wins do run out eventually, but that’s a good problem to have. That’s when ideas in the upper right-quadrant come in.

In work and in life, you want to avoid ideas belonging to the lower quadrants. Low-impact, low or high effort. These are time pits that despite putting in energy they won’t get you anywhere. The real skill is in identifying which of your ideas belong to the lower quadrants, so that you can avoid those. 

A small exercise for you to practice - Suppose that improving sign up flow are your top priority. You have an idea that could improve sign ups by 10%, and would take 1 work day to implement. You have another idea that could improve sign ups by 25%, but it would require you to completely redesign the sign up flow and take 5 work days to implement. Which idea will you prioritise?

The framework is the easy part

The hard part is identifying your goals.

The hard part is coming up with relevant ideas that can actually help you achieve your goals. 

Once you have goals & ideas, applying a framework to filter and prioritise through them is the easy part.

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