Discover more from The Knowledge Toolkit
4 Proven Frameworks to Prioritize All Your Tasks
Part 1 of How to build a personal operating system
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
There are things you want to do, but don't know where to start
If everything is important, nothing is
In the past, I've often dealt with the mental weight of having 100 different things to do. The mental strain came from feeling overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done.
In this post, I will share how you can start to bring order to the chaos of juggling multiple things.
A note before we start: The frameworks I discuss are only helpful if they are a part of your life. This requires repetition.
Planning is hard,
doing things as planned is harder,
and changing the plan in light of new information may be even harder.
Try the frameworks, and see if they suit you.
If they don't, abandon them.
Trying to force-fit them into your life will not work.
Pick the ones that work best and make them a part of your life.
Let us begin.
You want mental tools to help you visualize your long-term vision as well as plan the daily grind.
You want these tools to be flexible enough to handle planning one-off tasks like buying a new sofa and recurring things like catching up with your friends.
I’ll be discussing four frameworks that I've found helpful in a multitude of situations to clear my mind and lay out what I wanted to do. These frameworks will help you.
Lay out your North Star using Buffett's 5/25 (I'll also show you what to do if you don't know what you want to do with your life)
Prioritize day-to-day work with
Eisenhower's Decision Matrix.
Shreyas' LNO framework.
Build boundaries using DWMQ.
These are simple to follow using favorite to-do list apps, notebooks, or even Apple Notes (I use Google Tasks and Taskboard, which is a web wrapper for Google Tasks)
Before you can apply these frameworks, doing one thing first will help.
Pick one single app or notebook to keep track of ALL the things that you need to do.
Having a central place to keep track of everything you need to do will eliminate the mental worry and hassle of going through multiple different apps/notebooks/papers to find what you had written down.
David Allen's Getting Things Done is an iconic system to track and manage everything that you need to do. While the system is excellent for keeping track of items, I've found the frameworks discussed below help me prioritize the items. You can use the system in conjunction with the frameworks given below.
Matt Mochary has an excellent, short write-up on the key points in his book, The Great CEO Within (Made available for free by Matt). Specifically, the chapter on Getting Things Done explains the system's key points in 3 pages.
Let us start with the four frameworks.
Track the big things in your life using the 5 / 25 and the To-don't List by Warren Buffett
Buffett is a legendary investor, and part of his success is attributed to the things he does NOT do. The 5/25 strategy comes from Buffett's conversation with his pilot years ago.
Many years ago, before an airplane takeoff, Warren Buffett walked up to his pilot, Mike Flint, and jokingly said to him, "The fact that you're still working for me tells me I'm not doing my job. You should be out, going after more of your goals and dreams."
Buffett asked Flint to list down his top 25 goals in life and then rank them from 1 to 25
He then asked him to circle the top 5 and asked him how he planned to achieve them. Flint answered that he would spend some time on the top 5, and the rest of it, he would focus on them when he could
Buffett suddenly became serious and told him that everything below the top 5 just became his 'To-Don't' list. If he spent any time on items 6-25, then he would never be able to achieve the top 5
Time is limited, and there are things you want to do in life.
By extension, the only way you will be able to go after the things that matter to you most is if you don't do things that matter less.
"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything."
- Warren Buffett
Most people have a to-do list of some kind. But few maintain a To-Don't list.
The to-do list is an excellent way to know what you need to do. But equally important is the To-don't list, which prevents you from being side-tracked from your primary mission.
This is even more relevant in the modern age, where distraction is just a tap away.
How to use this framework for long-term and short-term planning
Make a list of all the things you want to do today / this week / this year / in a lifetime - think of it as your bucket list, e.g., getting married, having kids, learning to play the guitar, etc. Don't hold anything back.
Rank them from 1 to N.
Pick the top 5
Only work on the top 5 and be ruthless in ignoring everything else.
Every time you cross off something from the top 5, add one new item to the top 5 from the rest of the list.
How to start if you don't yet have any long-term goals
Invert, always invert
Many people don't know what they want to do in life. That is fine
Most people know what they don't want to do in life. This is where you start
Use the same approach but in an inverted manner
Create a list of 25 things you don't want to do. Rank the top 5 and start doing what you need to avoid them.
Manage daily chaos and long-term impact using the 2x2 Eisenhower Decision Matrix
This is one of my favorite frameworks because it lays bare what needs to be done now and later and what must be avoided.
Where does the name come from? The namesake app Eisenhower.me lays it out
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Before becoming President, he served as a general in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He also later became NATO's first supreme commander.
Dwight had to continuously make tough decisions about which of the many tasks he should focus on daily. This finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower principle, which today helps us prioritize by urgency and importance.
Eisenhower used this framework as part of his war planning. You and I can use this framework to plan our daily and weekly battles.
Quadrant 1. Urgent and Important:
Anything that needs to get done right away.
This is the fire-fighting zone.
Ideally, you want this to be empty most of the time. This quadrant requires your immediate and prompt response. Examples include A medical emergency, an assignment with a deadline, etc.
Do items in this zone first
Quadrant 2. Not-urgent but important:
This is the most critical quadrant to build the life you want.
You want to spend as much time as possible working on things in this quadrant.
If you don't deal with the things in this quadrant, they will fester and shift to quadrant 1, where you will be forced to firefight. Examples include Company strategy, learning a new skill, exercising, etc.
Schedule the items in this quadrant.
Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important:
Some things need to get done urgently, like paying your TV bill or rescuing the neighbor's 3rd cat from the banyan tree. While urgent, these tasks are not that important (I'm sure your neighbor will disagree)
Delegate these tasks to someone else whenever possible.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and not important:
Bingeing Netflix for hours, getting drunk every weekend, idling around. You get the gist. Pick the poison holding you back from going after what you want, and avoid it.
This quadrant represents the NOT-to-do list.
Eisenhower used this framework as a wartime general, but you can use it just as effectively in daily life.
Prioritize daily tasks with the LNO framework
Shreyas Doshi is one of the top product leaders in the world. His LNO framework is a great way to prioritize tasks based on the perceived impact. The idea simple
Mark every task in your list as
L (Leverage) - Returns ~10x or more than you put in
N (Neutral) - Returns ~1x what you put in
O (Overhead) - Returns <1x what you put in
The thread below is an excellent example of how to use it
Years ago, as a young 20-something about to graduate from college, one of my worries was losing touch with my friends after graduation. I had seen adults who no longer knew their friends from college, and I had no plans to be one who unknowingly lost touch.
Of course, no one plans to drift apart. These things happen when you're busy with other more pressing matters, like impressing your boss by working ungodly hours.
My plan was simple: A fortnightly video call.
I set up a recurring calendar invite. Many of my friends were going abroad for higher studies, and a video call was one of the best ways to connect.
It has worked brilliantly so. We still have those calls, and even though fewer people show up, it's still something I look forward to every other weekend.
So what is DWMQ?
Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans
- Allen Saunders
I use DWMQ to set boundary conditions, to help me remind myself of the things that are important to me regardless of how "busy" life gets.
These are things that you don't want to forget to do.
The principal purpose of DWMQ is to ensure you don't lose out on the things you want unknowingly.
How many people do you know who used to play the piano, guitar, or some sport but no longer play it simply because they have become older?
Almost no one un-knowingly stopped.
Other things come up, and after a while, you realize it's too hard to continue because you will now have to start from scratch.
The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken
- Samuel Johnson
How to use DWMQ
Print a sheet with things you want to do daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Pin it to your wall or schedule it in your calendar.
When you get too busy to do the things in DWMQ, let it remind you that you are now unknowingly straying from the path you once wanted.
If you no longer want something on the list, remove it. Use only the parts of the framework that suit you.
Weekly: Call friends
Monthly: Review progress
Use frameworks as guides, not rules
A final note: We've looked at four frameworks that will help you plan and prioritize practically anything you want.
But these frameworks are abstractions. They should not be confused with what is in front of you, i.e., the life you live.
The frameworks are aids to help you get what you want.
But they are not replacements for adaptability. If 2020 has taught us anything, the world can change in a few short weeks, and sticking to the wrong thing can do more harm than benefit.
Use the frameworks, but toss them aside once they've served their purpose.
If you want to download the free printable sheets or the paid editable digital versions, click the button below.
Next Saturday I will share the next part of Building a personal operating system - Build rock-solid Processes. Thanks for reading!