How to maximize effectiveness — 3 frameworks & routines

This post if part of a 3-articles serie on personal productivity. The next one will be about efficiency, ie maximizing the ratio outputs / effort. The last one will be about 7 tools & tactical tips. Feel free to follow us to get updated when we release them!

Effectiveness and efficiency are often confused:

- Effectiveness: Producing the intended or expected result

- Efficiency: Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least wasted time and effort

Basically, effectiveness is about doing the right things, efficiency is about doing things right.

It all starts with being effective. If you’re very good at doing the wrong things, then it won’t lead you far.

That seems pretty obvious but a lot of things get in the way:

- Other people are pushing to you things that don’t necessarily help you reach your goals

- When a lot of things are happening, it’s easy to forget which things are most important

- You get easily distracted by urgent matters and forget about longer term, but more important, topics

So how do you ensure you do the right things?

1/ Have annual, quarterly and weekly routines assessing the previous period and planning the next

This applies to both personal and professional projects. I won’t describe in detail the annual and quarterly routines, because they are quite similar to the weekly routine I’ll talk about specifically here. The only difference is that the longer the period, the more steps back you should take and the more high-level your mission / objectives should be.

The weekly routine is ideally done on Friday evening, Sunday evening or Monday morning early before everything starts.

a) Planning the week ahead

Ask yourself what you need to do to maximize your impact and reach your goals. Focus on a few things, 3–5 is probably enough (those things could be increasing the pipeline of candidates for X position, talking to Y customers, analyzing Z, etc.). This is very simple but we often don’t take the time to do this because urgent topics require our attention.

b) Assessing the previous week

As we all know, reality rarely matches the plan! And that’s fine. Your job is to get better and stick as close to the plan as possible. For that, you need to know where you’re at.

Here’s how I do it.

- As I said, every week I write down the number of hours I want to spend on each of my priorities.

- I schedule time in my calendar to work on those.

- During the week, if for some reason I didn’t follow the planned schedule, I will change my calendar. If I had a meeting from 1–2pm on Monday whereas I had planned to work on customer acquisition, I will put that change in my calendar.

- At the end of the week, I take my calendar, count the number of hours spent on each priority and look at the following metric: Number of hours spent on priorities / number of hours planned for those priorities. You can end up with a table like this:

That was me last week; 58% is not great, I like to be 70%+. That week particularly, I had to do much more customer support than expected, bringing my % down. An item to prioritize for the next few weeks will definitely be how to automate some of that customer support and fix the bugs that created most of the problems encountered by our customers.

If you’re like me, you’ll realize you’re nowhere near what you had planned. That’s ok. Next thing is to understand why.

Is it because you procrastinated or let someone impose their agenda on you? Then make sure you get better at it next week.

Is it because some truly new topic that’s more important than the planned priorities came up during the week? Then that’s ok as long as it doesn’t occur too often.

If it does happen often, it means you’re not in control. To get back in control, make sure you work on non-urgent / important tasks that will help you avoid those instances. More on that in a bit.

I use two frameworks to help me understand what will have the most impact.

2/ Use a North Star Metric

During Y Combinator (a startup accelerator program that Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe and many other extremely successful companies went through), each company has to choose a north star metric to focus on. Depending on your company, this could be revenue, number of users, etc.

As an employee, you can do that as well. Actually, your manager should help you define the north star if they haven’t already.

Once you know your north star metric, ask yourself each week, “What are the things I could do that would have the most impact on this one metric?” This is usually a easy question to answer.

3/ Use the urgent / important matrix

This is also called the Eisenhower matrix, named after former US Army General and President Dwight Eisenhower, who said “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Here it is:

I think this is very helpful, because it makes us realize that we don’t usually spend our time on the right things. Intuitively, most of us spend time on the left side of the matrix, on the urgent things, whether they’re important or not. It’s pretty obvious we should spend time on the top part of the quadrant.

You might see somewhere the following version of the matrix

I think the 3rd quadrant (urgent / not important) shouldn’t be delegated, it just shouldn’t be done (at least, as long as there are things in quadrants 1 and 2).

In practice, it means you might have to say no to a user who’s really asking for a feature but who’s not actually a paying customer. Or to say no to this person who wants to meet you for coffee to “chat”.

I’m always keen to discover and apply new methods and frameworks. What are your favorites ones?

Oh and by the way, if you clap 20 times this post and comment with your email address, I’ll send you a nice PDF right away with the content of the three articles!