OntheGoAthlete #3 — Prioritization

How to get the right things done

Hey — Edgar here.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the OntheGoAthlete Newsletter, where we share actionable insights on startups, productivity and personal development — so you can approach your career and life like an athlete.

As you may have noticed, we skipped a week and this is a Tuesday, not a Sunday. Things have been been a bit crazy at work so I found myself needing to step back to reflect on my priorities and goals for this newsletter.

The punchline is that I’ll be shifting OntheGoAthlete to a bi-weekly newsletter (the next issue will be going out on June 6th) so I can make sure that each post is packed with value. I’ll also start to share different types of content which are better suited to a bi-weekly schedule. More on this to come soon.

I’m super excited to continue sharing my learnings with you all and get back to a consistent schedule of producing content.

On that note, this week’s issue will cover mental models for prioritization — starting from the foundations all the way to execution.

Keys to Prioritization

Prioritization is the mental model behind “getting the right things done”. It’s NOT how to get the most amount of things possible. 

Why? Because our time is limited. Everyone has 24 hours in a day. We’re never going to accomplish every single thing on our ever growing to do list.

As a result, it’s crucial to make sure that we focus our attention on the highest priority tasks each day. That way, as long as we finish that small list of tasks, we’ll make meaningful progress towards our goals and build momentum over time. 

How do you decide what to focus on? Here are three mental models I use to prioritize what work to accomplish first:

1. The North Star

Your North Star is the overarching principle that guides each and every one of your decisions. For a company, your North Star is your mission. It includes questions like: ”Why are you actually building this?” or “What is the type of impact you’re trying to make on the world?”

You can actually break this down into an equation or statement. This could be a symbol of value that your users are getting out of your product (e.g. conversations between users on a messaging product) or an ambitious mission (e.g. Steve Jobs wanted to put a Mac on every person's desk).

Then for every decision you make, you gut check it through that lens. You can do this by pausing and perform this simple check:

Does this action get this closer to our north star or not?

If so -> do it

If not -> cut it

2. The Golden Circle

Once you’ve established a north star, the next step is understanding what type of work you need to accomplish. A helpful framework for this is the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek.

Simon, a successful author and public speaker, used the model to map out how great leaders inspire action in their teams by defining a clear “why” to serve as the anchor for making decisions and communication to your team.

To implement the model for prioritization, you can map each ring to a type of work: 

Why: Strategy

Your "Why" defines your strategy — your north star for a company, project or campaign. 

Key Questions: “What is your company/team/project trying to achieve? What are your goals? How are you measuring success?”

How: Processes

Your "How" defines processes — lists of repeatable steps required to achieve the KPIs (key performance indicators) outlined in your strategy. 

Key Question: “What are the things that need to happen in order to make that strategy function?”

What: Execution

Finally, your “What” defines execution — the day to day tasks that need to be performed to make the machine run. Think writing marketing copy, shipping code or conducting sales calls at a tech company.

Key Question: “When can we have each task done so we can complete the process in a given timeframe?” 

When prioritizing work, first categorize the type of work you need to accomplish using the model. Often, refining your strategy or improving a process will actually make execution work easier or completely unnecessary.

So categorize first, then work through your tasks from highest to lowest priority, always starting with your “why”.

3. Know Thy Time

The final step to prioritization is tracking your time. It’s impossible to prioritize and execute effectively without knowing the amount of time you spend on each category of work.

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker stresses the importance of tracking your time as it allows you to only work on areas where you're uniquely qualified.

To put this into practice each week, keep a goal sheet that tracks your time spent on different tasks (I use Google Calendar to do this by blocking each task I need to accomplish) . 

Then schedule a time at the end of each week to review your calendar and ask yourself:

  1. What types of work did I complete this week?

  2. What things am I uniquely qualified for? Can someone else be doing this?

  3. What things can I delegate to someone else?

The interesting thing about prioritization is that the nature of your work and your resulting priorities may change as your company scales.

For example, you may start out as a growth marketer, where 60% of your work is spent writing copy for marketing campaigns. At the beginning, you may be the most qualified person in the company to perform this task.

But once the company grows to 100 people, you could say — “hey we could actually get a copywriter to do this instead.” And then spend more time on strategy, or building processes for specific channels.

As a result, knowing what NOT to spend your time on is equally if not more important than knowing what to spend your time on.

Next Steps

To recap, prioritization is one of the most important skills to develop if you want to consistently operate at a high level. While using frameworks like the North Star, the Golden Circle and a time tracking sheet can be helpful, it all comes down to being ruthless about the only asset you can never get back — your time.

If you want to reference any of these prioritization models, I also published this piece as a post on my blog. If you found them helpful, feel free to share the post with someone you think would find the frameworks useful.


Tools & Resources

Prioritization truly comes down down to focusing on “one thing” until it’s completed. The One Thing by Gary Keller breaks down how to apply a simple question to all aspects of your life so you can reach your goals while avoiding burn out.

Check out the Book


Tweet of the week

If you’re a high performing operator, it’s easy to neglect building meaningful relationships with your coworkers. This thread by one of my colleagues at On Deck breaks down how to build authentic and genuine relationships despite having a packed schedule.


Quote of the Week

“Never confuse movement with action.” 

- Ernest Hemingway


That’s it for this week! Your feedback is always welcome, and if there’s a topic you want to see, just let me know! Hit reply or shoot me a DM on Twitter @iamedgarbrown to get in touch.

Trust the process,

Edgar