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Joshua Ordehi for Hotjar

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Prioritization: you don’t need a framework, just frame your work

This is the first of what may become a series of posts about goal-setting, prioritization, and teamwork. During my time at Hotjar, I’ve realized the need to implement better practices for these fundamental aspects of life and work. Sharing a few of my learnings (and failures) is an excellent way to pay it forward and keep myself accountable. Let’s do this!

TL;DR: often, doing less is more. Challenge yourself to go back to basics, prioritizing urgent and important tasks every morning to defog your mind before you dive into your day. Use the Eisenhower Matrix or a similar method to surface critical tasks and shed the rest.

The Challenge

I’m setting a challenge for myself and anyone else who’s interested in trying it out.

  • Over the next month, choose a productivity strategy that makes sense for you (I settled on the Eisenhower Matrix.) If you already have an approach, share how you use it and how it helps you.
  • Prioritize your tasks at the beginning of the day, before any work. Pick tasks you’ll realistically complete today or tomorrow, at the latest, and think hard about what’s worth doing first.
  • If you commit to this challenge, drop us a comment. We’ll catch up again in a month to share our experiences.

Nice to have:

  • Keep tasks to a minimum, stay within eight per quadrant, and, ideally, don’t exceed five
  • Only spend up to 15 minutes prioritizing

Growing pains

As companies grow to the point where people don’t know how to pronounce each other’s names anymore, something must unify our efforts toward a common north. Otherwise, we run the risk of rowing in as many directions as there are teams or even contributors!

I find it helpful to go back to the essence of a concept when I want to improve my approach to it: by definition, a team works together toward a common goal.

If you’re working on something that doesn’t contribute to a goal that’s commonly accepted by a group of people, you’re not working in a team—even if you’re under the name of one.

Essential aspects of good teamwork:

  • Goal-setting: how else can we make sense of our work?
  • Regular alignment: this is to ensure our work approaches those goals and each teammate is accountable for tasks that best suit their abilities and needs
  • Task tracking: everyone gets a task list they’re accountable for completing, which is visible to everyone else and scored for priority

These measures also help avoid burnout—you’ll notice when someone has too much on their plate, is blocked, or if their productivity has suddenly diminished, all of which can prompt you to provide timely assistance.

I’ve been researching goal-setting and prioritization frameworks recently, familiar concepts like SMART, RICE, and SWOT. I mean, there are a lot out there!. But one trend I noticed is that many of these approaches need to be simplified if a team wants to reduce time to success and maximize productivity.

Do you know how hard it is to get people out of their particular habits, ways of working, and day-to-day idiosyncrasies? It's not fun. So how can I get them to eat the RICE when they need to plug in their pressure cooker first, or learn how to operate it?

That’s why I’m going back to basics, starting with the simplest, most straightforward approach: prioritizing daily work. Rather than using a framework, I’m framing priorities before I work.

Frame priorities before work

Before you do anything else, get in the right mindset every day. Ask yourself something straightforward, for instance:

What’s urgent, and what do I need to do now?

I try to use this mental model:

Time-sensitive > Multiple categories of users/teams impacted > Users impacted > My department impacted > My team impacted > Only myself impacted

I have less reason to prioritize a task the further I move right when there’s work in a category to the left.

As you set tasks, ask yourself:

Is this really what I should be doing now? Why?

Notice how this approach is still influenced by goals. While you should ideally have planned your goals before prioritizing your work, my aim is to simplify organizing tasks, so it’s easier for me to shed the deadwood later.

In other words, rather than asking you to make sudden changes to your routine and set new goals, which you’re less likely to do, I’m proposing you keep your pace but clear some of the fog by adding organization and clarity to your schedule.

Urgency vs. importance

First, stop fooling yourself that every fantastic idea that comes to mind is urgent or important. We like to feel productive and to keep ourselves busy—ideally visibly so. I like this quote by Tim Ferris:

“Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”

The bottom line is that you want to be relaxed, focused, and working on the most impactful initiatives daily. In the words of our very own Mo, Hotjar’s CEO:

“Everyone, working on the most important things, every day.”

Mo also says, “If everything is important, then nothing is.” We need to differentiate between urgent, important, and stuff we just shouldn’t do. As an aid, you can use a method like the Eisenhower Matrix, as I am:

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix (source)

  1. Do first: tasks that are important for your life and career and need to be done today or tomorrow at the latest
  2. Schedule: important tasks but less urgent—list tasks that you need to put in your calendar here
  3. Delegate: less important to you than they are to others, usually ad-hoc. Keep track of delegated tasks by email, phone, or within a meeting to check back on their progress later.
  4. Don’t do: initiatives that are unnecessary and unimportant, and you should not be doing them at all

At its core, the Urgent vs. Important matrix, as it’s also called, tries to help you finish tasks rather than collect them. Remember: you should only list tasks you will complete within the next couple of days or this week.

Here are some templates for this matrix in some of the common project tools I’ve seen folks use here at Hotjar:

Next steps

In my next post, I’ll discuss how you can further differentiate between urgent and important tasks (such as the ABCDE method). I’ll also bring some learnings about how my usage of the Eisenhower Matrix helps or hinders me moving forward.

I hope we can make one another more efficient and happier as we remove unnecessary weight from our days. Feel free to share your experiences and criticisms below. Developing more data-driven approaches is important, but first, we must defog what we already do every day.

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Timeless DEV post...

Git Concepts I Wish I Knew Years Ago

The most used technology by developers is not Javascript.

It's not Python or HTML.

It hardly even gets mentioned in interviews or listed as a pre-requisite for jobs.

I'm talking about Git and version control of course.

One does not simply learn git