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Issue #2: Shreyas Doshi Teaches Time Management for Product People (1 of 2)
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Welcome to Issue #2 of Samuel’s Newsletter - You Can Be Full of Power
You think you have a time management problem. Because that's what it looks like.
So you’ve beaten yourself silly trying to fix it. Yet your best approaches don't seem to get you to do anything when you need it done, and this can be frustrating.
I feel you. And there are many more like you. Very ambitious PMs, yet upset with the slow pace of their own output.
Let’s fix this.
Give me the next 10 minutes and I'll turn you into an expert in Time Management – So much so that you won’t hold back teaching your colleagues too.
About this Post (1 of 2)
In the classic Product Manager's journey, a constant source of stress is a lack of time.
It’s become the most formidable foe of even the best PMs once they reach a certain scope and level.
No matter how effectively you've prioritized, no matter what milestone your product has recently reached, there is a seemingly endless list of really important things you could be doing that you simply cannot.
There are numerous well-known time management resources and principles: systems such as getting-things-done, "managing your energy, not your time," prioritization formulas, the Eisenhower Matrix, and so on. These are undeniably useful, but for most senior product managers and leaders, these systems fall short.
In this post, I’ll be expanding on Shreyas’ webinar presentation where he discusses a variety of sophisticated time principles of management and tactics that he has used (and witnessed effective product leaders and executives use) with great success over the years.
Why Time Management, why now?
For context, I should point out that Shreyas hinted that a lot of what he shares is advanced communication. Intended ideally for those who have had some experience, in not too much, in product management. Shreyas has been at this for over 20 years.
The truth is that even for the most seasoned PMs the usual jargons and frameworks only work at a certain level, and for a while. As you progress up the career hill, and your functions evolve, you discover that they cease to be as effective as before. In short, the basics stop working and something extra, more, is needed.
But the advanced stuff are very specific to each senior product person. It’s as if, each person figures it out their own way. This is the reason why that stuff rarely gets shared. It’s just too personal for many. In comes Shreyas! In his presentation, Shreyas notes these specifics that helped his career and opens you up to the more advanced ideas.
How we spend out time defines our productivity & focus
What’s most common with senior PMs is that they discard the hacks altogether. Hacks are rarely a solution. And because most Sr. PMs are on a growth trajectory, they evolve into uber-ambitious personas, leading diverse teams, and eternally stressed out. They hardly are able to keep up with themselves; their ambitions against their time.
These PMs need a new strategy to address their quagmire. Something basic frameworks just won’t fix.
Shreyas first approach to solving this problem is to be realistic. He insists that every PM list the top 10 causes of stress for them. In his opinion, these areas are where you begin to take back your life.
Take for example the list below sorted top to bottom by the Degree of Control a PM has over these stress agents:
You immediately recognise that at the bottom of the list are the no-way-out agents. You have little control over these. Whereas at the top (and this is where Shreyas focuses his solutions) are things chiefly in your control. And yes, your calendar tops this. Herein lies our discussion today.
Demystifying conventional thoughts
People love clarity. And being clear and honest from the start is how to take back your time. Shreyas begins his core message by demystifying a few thoughts around the PM role, and the associated elements that define how we manage our time.
At the end of the newsletter post you should be able to answer to some degree of accuracy the below questions:
What are my top 3 priorities for this month?
Are they doable, specific and high impact?
What percentage of my time will I devote to them?
What else will I drop or purposefully do poorly so I can do these well?
How often will you evaluate progress?
Shall we proceed?
1. Brute Force works for a while and then it stops (and will never work again)
Shreyas explains the reason this happens through a chart he likes to call the PM Scope and Impact Matrix.
He opines that its understandable that when your scope of responsibility is small, you can be individually as one person on top of everything, but as your scope grows, a lot of these quick-react, need-to-respond-to-every-task routine become unbearable. Even for the best and most disciplined PMs. There’s simply too much to do for one person.
The big catch here is that as your scope grows, you need to throw out the old playbook and adopt new “non-brute force” solutions.
One way this is commonly achieved (a non-brute force solution, that is) is and you’ll notice from the chart that the focus is to lower individual unique impact even as a manager as your scope grows, and working your way up more impact as you’re rewarded with more scope for the good work at a lower/smaller scope.
2. All your tasks are not created equal
Shreyas introduces something extremely revolutionary in this next point:
The LNO Task Classification
Understanding LNO tasks and aligning your tasks accordingly is your trump card. Shreyas takes us down memory lane, down to his first real PM job at Yahoo in 2006, which was followed closely by Google in 2008.
Shreyas narrates that entering this fast-paced environment within Google came with a lot of stress. Everyone around appeared smarter, possessed a higher IQ, or simple had more context at their roles. This made him extremely stressed.
Hint: Shreyas is a genius, so errrrr
But in those moments of high stress work, where it looked like he was unable to get things done as much as he wanted, Shreyas discloses that he was surprisingly being promoted quickly.
What did this mean? Apparently, Google thought he was an okay job, but he didn’t. He felt strongly that he wasn’t doing:
the type of work,
nor the quality of work,
nor the volume of work he wanted to do.
And that’s the sole benefit of highly stressful situations. They force you to think and rethink. You get solution-seeking. This led him to Elizabeth Grace Saunders and here classification technique.
The understanding here is that not all tasks are equal. And that PMs have to aim for a different degree of quality for each task. The main question asked by this framework regarding tasks is: "How impactful will the result of this task be for my business?"
Therefore, the focus here is to allocate the most effort to those that multiply your impact, and spend less on easy, quick tasks.
If you’re a perfectionist, like me, you could be sabotaging your own rate of output if the return on a task versus the effort you put in only yields say 5x value, as opposed to a task that yields 100x value.
So an effective way to rightfully groups tasks is to rank them based on the output value yield:
L tasks (leverage tasks):
As the name suggest, are your Leverage Tasks. You simply gotta do a great job on these tasks. Understanding that these L tasks are where you need to let your inner perfectionist shine, since doing them means more recognition, more value.
N tasks (Neutral tasks):
These require you to do your job, just as you would normally do. Simply put, it means do a strictly good job. No better.
O tasks (Overhead tasks):
Then of course for O tasks (I call them ordinary), just get it done. Shreyas puns out further that you should actively try to do a bad job. (I had a good laugh here)…This is most critical if you’re a perfectionist who easily defaults to taking their time to create a great outcome. The premise is to shoot for the top floor, even if you know you minimum range is the sky.
Here’s a real world example of how you can put this to practice:
Below’s a sample PM to-do list. Predominantly meetings and their allotted times above, and the same list pitted against one injected with the LNO framework. You begin to see where you came prioritise and deprioritise based on energy input.
This provides you an idea of how you can allot time and energy better by valuing tasks using the LNO framework. You’ll in effect, be borrowing time from O tasks into more Leveraged work (L tasks)
3. Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a PMs first framework for delegating work. And it works for a while.
It’s a great start, but it by itself will not work for you at senior levels. As a PM’s scope increases, the matrix become less effective.
And this is why: Assuming you’ve delegated all the non-essential task according to the Matrix, you’ll soon realise that there may still be a couple too may things to execute even within your essential tasks.
Yep, remember that as you go up the career hill, you gain a bigger scope, and that includes more high level essential tasks, that still’s gotta get done.
For these Shreyas proposes Radical Delegation.
It predominantly asks, “who could do this work?” – where it is worth noting that the focus still is solely on essential tasks, after the Eisenhower Matrix delegations have been done.
With this approach you begin to get more clarity on your tasks. The Radical delegation Framework also uses 4 quadrants. Let’s investigate the image below and understand:
You’ll discover that the top right quadrant is where your attention is most needed. Things that only you can do… the tasks that that provide the utmost leverage.
Remember that Focus is extremely important for top PMs… and this requires that you be clear on your priorities.
Shreyas shares two videos that help explain this. Instead of expanding on them, I suggest you take a listen for yourself:
Former Apple Exec Jony Ive on the lessons he learned from Steve Jobs:
Matthew McConaughey on stoicism and winning the role of life (44:47-46:09): 78 secs
End of Post (1 of 2)
Next week, we’ll continue to expand on more thoughts that Shreyas shared, including:
4. Being careful of “Proof of worth” tasks
5. How your calendar speaks greater truth than your to-do list
6. Making time for insightful creative work.
7. Having clarity on your holistic life priorities
- Regarding Ai and PM work:
PMs doing mundane work may be affected the most by Ai. But the truth is that Good Product Management is a mix of insight, creativity, and influence. These are three things that will always (at least for the foreseeable future) be reserved for actual human ingenuity. The best way to look at Ai is as an assistive tech tool, but not the next super employee. Not yet.
- Regarding Career 1-on-1 Chats with Direct Reports (L task):
Many PMs don’t do career chats. Especially ambitious, project-centred PMs. And there’s reason for this. Yet one good way to integrate this into your calendar is to purposefully schedule for it. Minimum, once a month (an hour tops), for your direct reports.
This is good optics too. Since another aspect of being a (Product) Manager is to help direct reports grow their career. Keep in short and focused. These meetings should be strictly career-only conversation. Nothing project, nothing work.
- Regarding 1-on-1 Chats with Peers (O task):
Many conversations and 1-on-1 with cross-function peers are O tasks. No offense, but a ton of these chats are for relationship and trust building. So even though they’re needful, you don’t require them every so often.
Instead attempt to align and secure trust quickly, by meeting early on in your new work space and role, and regularly. Give yourself a month or six weeks of work time, after that you don’t need these meetings often. Your work and actions ultimately build the trust going forward.
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