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Tipping the lead domino

The principles I apply to get work done as a Product Manager and to get things done in personal life are both pretty much the same. There is the long-term goal, the dream, the big picture, the vision. Then there are metrics. And then, there is the lead domino.

The starting point is always the long-term goal. And this is the easiest bit. Each of us has our long-term goals, be it to get rich or travel the world or be famous. These goals are like the stars in the night sky. They are beautiful to look at, and keep us dreaming about getting there. But nobody can get to the stars just by lying on their backsides and looking up at the night sky.

Even before you think about how to achieve these goals, it is useful (and necessary) to answer some why questions. Why are you doing this? Why is this important?

I have seen several times at work (and outside) where people skip answering the why questions. Why are you working at this job? Why are you applying for Master's? Why are you building that feature? Why are you shipping that product?

Or they let someone else answer these questions for them. I can't be a photographer, people won't respect me, so I'll be a software engineer instead. All my friends are applying for Master's, let me do it as well. This feature is what the customer asked for, so let me build it. 

When not enough time is spent on answering the why questions, the execution suffers. If you don't resonate with why you want to work out everyday, your discipline in following through suffers. You skip days and do enough to convince yourself that you are working out. The end results will likely not materialise.

Once you have the why questions nailed, you define the metrics. The metrics are always derived from the answers to the why questions and that's what makes the first part of answering them so crucial. Otherwise, you will end up tracking things that fail to indicate real progress. Like attendance at a class doesn't correlate with the proficiency in the course being taught. So, if you end up measuring attendance to indicate your proficiency levels in a course, you might feel you are doing well even when you aren't.

But once you have the right metrics identified, then it is all about finding the lead domino. The most impactful thing that you can do next to move closer to the long term goal, to move the metric the most.

Every Sunday, I spend some time identifying the lead domino for the coming week. The one thing that will be the most important for me to achieve. And this leads to ruthless prioritization. There is no room for distractions, as the answer to whether pursuing the distraction is more impactful than spending time on the lead domino is binary. A simple yes or a no.

When you don't have a lead domino to go after, that is when you struggle to prioritize or prioritize wrongly.

Time to line up your lead dominos.

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