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Remote Work 4 min

The two-step method to tame chaos

Written by
Marcelo Lebre

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Pragmatism, facts, and data can help you figure out a path to your local maximum — success as measured by the reality of your current situation. However, not knowing what you don’t know blocks you from achieving your global maximum — success in absolute terms.

The unknown is often labeled as chaos. It has a tendency to destroy plans. Higher chaos means you lose the ability to be deliberate, forcing you to become mostly reactive and, in turn, less efficient.

There are many ways to go about taming chaos and the unknown. Over the years and through iteration and simplification, I have ended up with a simple two-step approach that works in most cases. It’s not the ultimate silver bullet for planning, but it can get you out of a tight spot without the need to invest a lot of time, people, or money in the process.

Step 1: Commit to hyper-prioritization.

The first step is to acknowledge that you can’t do all you think you should be doing. You might already be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to my situation,” or, “Everything I’m doing is really essential.” Sorry to say, most people feel that way about their work. And everyone ends up hitting the same wall: dead-ends of time, resources, or market.

Maintaining a state of hyper-prioritization is much harder than deciding to start. Hubris and self-doubt will make you second-guess what you choose to prioritize. Staying true to a focused state, though, allows you to achieve small but complete iterations and deliveries, rather than juggle many ongoing projects that take a long time to materialize.

To maintain a state of hyper-prioritization, you must reduce the number of sources of information you view and focus solely on the right data streams and initiatives for your situation.

Step 2: Model your knowledge to match your needs.

The challenge now is to model your operating universe within three atomic structures: Speed, Efficiency, and Capacity. Based on Step 1, this is all that we’ll be focusing on, and nothing else.

Here's how we can define each structure.

Speed — How fast is the value you create being delivered?

Efficiency — How good are you at turning input into its maximum output value?

Capacity — How much can you handle?

Speed

  • Engineering: How quickly each feature is shipped

  • Customer success: How fast you solve customer tickets

  • Sales: How fast you convert a qualified lead into a paying customer

Efficiency

  • Engineering: How many bugs are being introduced per release

  • Customer success: How many reopened tickets in a period of time

  • Sales: Percent of customers who convert

Capacity

  • Engineering: How many features you can work on at the same time

  • Customer success: How many customer questions can you handle in an hour

  • Sales: How many deals you can convert in a month

a person creating order out of chaos

It's also important to periodically reassess whether the metrics you’re tracking in each structure are your top priorities. The principle behind this is to focus solely on the top three biggest issues or areas needing optimization in your organization. Once you achieve your targets and can sustain that success, it’s fine to move on to another metric.

Creating certainty out of chaos

Applying these two steps persistently will deliver consistent results across your org. You will know it’s working if:

  1. Everyone you ask about priorities answers the same thing.

  2. You have stopped pursuing all other avenues.

  3. Your scope is so painfully simple, you have to remind yourself daily to keep it as it is.

Applying this two-step method will allow you to tame chaos, maximizing your focus and putting you in a better position to execute at full capacity.

At Remote, this method has been core to our planning for a while. It has been instrumental in helping us navigate the complexities of our business as we materialize our vision into existence every day, and it’s a large reason we are able to provide global employment services in dozens of countries around the world. I hope this method is of some use to you, and I’d love to know a bit more about how you address focus across your organization as well!