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Startup School Winter 2020
January 20, 2020, Online, USA
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Adora Cheung - How to Prioritize Your Time
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About the talk

YC Partner Adora Cheung shares her framework for how founders can efficiently make use of their time. She covers ways to identify and prioritize tasks, in addition to how you can measure their impact on your company.

Transcript and lecture slides here: https://www.ycombinator.com/library/6o-how-to-prioritize-your-time

This lecture is part of YC's Startup School, a free online program and global community of founders. Register and join the community at https://www.startupschool.org/

Timestamps

00:00 Introduction

1:41 Real vs. fake progress

4:10 Task prioritization

7:10 Grading impact

9:48 Grading complexity

11:20 How well am I prioritizing?

11:51 Weekly updates

13:30 Maker's/manager's schedule

14:57 Be decisive

15:55 Conclusion

00:00 Intro

01:41 Real vs fake progress

04:10 Task prioritization

07:10 Grading impact

09:48 Grading complexity

11:20 About prioritizing

11:51 Weekly updates

13:30 Maker's/manager's schedule

14:57 Be decisive

15:55 Conclusion

About speaker

Adora Cheung
Partner at Y Combinator

Adora Cheung was co-founder and CEO of Homejoy, which was funded by Y Combinator in 2010. Before that, she ran product at Slide. She has a bachelor's in computer science from Clemson University and is an economics PhD dropout at the University of Rochester.

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Kevin said, my name is Adora one of the partners @yc and I'm going to talk about how to prioritize time. I'm as you know is precious, especially when you're working on a start-up time Burns, money and money is the very basic thing that keeps a startup alive, not to be too philosophical about it. But even if your personal burn is super low, you can eat ramen days on end, which I don't suggest, and you don't have to pay yourself for a very long time. There's always a high opportunity cost to doing her start up. So it's super important to use your time. The best way possible to maximize your

startup's chance for Success, which means you need to be really good at identifying and prioritizing tasks that are going to be the most impactful for your stripes progress, which I've noticed after going through thousands of weekly update from startup School. Founders, that doctors are not doing this. Well, so hopefully, this will be helpful. I'll let me first preface all of this by defining what time I'm talking about. So obviously there 24 hours in a day and I'm not here to tell you how to allocate those hours across your startup versus everything else. That is important to you.

Sleep family, friends, hobbies. And so and so forth. Everyone has different situations. So it's hard for me to come up here. Give you a good generic advice on how to allocate our time across. You think, I'm just going to assume you're doing what's best for you, whether it's 26 12 hours a day, you decide to work on your startup. It doesn't matter to me for the purpose of this lecture. I just want to help you figure out how to spend those two 6 or 12 hours that you've decided to allocate your startup in the best possible way. All right, so when it comes to things to work on your start up, my

guess is that you already have something like a task list in, which you put new ideas on to work, on a new update that very frequently. So, let's start from there that you have a task list of things to do. First, I want to make a real clear distinction between real and fake start up progress. This is the easiest way to classify weather at asked goes into should do, or the should not do bucket. If it contributes to real start at progress, you should consider doing it. And if it doesn't then, don't this seems trivial at first, why would anyone do anything that amounts to fix

start up progress? But let me explain further. So real start of progress is, when you're really focus on things that really move the needle for your startup and in the beginning, the best way to show this is through growth in particular, growth of your primary. Kpi a few weeks ago on kpi and goals. If you haven't watched it yet, please watch it. I talked a lot about primary and secondary kti's. There's always a balance between what to focus on board for the purpose of this lecture. I'm just going to refer to the primary kpi as a thing to focus on growing. So to summarize your primary kpi

almost always is either revenue or active users and you should always be setting weekly goals for this to move. The needle on the kitty is the highest leverage thing. You can be doing all the way always comes in the form of tax that involve talking to users and building an iterated in your product. Nothing else. This is in direct contrast with fake startup progress, which is 1, Founders focus on things that are not directly related to Growing your primary. Kpi. So, common things I see in weekly updates or things like attending conferences,

focusing on winning Awards. Now, we're convinced optimizing the wrong metrics while you may convince yourself. These are good things to focus on. There are actually many steps away from delivering real value to your customer. And so have all the things you could be possibly doing spending any significant time on any of these things is almost always a bad idea. The goal is not to optimize startup vanity, but actually delivering value to your customer doing the things that will help you directly. Help you increase your kpi. Now that we have one way to filter, what

tasks you should be working on. Let's go little bit deeper and figure out how to determine if you're prioritizing the right tasks. This at first also seems trivial or presumably, you're doing what you believe is, high-value work. I mean nobody ever says. Oh, let me do the thing that is going to help my start up the least, right? But that's what I'm going to challenge their hundreds of things. You could be possibly working on to increase your primary. Kpi is what you're working on right now. The best thing you can do to meet your weekly goal, or have you checked yourself into doing

something else? The reason I'm skeptical is because it's actually quite easy easy for a low-value work to unnoticeably creep into your schedule and actually take a lot of work and effort to not let this happen. So here's an experiment, try Drilling in great detail of each day in the past week, every single hour to hour by hour. What is it that you were exactly doing and be honest on what you thought the impact was before you actually did it. And what it was in increasing your primary kpi. I think you'll be surprised by how much of it was actually low value work in the

reason is not because you're lazy or if not, it's more because we tend to be as humans on autopilot. So we don't give much thought to what we're doing with our time in our natural, instinct is actually to go for a low-value work because it's usually the easiest and quickest thing to accomplish and if it fills our desire to check as many things off of a list as poss. It feels really good to check things off. So but once you're aware of this preventing, it is actually quite simple, but it does take time fought in discipline. So first, if you aren't ready, you

should keep a spreadsheet of ideas that can move your primary kpi and not to be too repetitive. But these tasks are almost always a variant of two things, right? One talking to users and to Building Product, talking to users, helps you with free things, right? It converts them into customers and revenue or helps you convert them to customers in Revenue. It helps you understand if you're on the right track or not, and it helps you figure out if your products sorry to help you figure out your pockets roadmap, and then Building Product actually delivers a solution to the user to see if it

actually translates into more customers in Revenue as you come up with these ideas. You should walk them into your spreadsheet and keep keep doing that. As every idea you got But the kids don't do them right away, just write them down and this is important because always switching to the thing. You just thought of which always sounds better now than later, cause has a ton of whiplash for Founders and it's a primary culprits and making no progress during the week. So now you're tracking this list then once a week, go through each item in your spreadsheet and great. The new Andre great

old items based on how impactful you think the task would be. On achieving the weekly goal for your primary kpi. You can give to each task on your list, high medium blow. He's definitions are little arbitrary in the sense that it's all, it's all relative. Whatever else is on your list, but in general, High means it's attached to believe that will help. You meet your goal for the week with high probability medium is your not sure. But with okay Mobility, you can hit your weekly goal and low is with very low probability. You'll see that it's actually pretty easy to

figure out what those low and high Valley tasks. Are when you compare them against everything else, you could be doing, which is why this exercise no matter how fantastic it is, is important to do. Let me go through an example. I say, I am the founder of a software Engineers, a software company, my goal for the next week and I just kind of lunch and my goal for the next week is just to get 5 new paying customers. So here's just a sliver of things I can do to reach that goal at the top. You'll see that the most impactful thing I can do is go to the offices of 10 potential

customers who were actually enter to me by a friend or whoever. And I know that if I show up to the office, I have a very good chance for some Rick's parents, have a very good chance of convincing them to buy my product. So that's why that's at the top of the list, the next year, or of meeting and packed because they involve me filling up my pipeline, which is one step away from letting you customers. But necessary to do, I'm also have the second thing here. I also have a video demos I can do which for me aren't as effective as doing in person but worth doing as well because

they do lead to some new customers. You'll notice that they're couple items at the bottom of this which involve programming. So it very common mistake. Technical Founders make is to build things first and then go talk to users in. According to this list to meet my weekly goal. This means they would be choosing the least impact will thing to do for that week, but with this method, if they're honest about it, they have no choice. But to get off her butt and go talk to you there instead. Along with the impact that it may have on your weekly meeting helping you achieve your

weekly goal. We also need to consider a second dimension of how complex the task is. That is how long would it take for you and your team to complete it because there are many tasks within each quart of categories impact, for example, there's like four of here and medium and 3in low answer. The question is, how do I stack rank, lose it within that category. And so this dimension of complexity helps so we can create complexity and freeways easy medium hard. So he's an easy. Task is something that you can do in less than a day. That means you can do a bunch of easy costumes in today and

medium, task is something that takes one or two days for you to do in a hard task, is one that takes many days to do, and you may not completed within the week. So once you do grade all of them, you'll have again the 2nd Dimension here where you have impact and then also complexity. And so now you can easily stack rank. All the tests on your list and pretty pretty easy to choose what you should prioritize. So give him. The directive is to hit your weekly goal. The obvious choice is always to go something with the to go for the combos of high, easy, Combos and high medium. That is something

attacked that has high impact and is easy to do. You should always do those first and then go to high-impact and medium meeting complexity and you what you really don't want to do is focus on these bottom things here, write something that has probably very low probability in helping you achieve your goal and it's very hard to do. Take a long time to do there's really no point in doing any of those things. So just as important as selecting the right tasks to work on is making sure you don't try to do everything at once. Picking up Tasha that you can complete and do. Well, I

doing too many things means you won't be able to complete much with much of the task with much conviction and makes it really hard to show progress from week to week. How do I know? I am parked heising my time? Well, ultimately, you know, you've done, well, if you're hitting your weekly goals consistently, so it's doing well as your grass look like that. Sadly, most of us have grass that look like this. These consoles are aware. It's decreasing in your kind of like stable for a while at the bottom. That's when you start doubting yourself as I get my

working really on the right thing or not. And so what can we do about this or how do we know? So one way to do what you're already doing and start of school, which is writing weekly updates and being really consistent and honest about it. So the key components of weekly update is pretty straightforward. What was your weekly goal? Did you succeed? If not, what was the biggest block of the growth? What did you do? And what was the predicted impact? And what was the, what was the actual impact? And what it? What did you learn this week or the big learning this week? And then by

doing an ongoing evaluation of your weekly updates, it will help you improve how you select and prioritize tasks. Once in awhile. You should review all your weekly updates like from beginning, the first one you ever wrote for you, start up to the current one to the last one, and check for things, like to feel like you're learning fast enough. Are you predicting the impact of each task? Well, did you let low-value work or even worse? Fake progress. Creep into your schedule. Is your biggest blocker. The same thing for every week? A lot of people actually get in a rough spot where they're

not learning anything, new and just doing the same thing over and over without realizing it review and your updates will help you realize that and force you to try to get yourself out of that bad Loop in terms of size 1. In terms of completing tasks. If you're finding yourself, always running out of time to complete tasks. You felt was totally possible to complete in the week. I have two suggestions for you. When is perhaps our task is actually too complex? And you should break it down into. Medium in Easy tasks. All the second one is maybe it is that

your schedule needs to be rejected a little bit. I recommend a modified version of what we call the makers manager schedule a Twist popular popularized by Paul G. The essay is links in the start school library. The basic idea is this their High context, switching to different types of tasks, for example, coding and meetings, like, talking to users. Meaning, it's hard to restart a ramp back up on a task, especially like coding and it's costly to exit at a time when things are finally slowing, and you're getting stuff done. So if you find yourself

switching back and forth too much, it may be that you're wasting time and need to rejigger thing. So, you have a continuous continuous chunk of time devoted to each one. So many people will actually split their /, they're weak and today's right to one full day. There was just thin coating and then, Text will, they do spend meetings and talking to users and so forth instead of me having like one hour here, whenever there, when are there, for people who need to get more stuff done in the day, then we'll do half the day. Those thin Coating in the half a day though. I spend talking to users.

I took it to the funny. So was Founders out there. This is incredibly important for you because you don't have the opportunity to divvy up the work across multiple people. So it's really important to get your schedule. Correct? All right, so I'll end with one final piece of advice, which is moving that. So in the beginning or start up your primary objective is to move as quickly as possible to prove that you're building something people want the faster you figure this out. The faster. You can pivot into something or have the confidence that you have product-market fit and can start

scaling in building a tremendous business. To making decisions about falling quickly, is super important time is often wasted in indecisiveness. The key is to be okay with making a wrong choice and learning fast. So, of course, choosing the right thing to do at the gecko is the best thing possible, but it's also the case that a person who chooses the wrong task to work on today, but moves quickly learns. Why it's wrong? And move to the right. One is a better off than the person that takes forever to choose the right tasks to work on and it's putting their thumbs working on low value stuff. In

the meantime. That's all I have today on how to prioritize time to summarize. We should be doing always be working on things that directly impact your primary. Kpi do the things. I have a heist and pack to meeting your weekly goal and that usually always means what talking to users and Building Product.

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