by Guido Schmitz

How to speed up your development by using Andy Grove’s High Leverage Activities ?

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You're constantly building on new features, fixing new bugs, and improving existing code. Along the way, your to-do list can become so hopelessly long that you have no clue what to work on next.

“There are so many people working so hard and achieving so little.”
— Andy Grove, former Intel CEO

In this post, I’ll show you the power of leverage, and how to use it to improve your decision-making process. I’ll use some examples from the book High Output Management which was written by the late engineering legend Andy Grove himself.

This will help you boost your productivity by getting rid of repetitive work, and investing time your time in tasks that will yield a bigger impact.

What does Andy Grove mean by “leverage”?

You can define leverage by asking a simple question. Is the value or impact that a task will produce per time invested currently worth the time? It’s like the return on investment for the effort that’s put in.

Time is your most limited resource, so make sure you’re spending your time on the right activity.

No matter who you are, at some point in your career, there’s more work to be done than time available. This means you’ll need to start prioritizing your work.

At the end of each day, you should take time to reflect, and look for things that you can do better the next day. Without reflection, you may end up spending way to much time on doing things that don’t matter right now.

How to increasing your leverage

Let’s say you’re spending 20 minutes every morning going through your mailbox, only to delete most of the spam emails. This is a repetitive and time-consuming task. You can increase your leverage here by investing some time in configuring smart inboxes that will filter all the spam out of your email. This can reduce your time spent reading through your mailbox by 50%.

Configuring those smart inboxes may take you one hour at most. Good investment, right? You just saved 50 minutes every week that you can spend on something that is actually worth your time. This is around 2,600 minutes each year — equal to a full work week.

The Lever Effect

Your leverage can only be increased in three ways:

  1. Reducing the time it takes to complete a certain activity
  2. Increasing the output of a particular activity
  3. Changing your focus to higher-leverage activities

These three ways naturally translate into three questions you can ask yourself about any activity you’re working on:

  1. How can I complete this activity in a shorter amount of time?
  2. How can I increase the value produced by this activity?
  3. Is there something else that I could spend my time on that would produce more value?

Let’s say you’ve scheduled a one-hour meeting. How can you increase that meeting’s leverage?

  1. Start by asking yourself whether the meeting is actually necessary. Can it be replaced by a simple Slack discussion so you can work on the next big product feature?
  2. Shorten the meeting to half an hour so you’re forced to focus more on the subject, thereby eliminating the temptation to fill the full allotted time. Believe me, this sounds scary, but it actually works. The focus of the meeting will increase because of the extra pressure that time will put on you.
  3. Prepare an agenda of the key subjects you’d like to discuss. This will also increase your productivity, and make sure you focus on the right things.

What about development tasks?

Let’s say you’re spending way to much time by solving bugs that came from your production environment. Instead of just solving those bugs, try to think about how you can shorten the amount of time you’re busy solving them. For example, this can be fixed by shifting to a higher-leverage activity like increasing your test coverage percentage, or investing time in improving your deployment workflow. This is crucial when you’re developing a product at a high speed.

When you successfully shorten the time required for an activity, you will spend that time more effectively.

So the next time you sit down to handle a routine task, ask yourself how you might get more leverage in doing that each task time.

What is your secret for increasing your productivity? Let me know in the comments. Oh and every Friday I send out four high quality articles that are related to engineering and product development via my newsletter.

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