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Finding Your Leverage Point
Navigating the complexities of modern work can often feel overwhelming, with tasks and issues piling up, making it difficult to know where to start - you might need help finding the wood for the trees. This article offers a solution for finding a starting point amidst the chaos, helping you to untangle what looks like a mess.
Picture a desk groaning under the weight of an ever-expanding to-do list, and you're unsure where to commence. This article takes inspiration from a challenging phase in my life and presents a blueprint you can utilise to avoid reaching such an impasse. The obstacles, or in this context called Undesired Effects (UDEs), in my life, were as follows:
Too much to do
Spending time on the wrong things
Too little progress
Putting myself under pressure
Working long hours
The vital aspect to note here is that these UDEs centre around me and my struggles in achieving productivity. But any set of UDEs that align with a singular goal can serve as a valid starting point. If you want to try a similar process, brainstorm a set of current UDEs you face and follow the procedure outlined below.
Map them out visually, each UDE becoming a separate note.
The objective is to pinpoint the one change I can make that would significantly enhance each UDE. How could that be done?
Unravelling the UDE Mess
If your list is big enough, you'll observe that some UDEs directly cause others, which should now be made evident by connecting the UDEs to reflect this causation. By saying this, I imply that if UDE A causes UDE B, we denote this as a line A -> B in the graph. When multiple UDEs cause another UDE together, we’ll express it as A + B -> C. Otherwise, A -> C and B -> C mean that two different reasons can independently cause C. Certain aspects will remain immutable, like the weather or our need for sleep, which we'll categorise as "Given" instead of UDE. They can contribute to a UDE but remain beyond our control and hence won’t need subsequent causes.
The process of creating this interconnected map might yield something like this:
In this half-finished map, only two UDEs remain causeless (at the bottom). Please note that new nodes are added on the fly, adding causes to the graph. This graphical representation gains value only if it accurately mirrors reality. During this process, we should, therefore:
Evaluate each new element: When dealing with feelings and emotions, ensure we aren't fabricating them. Ideally, all nodes in the graph are falsifiable statements that we can validate.
Question each connection: Is there a real cause-effect relationship? Does A invariably lead to B, or is another factor required?
Search for additional causes: Even if determined a cause for a UDE, we should probe for other possible reasons.
A complete list of these checks is available as Review Logical Reasoning
With this in mind, keep connecting the graph until you have one (or only a few) non-connected UDE left. This is your leverage point.
Identifying the Leverage Point
Ultimately, my graph evolved into this:
This connected graph pinpoints a single changeable UDE that instigates all other UDEs, symbolising my leverage point. The revelation was that I had neglected to prioritise my tasks at that life stage.
Once I acknowledged the pivotal role of prioritisation became clear
I need to focus on the right tasks
I could curtail my working hours after doing the essential items
I could alleviate self-imposed pressure as I knew that the vital things were dealt with
I could reduce exhaustion since I worked less
I could see meaningful progress and manage my workload effectively.
In retrospect, these issues are intrinsically linked to a lack of prioritisation. By defining clear priorities, the entire situation began to improve. It required more changes, like setting time aside each day to plan.
Recap and Next Steps
What steps did I take?
Commenced with a list of UDEs
Created a logical graph connecting these UDEs
Identified the leverage point as a mutable problem instigating all other UDEs
Is it feasible for all my problems to stem from a particular issue? Your UDEs must align with a specific goal to achieve this clarity, but even though sometimes, it is more than just one UDE that needs changing. But it will be a small number and make the situation more controllable. Multiple goals might yield multiple leverage points, which would require further prioritisation. But let's save that for another day.