The Minimum Viable Plan for Your Workday

Sunrise over the ocean.
It's a new day!

Unpopular opinion: The most valuable skill in the modern workplace is the ability to learn.

We are constantly bombarded with examples of new types of work. New jobs couldn't even have imagined five years ago.

A quick glance at Twitter -- my gateway into what's evolving quickly (sorry not sorry LinkedIn). You can see examples everywhere:

  • Prompt Engineer.
  • Machine Learning Engineer.
  • Robotics Engineer.
  • Augmented Reality Developer.

It's easy to feel like you've missed the boat. Like you made the wrong choice five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago (!) When you decided on a liberal arts education.

But not all is lost.

The key to ensuring that you stay relevant, and effective in the workplace is having processes and habits that force you to become efficient and effective.

The key? I'm not talking about your job. I'm talking about how you learn.

Before we get into the details, let's talk about the reality of work today and what you can do daily to be more effective.

The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else. ~ Eric Ries, Author of the Lean Startup

The Work Landscape

According to most startup and growth-minded companies, the number one quality they look for when hiring is coachability.

Not dedication.

Not track record.

Not degree or pedigree.

HR wants to know how fast you can get up to speed, and if required, how fast you can pivot.

To put it another way, how fast you can learn.

Our Fixed Skills Mindset

Unfortunately, the Fixed Skills Mindset keeps people from ever learning how to learn. They spend hours (and tons of money) trying to learn institutionally -- at college, in graduate school, on the job. All the while failing to realize the world has changed.

Someone with a fixed skills mindset views their skillset as inherently stable and unchangeable over time. [for real]

Someone with a growth skills mindset is constantly adapting, remixing and experimenting with their skillset to accomplish the task at hand.

FIXED: What do we need to do here? This is my tool kit and these are the tools in my tool kit.

GROWTH: What do we need to do here? I'll figure out how to get this done and what we need to do it.

Having a solid set of hard skills isn’t relevant anymore—because now, to be successful, you have to be able to learn and adapt on the fly.

How I Learned to Learn

I know all of this because I struggled mightily -- and still do! -- to maintain the habit of a growth skills mindset as a professional, as a parent, and as an athlete.

To be honest, the most valuable lessons I learned in this arena had nothing to do with work.

My personal approach involves jumping headfirst into areas where I am uniquely not qualified and then figuring it out.

I can chart three distinct phases of my personal evolution where I had no choice but to learn.

Phase One: Captain the Men's Varsity Crew at Boston University.
Lesson: Leadership is helping others grow.

Phase Two: Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.
Lesson: Success is listening and learning to fit in so you can help others stand out.

Phase Three: Running Community Development for the International Rescue Committee in Azerbaijan.
Lesson: Empowering others to lead within the organization -- and with stakeholders -- is the only path to truly sustainable success.

I know what you're thinking: "Sounds great. I don't have a Time Machine and I'm probably not gonna travel the globe to figure this out."

My struggles are your gain. The best part? You don't have to walk a ridiculous path like me in order to start where I have ended up.

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback for future product development.[1][2] - Wikipedia

My Daily Habit for Learning at Work

Over the last 20 years of coaching athletes and consulting with leaders, I have created a simple framework that helps you to do your most critical work at the start of each day. This focus allows you to go create a habit of growth skills mindset cultivation.

Consider it a daily workout for work.

It's the daily challenge that helps you accomplish the mission-critical, and forces you to continue to adapt and learn.

It's called the 12% project, as we are taking just 1 hour of your work day (twelve percent!) and turning it into a strategic advantage.

Learn more about the framework in this post: The One Step That Unlocks Your Workday

Here are Five Reasons You Need to Use the 12% Matrix Framework*

#1 Daily Organization is Energizing

Creating a to-do list provides a sense of direction and purpose. 👍

Maintaining a to-do list can become both draining and overwhelming, especially if the list becomes too long or if there are too many items that are left undone. 👎

  • The constant need to update the list as new tasks arise or as priorities change can be time-consuming and distracting.
  • The pressure to complete all the tasks on the list can create stress and anxiety, especially if there are many urgent or high-priority items.
  • The fear of forgetting something important can lead to overloading the list with too many tasks, making it difficult to prioritize and focus on what truly matters.

Enter the 12% matrix. Creating a defined scope of work, daily, brings you all the positive effects of organizing without the scope creep associated with traditional to-do lists.

#2 Avoid the Big Work Trap

The mistake most of us make is assuming the largest thing is the most important thing. Just because something is large or expensive or complex doesn't make it the most important thing.

Repeat after me, "Big Work Isn't Important Work."

Being able to break things down into blocks and you can work within a finite amount of time will help you professionally and set you apart.

The 12% Matrix can be used to highlight a larger task. Or you can use it to break a specific task into four unique blocks. Whether you want to single-task or parallel path your work, you have options.

#3 Develop a Timed-Work Approach

The process of moving from job to be done to job complete is never straightforward. There are different dimensions of research and understanding required to complete even the most basic task.

We measure work with estimates.

Checking my email should take 15 minutes! [If only.]

We don't account for focus creep that takes us off course.

Looks like my Netflix payment failed, and the cafeteria is closed at 11:30 today for staff training. [So much for focus!]

But most work and work styles defy simple estimates.

Old You: I checked my email (even thought it took 45 minutes to complete 15 minutes of work!).

This is why the time-boxed approach of the 12% Matrix matters. You have one hour to finish your work, and each section has dedicated time.

New You: I spent 15 minutes on my email.

Remember, it's not the time to do the work that matters. It's the time you acutally end up spending that counts.

#4 Take Front of Mind to Front of Day

We all know that the barrier between our personal and professional lives has been shattered. It's not so much as you start the workday with anxiety, it's that the anxiety pervades all other aspects of your day.

The 12% matrix lets you kickstart your day by capturing on paper the critical tasks you believe will help move things forward.

With a five-minute scan, you can brainstorm your work and put it into the matrix.

Through this action, you are proving to your primitive lizard brain (that has been on fire for the past 12 hours, by the way) that you've got this.

You are in control.

#5 Defuse Your Work Anxiety

This is perhaps the biggest positive outcome of the 12% approach - and the most underappreciated. By accomplishing four distinct tasks in the first hour of your day, you have created incredible positive momentum.

Yes, there's other work to be done. But you've already done some of the most important work of the day.

You are psychologically primed to handle new work, sudden changes, and everything else that comes with managing your job successfully.

Not because you have superpowers, but because you used rigor when it mattered most: at the start of the day to ensure you got critical work done.

Even if the rest of your day explodes into smithereens, you can leave the office knowing that you got done what needed to be done.


If you're ready to explore this approach to managing your day, click here to read the overview post. If you want a copy of the framework to use for yourself, just email me here. And if you ave feedback or thoughts about starting the day on the right foot, please put them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.