Over the years, I have trained myself to get things done efficiently and quickly. As a result, people often say, “Wow, how do you get so much done in so little time?!” The truth is, I’m not special. Anyone can learn to do this. The secret is having a bias towards action.
The “bias towards action” method worked for me ...
- now as the COO of Mochary Method as we build the Method into software and simultaneously train world-class coaches
- when I was Chief of Staff to Matt Mochary and had to help him feel like a Superhuman
- when I was Head of Operations at On Deck and tasked with launching 20+ fellowships in 2021, and
- when I bootstrapped my first company, a boutique music school, to $1mm in ARR
Below is the framework I use.
Step 1: Do you need to do it?
First, just because you can get something done, doesn’t mean you should.
And just because someone has asked you to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.
Before you agree to do something, remember that for every request you say “yes” to, you’re saying “no” to something else. Is that trade-off worth it?
Here are a few more questions you can ask yourself:
- If you are a manager: how important is it for you yourself to do it? Instead, can you delegate it to one of your direct reports?
- If you are an individual contributor: is the task in harmony with what your manager’s priorities are? Is it in the company’s best interest?*
TL;DR: should you say yes to that thing? Think carefully about the time spent and the payoff for doing it.
👉 Here’s a tip: try to say yes to things that are only full-bodied “yes.” That means saying yes when your head, heart, and gut are all in agreement. (Hat tip to Kat Agostino for this amazing insight.)
☝ Regina’s personal experience: I used to have a hard time saying no to people and tasks that didn’t energize me. Then, one day, I realized that everything I said half-bodied “yes”es to zapped away time that Matt needed me working on high-output tasks. As a result, I started experimenting with valuing my time at the same cost as Matt’s hourly rate. The result: All of a sudden, it became much easier to say no.
Step 2a: Is this the best thing I can be doing with my time right now?
If you have decided that it is, indeed, worth it to do the task and that it’s in the company’s best interest, the next step is to ask yourself: Is this the most important task on my plate right now?
When I decide how to structure my work day and what stuff I’ll get done, I first consult my Actions Towards Goals.
💡 Here is a framework for figuring out your actions towards goals:
- Look at your company’s goals. This can exist in the form of an MVV (Mission, Vision, Values), OKRs and KPIs, or a Product Roadmap if your company is pre-product market fit.
For further reading on Product Roadmap, please read this.
For further reading on Mission, Vision, and Values, take a look at MM’s vision doc here.
- Look at your Areas of Responsibility (AORs). If your company doesn’t have an AOR list, I highly encourage you to help them implement one. That way, there is no ambiguity in who owns what processes across the entire org.
To implement AORs, check this out.
- Look at your action tracker. Look at the agreements you’ve made with others on the tasks you have promised.
For further information, I recommend checking out my Asana as an Agreements Tracker playlist to see how to implement one in your org.
If you’re a manager, your main job is likely following up on actions with your immediate team and cross-functionally with other department heads.
If you’re an IC, your main job is likely working on projects your manager and you have collectively agreed on you owning.
Step 2b: Example: company goals → personal work goals → action
👉 (If you like seeing real-life examples, continue reading. Otherwise, skip to the next section.)
Below are screenshots from my own personal actions tracker. I answer the following questions, step by step:
- What are the company goals?
- Based on those goals, what should my work goals be?
- What are the actions I can do to finish those goals?
Here are my current company goals, pulled from our Mission, Vision, Values doc.
Here is how I’ve chosen my Actions Towards Goals (notice that each section has one action item: product, people, and self.)
And as a result, here is what I choose to do daily because it is the best use of my time:
After going through this line of questioning, it becomes abundantly clear what I have to do to move the needle forward. Everything else is a distraction.
I reevaluate this list of priorities on a weekly basis to make sure I’m still on track.
Step 3a: How can I make this action happen in the next 30 minutes?
I taught Nate that if he wanted to be massively productive, any time someone gave him a task he decided was worth doing, or he assigned himself something, I encouraged him to ask himself that question.
He then joked that Frank Slootman, the CEO of Snowflake, wrote in his book Amp It Up that the #1 question he asked his team was, “What can we do to make this happen today?”
I suppose, then, my mantra is just Frank Slootman’s mantra on steroids: “How can I make this action happen in the next 30 minutes?”
One of the biggest hurdles of having a bias towards action is expecting perfection right from the get-go.
Rather than ...
- jumping down the rabbit hole of hypothetical “what-ifs” that never happen, or
- waiting to ship until a product is utterly perfect,
...instead, optimizing for getting something in front of an audience and iterating from there is the best way to make progress towards goals.
☝️ A note for managers
When I work with my team, I find that this is a helpful prompt in promoting a bias towards action culture. It puts them in the driver’s seat, helps them lean into their autonomy, and gives them decision-making power.
In fact, the semantics here matter.
Matt and I have gotten in a habit of requesting that our teammates declare what they’re going to do and actively solicit our feedback.
Here's an example of what you can send to your direct reports to challenge them into acting with autonomy. Notice how I write to Sabrina, “What do you intend to do?” This has worked for every person who reports to me, regardless of their seniority level.
Step 3b: Example: Ship it faster than an MVP
👉 (If you like seeing real-life examples, continue reading. Otherwise, skip to the next section.)
One great example I have on truncating timelines is Mochary Method’s work using no-code.
First, custom software takes a long time to build.
Mochary Method is creating the all-in-one solution for startups to run their companies effectively. But we all know that takes a long time. So, what next?
The solution: I was curious on whether no-code could be an effective solution for prototyping our software.
We were given an estimate that our entire software would take around four months to build. MVPs are supposed to be the quickest things to ship, right? Right. So that should be the fastest we can get something off the ground.
But what if that was wrong?
We had an even more radical idea: what if we could build another tool concurrently that could be shipped in a matter of weeks? This would prove whether we could even build a proper MVP in Bubble to begin with.
Using the same “30-minutes” thinking principle, I challenged Joe to build us a no-code tool, with design and database architecture able to integrate into the larger tool, all in a matter of two weeks.
Sure enough, Joe said yes. And two weeks later, we had a product that worked! This gave us the confidence that we could, indeed, prototype using Bubble.
But why stop there? We were on a roll and loved no-code. After completing that project, we asked: was there another piece the Smaal Team could create in the same timeline?
When we asked, Joe say he could build us another tool on our Santa’s wishlist of no-code products, but that tool would take at least month. What followed was a conversation of how we could make it happen faster.
This first photo is of the proposal suggesting our tool be built in a four-week timeline, with some added time for QA testing before launch.
The next photo was my back-and-forth conversation with Joe on what action items he could take to make the development go faster, which resulted in an accelerated timeline.
In the end, we ended up agreeing to ship the Energy Audit tool in a little over two weeks. This was faster than the original suggested timeline of a month (or more!), just because I asked: “How can we make this happen faster?”
Step 4: What can I accomplish before someone assigns me an action?
The final step (Frank Slootman’s mantra on double-steroids) is:
What action items can I give myself and do to make this goal happen before anyone assigns me an action item?
An operator’s greatest superpower is being able to predict the needs of the organization before anyone asks them to do it.
This means preemptively going through the logic tree in Step 2a and giving yourself action items to act on before anyone else does it for you.
This is shockingly simple to implement. All you have to do is ask yourself what actions you need to take to reach the goals.
In order to better illustrate how to do this, I’ve left a few examples from various chapters of my own life on how Bias Towards Action might look as an IC, a manager, and a founder.
Regina’s example as an Individual Contributor
When I was Matt’s Chief of Staff, because Matt’s goals were effectively my goals, I would ask myself: “What is the next action item I can take to advance his goals before he even needs to think about asking me?”
This could apply to literally anything. Asking this question helped me:
- draft emails for Matt to follow up with VIPs in his inbox (corresponding goal: get Matt to Inbox Zero and connect with interesting people)
- line up plane tickets and hotel options for his next trip (corresponding goal: Restore)
- suggest meeting times for the next retrospective to debrief with the Engineering team (goal: ship V1 of software by the end of the year)
The common theme was that Matt’s life was now plug-and-play: he didn’t have to think because I did all the thinking for him. This left him time and brain space to think about stuff that he loved thinking about: coaching and being the visionary of the software.
Regina’s example as a Manager
In my previous job, I saw that the company I worked for had ambitious goals of launching 20+ fellowships (our “product”) by 2Q21. Here was my thought pattern which made it happen before anyone asked me to think about it:
- The company’s goal is to launch 20+ products by 2Q21. Therefore, it is the Operations Department’s goal to put infrastructure and resourcing in place to handle 20+ products.
- What are the building blocks to make create one product happen?Answer: playbook everything and document along the way. Everyone needs to contribute to documentation efforts.
- What is the minimum amount of resourcing we need to make one product?Answer: we need at least one director and one operations associate to launch, and one EA per 3-5 product launches.
- With that number, what do we need to make twenty products?Answer: at least 20 operations associates, and at least 4 EAs to assist with said product launches provided we stagger product launches.
- When do we need to start hiring by to hit our deadline of resourcing, training, and deploying operations associates?Answer: yesterday. Next-best day is today.
- Which departments do we have to collaborate with in the company to make this work?Answer: all of them. Write out exactly what we need from every department and don’t stop until we get what we need from each of them.
The result of this bias-towards-action thinking was:
- We were able to launch all 20 products by our given timeline
- We were able to hire, train, and deploy 15 operations associates in one quarter
- We had playbooks in the Operations department written in the event that I needed to pass the role onto someone else
- The company was able to successfully raise $20mm in Series A funding, in part because of the hockey stick growth in revenue from the product launches
Regina’s example as a Founder
Lastly, I’ll share an example from my Founder days. Before I was familiar with the term, we hit product-market fit.
We had a waiting list of clients that was 1.5 years long, there were over 100 people in and out of my apartment-turned-music-studio every week, and I had clients that were throwing fistfuls of money in my face for the chance of getting music lessons using my methodology.
Below was my line of questioning to go from a solo bootstrapper into a full-fledged music school.
- What was the goal? Answer: create the best, world-class piano school in all of Los Angeles county.
- What has to be true for that goal to happen? Answer: I need to hire and train teachers to teach using my methodology. I need training seminars and a way to make my methodology repeatable (therefore, documenting everything.) Lastly, I need an actual music space: my tiny apartment isn’t cutting it anymore.
- What has to happen to make that scenario true? Answer: Find, hire, and train two teachers to absorb my methodology. Document and record everything along the way. Find a commercial space by mid-1Q17.
- What is going to take the most time? Answer: Finding the commercial space with the needed specs: at least 1000 sqft for all the grand pianos, within budget, easy to access for parents, and soundproofing installed.
- What are the next actions? Answer: After finding the space...
Negotiate for landlord-paid improvements to get walls, flooring, etc. covered to keep us in budget. Offer to cover soundproofing since it’s a music business-specific expense.
Get building permits + get architect’s blueprints approved.
Cause building company to build the whole damn thing in 14 days.
Have a furniture-building party with friends to pitch in to open the school in time.
The results: we opened our doors in February 2017, scaled to well over $500k in bootstrapped revenue during the first year, and ended up hiring a lean team of five people. Because I started from the goal and planned for what we needed, we were instantly profitable from the get-go. To this day, the school continues to live on.
Bias towards action can be cultivated and trained over time. When you master this skill, you will apply it to all facets of your life with massive success. At that point, congratulations — I think you’ve truly become an excellent operator.
Further Links / Resources
- How to Help Execs Prioritize Work
- No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings
- Matt’s summary on No Rules Rules
- Kat Agostino’s website - the person who taught me the definition of a “full-bodied yes” (meaning “head, heart, and gut all say yes”)
- How to build your product roadmap
- Mochary Method’s vision doc
- Implementing Areas of Responsibility (AORs) in your org
- Implementing an agreements tracker using Asana in your org
A special thank you goes to Nate Forster, who prompted me to write this article in the first place. I didn’t realize how needed it was for this to be documented. You gave me the kick in the ass I needed to write it. I am so glad you encouraged me to do this.
Thank you to Sabrina Wang, Sydney Liu, and Lucas Gerbeaux for reading the one initial draft of this article. Your insights and input mean so much to me!
And lastly, a thank you goes to my mom, who taught me to think in a bias-towards-action manner. She has no idea that I’m saying thank you to her for teaching me this, but when I think back to my childhood, she was always the one who asked me how I could get shit done faster. I am so grateful to her and for her tough love.