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How Leaders Prioritize Their Lives: The 20-10-10 Exercise

20-10-10 Exercise

If you’ve got thirty minutes, zero dollars to spare, and have admitted your life is not worth spending doing things you don’t love — you too can prioritize your professional time the way thousands of my CxO clients and MBA grads have found focus: the 20-10-10 Exercise.

It’s an approach I’ve become a lifelong advocate for, whether training Headstorm’s Fortune 2000 executive clientele, or teaching Executive Education in a Carnegie Mellon lecture hall. It’s all about optimizing your personal resources toward the commitments that best fulfill your potential AND demonstrated passion, and having a framework for actually saying no to that which is not fulfilling (even if it pays 25% more).

20-10-10 prompts critical and actionable questions under the umbrella of continuous personal development and tells you, beyond intuition or bias, what you are organically motivated to put time, energy, or resources in to:

  • What can I authentically talk about with passion and grace that others respond to?
  • Where does my head and heart (vision and purpose) align with my hands (work)?
  • What will organically motivate me each day to be curious and push boundaries without checking the clock constantly?
  • What can I do that will make me feel more intentional and purposeful?
  • How can I be rewarded outside of financial gain and redefine impact?
  • How can I build a legacy that I am proud of?

Ready to start? All you need is a comfortable headspace and means of writing down your thoughts. Let’s dive right in:

20 Products (or experiences or services, but mostly products)

Undoubtedly, there are a number of products in your life which you hold dear, find utterly indispensable, or think everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy. Digital or physical, tangible or experiential — whatever form they take, you cherish them and feel a connection that transcends the transaction.

Now, we want to whittle that population of products down to a core group of 20 you evangelize. Two key filters make this process much easier than it sounds:

  • It must be a product you recommend to people at least once every six months
  • At least one of those people must act on your recommendation as a result

The value of this exercise is hopefully now becoming clearer: it doesn’t matter that you value the product; it matters that you can successfully indoctrinate that value into the minds of others. Leadership requires you to be effective, not just efficient.

I’ll offer up a few from my list of 20 Products:

  • Pickleball (you read that correct, yes it’s named after the guy’s dog). Apologies in advance if I ask you to play but I am likely a top 100 salesperson for this paddle, these shoes, and these outdoor balls – you can see the #Pittsburgh in the shoes and paddle
  • If Chris Voss has children and they want to go to college then I have it covered in the number of students and executives I’ve shared Never Split the Difference with
  • Hate all you want: PELOTON (it helped me reach 5,000+ workout minutes this year)
  • Miro for facilitating human-centered design workshops (Are you an impact-oriented company? Get in touch and I’ll share my fancy templates with over 500 hours spent making them useful)
  • Whoever you are trying to get closer with will thank you for ordering an experience from BlanketAndBoard.com

Now, take a few minutes to create your own list and remember to focus not just on the products (or experiences) you love, but the ones that people love you for telling them about.

10 Causes

A noble cause, be it local or global, will always offer the opportunity to commit with passion. Knowing that your ability to commit is finite, it’s important to prioritize your time, talent and money so that participating in these causes actually effects change.

To ensure you’re willing and able to advance the missions of these 10 Causes, apply the following filters:

  • It must be a cause you’ve donated resources to in the last five years
  • It must be a cause you actively participate in whenever feasible (that can’t just mean likes and comments)

Championing a cause demands both tangible and recurring commitment. If it’s not on this list, you should immediately start to question whether it’s deserving of your resources, knowing you have these ten priorities in need of the same limited resources.

Here are a few of the causes I champion:

  • Inclusive Entrepreneurship reminding us all that genius is evenly distributed while access to resources are not – my work in progress at TheShop.org (IG: @theshoppgh)
  • Inclusive city/space planning (we got so committed to this we launched a free/low cost tool after winning a civic hackathon: Kurb.io)
  • Decreasing the challenges of upward mobility related to transportation via Mobiliti.us
  • Buying local before we are left with only big box and fast-food restaurants
  • Educating and fighting the opioid crisis including the enablement pandemic that follows it around

Now, take a few minutes now to create your own list appreciating this may not be a list you are comfortable sharing out in the open given the nature of personal connections to causes.

10 Problems

Think about the recurring moments in life where you find yourself reaching frustration to the point of resolve: “someone should really do something about this!” Whether those problems are unique to you, or shared across the world, it is your innate ability to observe those problems (and to recognize that a better future is possible) which makes you the right person to work on them.

To understand which 10 Problems define the burdens you’re willing to bear in pursuit of a better future, let’s apply these filters:

  • It must be a problem you’ve shared with 5-10 people in the past year
  • It must be a problem you’ve advocated a solution for to a relevant decision maker (e.g. someone who works at that company, or a company who COULD easily jump in)

Problem identification and analysis are core talents of leaders, and the drive to address problems with thoughtful solutions illustrates the commitment which separates trusted leaders from cynics.

Here are a few problems I’ve committed to:

  • Scalable FE libraries for rapid prototyping (current open source focus: FoundryUI)
  • AI-based coaching tools that grade presenters on their performance & approach
  • Marketplaces that work on behalf of local, living artists (I may or may not own localartist.net)
  • Indoor gardening lights and pots (maybe irrigation) that are simple, cheap, and easy to use for basic growing in a cost effective way without a mandatory pod subscription
  • Electric mopeds built for the winter, or another car alternative when a pandemic makes bus riding more than just inefficient

Now, take a few minutes now to create your own list, be as specific to the moment that bothers you as possible.

Next Steps

So, you have your 20-10-10 list… now what? Think on it. For at least a day, let your choices percolate and adjust to taste. After a few days, you’ll have your foundational list ready to bounce off of friends, coworkers, and loved ones. Ask them to review it, and challenge them to think through the products, causes and problems they see as fueling your passion & purpose (or you knowingly or not suckered them into buying, donating, or advocating for).

With a properly vetted list, you’ll emerge more focused on bringing intention to everything you do, providing genuine support to those around you, and effecting positive change with every ounce of your available resources.

Don’t be surprised to find that everything you consequently say no to quickly falls away because it never really mattered, or is taken up by someone else whose commitment takes it far further than you ever could. You’ll have a WHY you are right for a job opportunity story and not just the ability to explain how you could do the WHAT that’s commoditized on a job description. At a certain point in your career, especially in elite roles, it’s rarely just about doing the job (anyone can develop a skill given enough resources) but rather your passion, energy, and commitment to growth that get you the gig. Leadership roles require that you bring character, not just capability.

What’s crucial to remember about 20-10-10 is that it doesn’t cement you to a permanent path. The discipline of the framework is what grounds you, while the answers themselves progress over time. For guidance, I replay this exercise every six months at a minimum, as that’s how often I find my answers change based on all of life’s influential factors and opportunities.

If 20-10-10 is having an impact on your life, I’d love for you to share with us. Tag #Headstorm on LinkedIn, or get in touch through the Headstorm Careers page.


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