Imagine the king of the jungle, strolling the savannah in search of its next meal. Perched at the top of the food chain, lunch could be anything from a furtive field mouse to a svelte antelope. Despite the lion’s positioning and prowess, it must choose wisely. Yes, the lion is fully capable of hunting, killing, and eating a field mouse. But the energy required to do so would be more than the mouse’s caloric value. The antelope represents a formidable foe. It’s faster, bigger and stronger. Yet the lion is fully capable of hunting antelope. And when it does, the lion and its pride are able to thrive and flourish.
. In the short run, it’s satisfying (and delightful) to eat the field mouse—just like the micro-dose of dopamine release we get when we check a task off of a list. But there’s a cost to $10 work. For the lion, it’s energy expenditure. For us, it shows up as the enduring fatigue that comes from endless multitasking. The paralysis from looking at a monster task list and not knowing where to begin. And the low-grade anxiety of always feeling rushed.
The lion has options. It can hunt hares, birds, wild hogs and even crocodiles. And you have options too:
Double down on deep work and atomic habits to move beyond $10 work.
Take a Python course on Coursera.
Get an executive MBA.
Or simply get really damn good at your job.
When you start getting compensated for your unique skills, you’re doing
. And as you scale your career and grow your business, this path can lead to a very good life. But there’s a missing piece. When the law partner stops working, the money stops coming in. The skills are unique. But there's no leverage.
So what is leverage? Leverage is maximizing output for a given level of work. Leverage the set of activities that keep working for you even when you’re on vacation. We're no longer talking about the antelope. It's hunting the elephant that feeds the entire lion pride for weeks. It’s
became the richest man in the world). You won’t get paid $10,000 an hour to do the work, but your deliberate investment will pay off in spades at a future date.
Just like investing, you can diversify your portfolio of tasks, by learning to discern low-value tasks from high-value ones that will yield greater returns down the road. You can even learn to transform redundant tasks into more worthwhile ones, in order to strike a balance that feels right to you.
This doc is all about creating your personal $10k Work system by scheduling and managing tasks, and focusing on high-leverage, high-skill activities that will pay dividends years from now.
To start your own $10k Work system, copy this doc.
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The $10k Matrix: A framework for radical focus.
The tale of the mighty lion plays out in our everyday lives. Tasks the size of field mice and antelopes vie for our attention in our inboxes, calendars, and our minds. But it’s not always obvious which ones are the mice and which are the antelopes. So to prioritize and manage tasks, I use what I call a $10k Matrix, where tasks fall into one of four quadrants based on two variables: leverage & skill.
Leverage is about force multipliers that maximize output for a given level of work. It’s when a task has a one-to-many effect, versus merely a one-to-one effect. It’s when things keep moving when you stop working. Leverage is about the impact of a task.
Skill is what separates deep, hard-to-define work from cookie-cutter work. It’s what makes work more effective for the long-term, not just efficient in the short-term. And the more skill required for a task, the narrower the population that can execute.
Leverage and skill make up the axes of our matrix. The four quadrants defined below can help you discern the relative value of tasks and even refactor tasks to increase leverage. Let’s take a look at each quadrant.
Low Skill, Low Leverage
$10 work is busywork. Full stop. It’s the redundant tasks that are quickly executed, and provide easy dopamine hits, but have little payoff in the end. A litmus test for $10 work is: could I do this hungover?
A notorious $10 task is sorting through email. Since email has no prioritization (i.e. it’s simply sorted by date) and no barriers to entry (i.e. anybody can send you one) you are effectively waving in everybody else’s priorities and demands on your time. The deluge of email constantly tempts your response, motivated by some arbitrary goal (like Inbox Zero), rather than your real priorities.
Low Skill, High Leverage
This quadrant is busywork at scale. It’s the domain of productivity gurus,
). Now there are some valid reasons to build and maintain a Personal CRM. But I’ve met too many folks who kept track of contact #120’s favorite Mexican food – while not holding regular 1-on-1s with their direct reports.
With $100/hr work, you’re dedicating yourself to the wrong outcome and leveraging the wrong skill.
High Skill, Low Leverage
Think of the law firm partner, engineer or hedge fund manager; this is a very, very good place to be. If you have a unique skill (law, software engineering, investment research), you’ll be able to collect defensible market rents over multiple cycles. And that’s a great life for most people.
But even such high skilled work lacks leverage. They are trading time for money – a lot of it.
If the world’s best lawyer takes a year off, they can’t collect their $1,000/hour for an entire year. If they’ve played their cards right, they’ve saved money and it’s working for them – but even at a high salary, that can take decades.
In my experience, acquiring unique keystone skills is a sure-fire way to develop an
or the business wouldn’t move forward. There’s no one-size-fits-all.
So what are some high-leverage and high-skill activities?
Think of one-to-many opportunities, or work that elevates others. It’ll likely involve delayed gratification, but have more lasting impact. For instance, tasks devoted to nurturing your company’s talent, brand, access, or vision live in the land of $10k Work:
Despite seeming like an unreachable goal, there’s a surprisingly effective framework to get you started—one that considers a “continuum of impact.” So, if the numbers feel too big, think of the multipliers instead. If your lowest unit value work is $10/hour (i.e.
(GTD) and approach to due dates. According to GTD, you can only assign due dates if there’s a serious and immediate penalty for missing the deadline,like paying rent or compiling the annual report. Tasks with due dates are typically met with a penalty if they are overdue.
But what about tasks that don’t have true deadlines? These are often the Important, Not Urgent things like scheduling that annual physical, learning a new language on DuoLingo, or going camping with your kids. There may be no immediate penalty for missing these activities, but they are still essential, often even more essential, to our productivity and a life well-lived.
Which leads to an obvious question: How on earth can you prevent these tasks from falling through the cracks?
and commit a small amount of time to them on specific days called “Do dates”. In other words, the “Do date” is the day you actually complete or make progress on a task. Do dates differ from arbitrary due dates in that they depend on when you decide to tackle the action item, which means they can be fluid and changed later.
A template to focus on your $10k Work.
I’ve created a template to help you make radical progress on your $10k Work. At it’s core, it’s a simple task list. But it allows you to assign $10-$10k values and Do dates to your tasks. It also comes with several different views of your tasks, including a
A special thanks to everyone who contributed to this doc: Annie Duke, Hunter Walk, Rushabh Doshi, Ryan Barrows, Shishir Mehrotra, Taylor Pipes, Erin Dame, Trustin Yoon, Justin Hales, Al Chen, SiNing Chan, and Hector Reyes.