Wouter Smet

On web startups, technology, music and growth

The FLUID model – what do we choose to work on?

This is just a sketch of a draft of an idea, and it may turn out only to apply to myself, not others or something.

Many books have been – and will be – written about productivity, and similarly so about happiness. These are some thoughts I had the other day, reflecting on the things I do and the order I do them in for my little mini startup TadaBon. How do we prioritize the tasks in a specific project, or throughout our daily life, in order to be productive, get things done, and hopefully not go to crazy or depressed in the process?

No idea.

BUT, I think there’s an interesting little framework to think in when talking about happiness and productivity, called the ‘FLUID’ model, an acronym for Fun, Length, Urgency, Importance and Difficulty. It aims to be simple enough to easily explain our behaviour and motivations when working on projects, but also complex enough to explain a wide range of things.

And like most theories, the first goal of them is to be consistent, then to explain existing stuff, and lastly to help formulate answers to problems. So I guess goal #1 is this: given that you may interpret ‘fun’ to be extremely broad (like, the entire upper half of Maslow’s famous pyramid), can every single task or aspect of a startup or general project fit in this framework?

Obviously this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, not as a serious ‘model’. I just happen to like models (in at least two senses of the word, come to think of it :)). This post is also just about ‘introducing’ and exploring the concept, since writing helps me  organise my thoughts.

Or maybe it’s just an excuse to see how far I can get with making 5D charts.

From the solutions I’ve tried, HighCharts’ 3D scatter plot so far seems the quickest and handiest way to do this, producing something like this:


JSFiddle where you can change things and rotate the chart

(the colors should actually just range from red over yellow to green, indicating the difficulty dimension, but I didn’t get that to work yet while maintaining the ‘3d-ish’ look with the shadows.)

Getting Things Done: Importance and Length

Both the famous ‘Getting Things Done’ method and our own instincts suggest to prioritize tasks by the following 2 dimensions: importance and length (time the task will take). Do the important and quick stuff first, then the important stuff that takes longer, then the rest.

(disclaimer: I didn’t read the book, just read – about – it, and I know I am grossly oversimplifying, so I may be totally off here, sorry for insulting any GTD fans)

… And that’s how we all prioritize our inbox, right? Unfortunately, life gets more complicated than that.

How We Choose What To Do: Fun, Importance and Urgency

I SHOULD be doing the important and urgent stuff (say, finding more users or replying to their support inquiries), but instead I am here writing a blog post that contains scatter plots and does not remotely contribute to my project. Not sure where my point is, except that like so many things, it scores low on everything but the F part.

I also just realized that ‘difficulty’ is definitely related to fun, so maybe I should leave it out. But then I don’t have my nice acronym. Also, I like (some) things that are difficult, like trying to create a 5D chart.

Ok whatever, just publishing this now just to make sure I don’t forget about it (which I tend to do with ‘draft’ posts), but obviously this is just a draft of half a thought.

Some more vague thoughts surrounding this thing and how it might relate to startups:

  • The same task evolves as your skills and experience evolve, which would make for a nice ‘pulsating’ and color-changing sphere traveling around the Fun-Importance-Urgency axis.
  • Also, throughout a startup’s life cycle tasks shift around on this spectrum, and jump over to different people/teams as well. Development of a first version of the product typically hits the jackpot among every single FLUID dimension as the founder builds the first version of the product, but then becomes less urgent and often less difficult, whereas growth becomes more urgent and prominent.
  • As a founder, you want to hire to move tasks away from yourself that start to become less important, but never fire yourself from all the fun ones, or, well, you won’t have any fun (motivation).
  • Could you take it one step further and say, the founder/CEO should aim for as long as possible to work only on tasks that hit the FLUID ‘jackpot’, and make hiring decisions to fulfill those tasks that do not?
  • An interesting personal goal throughout a day or week could be to try and make sure you do at least one of each? Whether combined in a single task or not.  A satisfying and productive day has you do at least something fun, something important, something urgent, something difficult and work on something lengthy (i.e. ongoing), whereas a day that is only filled with fun seems unproductive, and so does one doing only urgent-but-easy stuff.

To close this post I’ll just leave this fragment from Scrubs which is highly helpful in promoting my conceptual model:

I should get back to doing real work.

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