Avoiding the low hanging poop

July 28, 2009 by Jared Goralnick

We Love Dogs, pooping photo from Flickr user Rick There are few expressions I’ve picked up as quickly as “low hanging fruit”—such a simple and expressive analogy.  And yet, it stinks.

All tasks are not created equal.  Those easiest to complete often deserve to be most avoided.

What should we work on first?

Meetings will often start with, “is there any low-hanging fruit for us to discuss?”  “Low-hanging fruit” refers to things that are easy to address right away—the easiest, quickest items.  If you were picking fruit from a tree, you’d presumably grab the low-hanging ones first.  And thus this analogy explains one approach to prioritizing our tasks.

It just so happens that it’s the wrong approach.  For me, the best approach is a combination between recognizing your critical path and mastering your body.

I’m overdue for a deeper exploration of the critical path here (stay tuned for a research paper, in which give some step-by-steps on this), but it’s essential the stuff that is by far the most essential for a bigger project that’s ahead.  If you actually go through the trouble of listing out all the things you have to do, you’ll find (via the Pareto Principle and being true to yourself) that most of the items on the list may seem urgent or even important, but they are not essential.  So, hold onto this thought: there are a select few items you really do need to do if you want to move forward in both your job and career.

The next key is understanding your energy levels.  There are times when you’re most creative and times when you’re least focused.  When you’re the most focused you ought to be doing the most creative tasks, and when you’re tired you ought to be working on the quick ones.

If you’re like most people, the tasks on your critical path take the most thought…and they’re not the low hanging fruit.

So instead, when you’re tired or have just a few minutes, work on your low hanging fruit. (Note: your email is NOT your low-hanging fruit—your email is a list of items that need to be processed.  Some emails contain low-hanging fruit, and some emails need to be turned into important tasks.).  But when you first get to the office or have your most energy, focus exclusively on the most essential tasks.  The low hanging fruit may be easy to address, and you may even get good at finding it.

But if you focus on the low hanging fruit you’ll never find time to make it up the tree, where you’ll find the true treasures and the best views, and where your career will advance and your days will feel worthwhile.

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3 Responses to “Avoiding the low hanging poop”


  1. Art Jacoby

    right on. some of the things we really want are out of easy reach or someone else would do it. “low hanging poop” has a nice ring to it…

  2. Nathan Zeldes

    Very true. There are enough low hanging trivia to fill a lifetime (and, come to think of it, enough important tasks to fill a lifetime). The trick is to process these as two separate queues, so you make steady progress in both. It reminds me of those tricks with merging two infinite groups in mathematics…

  3. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Art.

    And Nathan, maybe I should head back to math class and learn about merging those infinite groups. Sadly separating the groups and working on the hard stuff doesn’t want to come naturally to me!

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