f you often feel overwhelmed by the continuous flow of new tasks coming your way, pressured by time, or that your employer does not fully exploit your skills, be assured that you are not alone in this case.
According to Gallup reports, the majority of American citizens (79% in 2017) feel stressed. Work and lack of time (together with children) seem to be the major contributors to this figure.
This article ambitions to provide you with essential principles to allot your time in a way that maximizes your productivity and benefits your career.
Never enough time – Forget time management
No matter how skilled or smart you are, you can’t actually manage time. It is not possible to slow the seconds ticking on your watch, rewind a bad day back or fast-forward moments of boredom.
The only manageable aspect of time is how you allocate it.
Though it may sound obvious, it is essential to understand that time allocation is a 0-sum game. Put simply, the time you spend doing a task is time you can’t spend doing something else (this is known as the law of the excluded alternative) and as far as I know, once spent, time can never be recovered or reclaimed.
Knowing this unfortunate reality, Let’s see how can we ensure we are allocating this ever-elapsing time in the best way possible.
Everybody has an agenda – Take control
The number one priority is to take control of your time allocation. Obviously, if other people are deciding everything you are doing and when you are doing it, you can’t improve your time allocation.
You may think that your boss has total control on your schedule, but that is in most cases not the case. Let us see how you can twist your daily agenda to favor yourself (and later in the article how to create opportunities when there seem to be none).
Be the one who proactively sets the meetings and schedules the calls you must participate in. Else, these sessions will be scheduled to suit somebody else’s agenda, that is the reward one gets for taking the lead.
Avoid wasting your time in meetings you know will have no meaningful outcome. A good indicator is when a meeting has no agenda. Avoid those like the plague but learn how to say no in a constructive manner.
When you excuse yourself for a meeting, virtual gathering, or conference call, do not leave the organizer empty handed. Share 3 ideas in bullet points to contribute to the session (this will probably exceed the inputs of many participants in the meeting and will likely be remembered).
Do not just let the day “happen”, be proactive and try to get as many blocks of time as possible under your control.
90% is waste – Prioritize
As explained previously, deciding to do one task implies you have decided to do this task over any other task in the world. So, before starting a new endeavor, take a few seconds to reflect whether it is the most useful or the best for your career amongst all other tasks you could be doing at this time.
In the Lean project management methodology, anything that is not adding value is considered as waste. Apply the same reasoning when prioritizing your work and you may be surprised by the amount of time we spend without creating any value for the company or its clients.
As a rule of thumb, 90% of everything a business does is waste.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with this figure, it is so extreme that it sometimes makes it difficult to know where to start to cut waste. We shall see below, where we can begin this exercise.
Not all tasks are born equal – Use the 80/20 rule
A good starting point to decide which activities deserve the most attention is to view the world through an 80/20 lens.
Also known as the Paretto principle named after Italian economist Vilfredo Paretto, Law of the vital few, or principle of factor sparsity, you will find references to this concept in most management books as it is a key concept of productivity.
The main idea is that there is an imbalance between inputs and results, meaning a minority of your efforts (approximately 20% in most cases) will have the majority of the impact (80%).
80% of the value perceived by your customers comes from 20% of your company’s actions.
One common example is spending some time contacting existing or former clients. This takes little time but often yields substantial revenues. However, people tend to allocate very little time to this activity as they are focusing on “growth” (new business).
While the exact percentages inputs/results will obviously vary from one company to another. Keep in mind that all tasks are not equal, and that priority should be given to those that generate the most significant outputs with the least time invested.
Take time to reflect on your latest success (a satisfied client, a new process, reward from your peers, etc.) and list the actions that made it possible and approximately how much time they took you. You may be incredibly surprised by the little amount of time they amount to.
Once identified, always give priority to this category of actions, and try to delegate or cut the actions that take 80% of your time but offer little or no return.
Money talks! A lot! – Put a price tag on your tasks
If it is difficult for you to apply the 80/20 lens and paint a clear picture of the actual return or result of your contributions, below is a technique you can use to differentiate and prioritize your duties by putting a price tag on them.
Ask yourself the following:
Does the task I am about to work on translate into money for the company (or avoids losing some)?
If the answer to this question is no, in most cases it is wise to postpone it, delegate it, or drop it.
If the answer is yes, ask yourself the following:
Could I work on another task that would translate into even more money for the company (or avoiding even larger losses)?
If the answer is no. Do the task. If the answer is yes, complete the task with the higher remuneration first.
If you are not in a position to assess the financial impact of your actions. You can still use the price tag technique to classify your work by asking yourself the following question:
How much would a company usually pay somebody to work on a similar task?
If the answer is below what you are earning, postpone, delegate, or drop the task.
It is fine to make rough estimates, this is not an accounting exercise, the idea is to understand whether the tasks you complete reflect your level of salary and more importantly the salary you are ambitioning to attain.
I can’t count the number of times I have witnessed people in managerial positions spending hours every day chasing suppliers’ payments, correcting typos in reports or emails, summarizing meetings to higher management, checking on employees’ presence, etc. this is such a waste of time and resources. An employee who earns one third of their salary could complete these tasks and would probably do them in a better way.
If you aspire to earn 500$ an hour, do not spend your time doing tasks that can be done by someone who earns 5$ an hour.
Of course, this is not an absolute rule. It is for you to judge if a task has the potential to generate revenue or benefits in the future. For example, inviting your best client for diner, may cost the company money, but safeguard future business.
The client is king – Focus on creating value
Ultimately, no matter how remotely their work is carried out, everybody in your company is being paid by its clients.
Keep this in mind throughout your working day. More specifically, before working on something, ask yourself if it will create value for your clients and if there aren’t any other tasks you could carry out that would generate more value for them. Of course, it must be value they are willing to pay for.
Once you start looking at your company’s work this way, you may be incredibly surprised by the tremendous amount of wasted efforts. Anything that does not contribute directly or indirectly to add value for your clients is likely not worth your efforts.
My personal experience – Design your own tasks
It can feel comforting to complete easy and repetitive tasks but very often they are not the ones creating value for your company.
If your job does not comprise many opportunities to add value for the company and its clients, you have to be proactive, create your own opportunities, and take the lead on issues that matter.
When I was an intern at a luxury wine and spirits distributor who also organized events (this was the part I enjoyed most), whatever the topic being discussed, I was not invited to say much. The General Manager came from the fine dining industry and had a similar character to Gordon Ramsey’s.
I noticed we had many women as clients, but no specific offer for them. I told the General Manager that I believed we were missing out on substantial revenue as the women buying our wine are not participating in our events.
I suggested to test an event focusing on women in the wine industry, inviting women sommeliers, women winegrowers, etc. to present their favorite wines and discuss their experience in a rather masculine line of work.
The General Manager thought I was wrong obviously, but the mention of potential revenue was enough to convince him to check the data (people always listen when you approach them with an idea to generate revenue). To his surprise, he had never noticed that women actually represented the majority of clients in a store that offered a customer experience entirely designed for men.
We organized the event. It crushed the record number of attendees of our past events and led to substantial free press coverage.
This is how I became in charge of redesigning all events for the Swiss market. Had I exclusively stuck to what I had been asked to do, I would have most likely ended up doing deliveries on a full-time basis.
When you focus on the most productive tasks, great things happen, you then get to do more of the interesting work, your motivation soars leading your overall productivity to skyrocket.
If you are interested in boosting your company’s or your personal productivity, contact us and we shall get back to you very swiftly.
Founder of Impactus Consulting
Karim Radwan is a self-directed project management professional with extensive experience in both the private and the public sectors. Domains of work include, banking, FMCG, and development projects. Regardless of the industry, Karim witnessed high potential for improvement in project management methodologies, productivity enhancement and crisis management. His taste for entrepreneurship decided Karim to establish IMPACTUS Consulting in Dubai to help companies around the world adapt, innovate and prosper in shifting environments.