valueAfter writing up my plan for the day the night before and starting on the work when I get to the office in the morning, I think it’s all going well. I get onto my most important task and start powering through it. Soon it’s 11.30am, almost midday and I’m ¾ through it. During this time I’ve been reminded of a few things by colleagues who have dependencies on me and I realise… I’ve just spent all that time, and the highest energy time of the day as well, working on something nobody cares about!

The things my bosses and customers really care about haven’t been done. Instead, some extremely low value work got done!

For example in one role I spent a lot of time collectively writing meeting minutes. One meeting minutes document for every meeting I hosted. I host a lot of meetings each week in my role and keeping these records for the project took a lot of time…. And nobody ever looked at them afterwards. I thought I was doing a good job taking care of project governance with minutes, actions register and RAID register. The actions register was very useful however the minutes… close to zero value in this organisation, while things people did care about were not being done efficiently.

I was wasting a lot of time working on useless things.

I learned that there are two key factors to avoiding this situation and ensuring that I use my most precious resources – time and energy – to generate the most value.

  1. There will always be more to do than there is time to do it
  2. Think like a general manager

More to do than time to do it

As you become more senior, the number of people wanting to see you will grow and grow. At some point there will be so many emails and people queuing up outside your door that it won’t be physically possible to reply or speak to them all.

Similarly there will be more work and more distractions as we’re likely to become even more overloaded with information than we are today.

You might think that’s easy to deal with – prioritise! However prioritising is just listing everything in order and you’re still aiming to complete everything on the list, resulting in effort on extremely low value tasks – what we’re trying to avoid.

You need to actively throw away or delete tasks that are very low value. This ensures you aren’t ever wasting your effort on these tasks and there’s no chance of putting them above others.

Think like a General Manager

To quote from this article from Azzarello Group says:

  1. Understand what drives the business
  2. Put your work and communications in that context
  3. This gives you a tremendous advantage. Don’t miss this.

So if you’re working towards the larger goals and strategy of your business then that’s always going to add value and you’ll be viewed as having leadership qualities.

This article from Good cautions about sunk costs – Quarterbacks are taught to forget the play that just failed and focus on the best decision right now. This means if you have made a bad decision to start doing a task in a certain way, don’t think you need to continue doing it that way.

If there’s a better, more efficient way of doing something then just start the next iteration the new way and see if it works.

When you’re writing your to-do list for tomorrow, do this

Apply the above two factors to your plan for the day. After you’ve written out the tasks you plan to do tomorrow just read over them quickly, thinking:

  1. Does this relate to what drives the business?
  2. Would a customer value this?
  3. Can it be done more efficiently without making much difference to the value produced?
  4. Is it mandatory for some other reason?

If the answer is no to these questions, consider just removing the task all together and not doing it. If it’s only a medium value task and you can do it more efficiently without losing much value then just do it the more efficient way – once. Then the momentum will let you continue doing it the more efficient way.

Solving the meeting minutes problem

The meeting minutes were extremely low value however sometimes helpful for people not to forget decisions made and not to have to keep discussing the same questions later again. So I made it much more efficient by using the Outlook integration with OneNote, right click the meeting, and click OneNote, type up the notes during or immediately after the meeting in 5-10 minutes. Thinking of it as ‘Washing your bowl’ or clearing to neutral.

I resisted doing this previously because when saving as word doc from OneNote the formatting doesn’t look good at all and some things are missing from the template after you create the page via Outlook. However none of that was important – close to zero value and certainly did not contribute to driving the business or creating value for the customer. I could get the small value of the minutes from the much more efficient way of producing them. The next step I’ll take is to not write them at all unless I’m planning on sending to somebody afterwards or for regular working groups.

How do you make sure you’re working on the right things?