What if you could free up significant time—maybe as much as 20% of your workday—to focus on the responsibilities that really matter?
One research conducted by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen indicates that knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41%—on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others.
Using the self-assessment tool reported below,15 executives at different companies were able to dramatically reduce their involvement in low-value tasks: They cut desk work by an average of six hours a week and meeting time by an average of two hours a week.
Assessing your daily activities you can decide which ones are (a) not that important to either you or your firm and (b) relatively easy to drop, delegate, or outsource.
IDENTIFYING LOW-VALUE TASKS
Make a list of everything you did yesterday or the day before, divided into 30- or 60-minute chunks. For each task, ask yourself four questions:
1. HOW VALUABLE IS THIS ACTIVITY TO THE COMPANY?
Suppose you’re updating your boss or a senior executive on your performance. Would you mention this task? Would you be able to justify spending time on it?
- It has a negative impact
- It has no impact, positive or negative
- It contributes in a small way
- It contributes in a significant way toward the company’s overall objectives
2. TO WHAT EXTENT COULD I LET THIS GO?
Imagine that because of a family emergency, you arrive at work two hours late and have to prioritize the day’s activities. Which category would this activity fall in?
- Unimportant/optional: I can cut this immediately
- Discretionary: I’ll get to it if time allows
- Important: I need to get this done today
- Essential: This takes top priority
3. HOW MUCH PERSONAL VALUE DO I GET FROM DOING IT?
Imagine that you’re financially independent and creating your dream job. Would you keep this task or jettison it?
- Definitely jettison: I dislike doing it
- Probably drop: I find this activity somewhat tiresome
- Not sure: This task has good and bad points
- Probably keep: I enjoy this activity
- Definitely keep: It0’s one of the best parts of my job
4. TO WHAT EXTENT COULD SOMEONE ELSE DO IT ON MY BEHALF?
Suppose you’ve been tapped to handle a critical, fast-track initiative and have to assign some of your work to colleagues for three months. Would you drop, delegate, or keep this task?
- This task could be dropped altogether
- This task could easily be handled by a junior employee or outsourced to a third party
- If structured properly, this task could be handled satisfactorily by someone junior to me
- This task is best done by me because of my particular skill set and other, linked responsibilities
- Only I (or someone senior to me) can handle this task
Assign a score equal to the number of the selected choice. A low total score (10 or lower) reflects a task that is a likely candidate for delegation or elimination.
Adapted from Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Make Time for the Work That Matters, HBR OnPoint WINTER 2018