Are You Too Busy to be Productive?

To find out how, answer the following questions according to your current practices. Then read the accompanying suggestion for the best way to optimize your time and effectiveness.

What is normally your first task of the day?

a) returning phone calls

b) administrative paperwork

c) work on strategic projects

d) dealing with customers

e) responding to employee requests

Your first priority of the day should be c) working on strategic projects designed to prevent problems and increase profits. Typically however, managers put off strategic work to do other work that has a deadline. They confuse urgency with importance. It’s always easy to put off work that is strategic in nature because there is often no deadline and strategic work requires something many of us prefer to avoid – thinking. However, if you continually put off projects designed to increase profits or reduce problems, then you invariably end up with more crises to deal with. You get caught in the vicious cycle of crisis management.  

Working on strategic projects for the first part of your day puts you in a proactive mindset. Even though a crisis may spring up during the day, at least you have the comfort of knowing you’re doing something to prevent these problems from reoccurring. In other words, working on strategic projects gives you a sense of control and comfort that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Managers will protest and say that emergencies require their attention. The truth is, unless you work in emergency services, there is almost no crisis or customer request that can’t be handled by someone else in the organization or wait an hour and a half for your personal attention. You’ll accomplish more in an hour and a half of strategic project work than eight hours of crisis management.

Of your major project work, which do you typically work on first?

a) the one with the most pressing deadline

b) the one that’s the easiest to do quickly

c) the one that will generate the most profits over the long term

Obviously, you should work on c) the project that will generate the most profits over the long term. Isn’t that why you’re in business? Ironically, most managers react to deadlines – submitting to the tyranny of the urgent. It’s fine to work on projects with urgent deadlines, but at least spend the first hour and a half on the long-term profit project, then work on the other projects with the urgent deadlines.

Administrative activities are a manager’s most important tasks.

a) true

b) false

Answer: b) false.   Adminis-trivia is the day-to-day organizing of money (cash flow), manpower (scheduling) and machinery (inventory).   It’s the tedious, mindless reporting and paperwork that simply has to be done. It’s the lowest form of work for any manager. It should be automated, delegated or outsourced. If you are doing this work yourself, you are a clerk, not a leader.

The problem is that adminis-trivia is seductive because it’s easy to do and it usually has a deadline. This is also true for handling customer requests that should be handled by employees. They are paths of least resistance.

Long-term strategic project work, on the other hand, requires concentration, vision and rarely has an immediate deadline. A classic example is developing an ongoing staff-training program. You can put it off indefinitely and still look busy doing paperwork. The consequences are that the rest of your day is spent in crises management because your front line staff isn’t properly trained.

The bottom line is that to be an effective manager, you don’t have to be the most intelligent, the most enthusiastic or even the hardest worker. You simple need to learn how to organize your working day so that you’re less busy and more productive.