The ABC’s of Productivity

“Everything I do is important.”

That’s the answer I always hear when I ask my consulting clients and workshop audiences to tell me some of the things they do at work that really are not important. You and I both know that we all do things at work that are really not that important. Yet we all struggle with what to do about those things and how to fix them.

So I offer you this following exercise to help you better identify your REALLY important priorities and how to better execute them for higher productivity.

The ABC’s Activity
Take out a clean sheet of paper and brainstorm a list of all your key job responsibilities, tasks, and priorities. Next, rank each item into one of three levels:

  • A-level = those items critically important to your success;
  • B-level = those items that are very important to your success; or
  • C-level = those items important to your success.

Now, scan the list and ask yourself three questions.

  1. Where does most of my time, focus, and energy go – to the A’s, B’s, or C’s?
  2. Are my results on my A-list outstanding or merely acceptable?
  3. Am I allowing my C’s to dominate too much of my energy and efforts?

Your answers to these questions will quickly tell you where you are currently investing your resources, and if lower level priorities are sucking the wind out of achieving your crucial outcomes in more important areas.

Now comes the secret I share with my clients – the real power behind the prioritization process.

Discuss your list with your boss! That’s right. Take or send your list to your boss and discuss with her what she thinks your priorities should be. You may find that what you perceived as an A-level is really a B-level or even a C-level. You may also find that what you thought was a B-level or C-level is really an A-level.

After you have clarified what really are your priorities, then here is what you must do
with each:

A’s = Do Great!
Your A’s are truly your most critical areas for success. These are your nonnegotiables. Block out big chunks of time on your calendar for these critical tasks. Budget these time blocks well in advance (1-2 months) so you are not frantically trying to finish a key priority at the last minute. You must put first things first, so ensure your calendar reflects the time needed to do your A’s great!

B’s = Do Well.
Since these are still important buy not critical, you need good results but not necessarily great results. Although these need to get done, it is usually not necessary that you strive for perfection. Good enough is often good enough for your B’s.

C’s = Do Fast…if at All
If you and your boss concur that some of your stuff is really a C-level priority, there are three things you need to ask yourself.

First, should I be doing this myself? If so, do it fast. Do not allow a C-level priority to drain your energy, time, and resources. Get it done and forget it. Second, should I delegate it to someone else? There may be someone more capable or skilled to complete this task, or someone who could grow new skills by doing it. In either case, give it away. Third, you must ask would happen if no one does this at all? If the downside is minimal, then drop the task and move that chunk of time back into your A’s or B’s.

Final thought – if you have direct reports, ask them to do the same thing – create their ABC list and share it with you. You might be amazed at where they are investing their time and resources. Help your team to prioritize their priorities, too.