Being productive is a typical precursor to achieving our goals. Often, though, we mistake productivity with getting more done instead of getting the most important things done. When that’s the case, it’s nearly impossible to not feel overwhelmed and overworked.
Assessing your work and recognizing low-value tasks is critical to reclaiming your productivity. Low-value work comprises tasks that mean little or nothing to customers or colleagues. They are typically routine and don’t require collaboration, like responding to emails, scheduling meetings, or reorganizing a spreadsheet.
In other words, low-value tasks are not supporting your long-term goals or allowing you to uncover a major breakthrough in your work—they’re often simply time-consuming. Crossing off a time-consuming task can make you feel a sense of fulfillment or reward, a “quick win.” But in reality, you still have the most important, high-value tasks to do—just in less time.
Identifying low-value tasks can be nuanced and depend on context. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine whether a task is low- or high-value.
Will working on or completing this task…
- Incrementally drive growth for my business?
- Unblock my team from getting critical work done?
- Distract me from my priorities?
- Be in service of my big-picture goals?
Answering “no” to any of these questions means the task isn’t worth your time.
While low-value tasks are not top-priorities, they still may need to be taken care of. Here are examples of common low-value tasks and alternatives to doing them yourself.
Scheduling meetings and calls. Scheduling takes up a considerable amount of time, particularly if you're coordinating with multiple people, juggling different time zones, or learning a new conference calling system. Scheduling is a commonly delegated task to an executive assistant. If you aren’t working with an assistant, you may also consider asking a teammate who has the bandwidth to take over logistics for a particular project.
Responding to notifications. Notifications are attention disruptors and sap so much valuable time from your day. Though checking email or clicking on a notification may make you feel productive, the opposite is true. You’re now starting over to refocus and concentrate. Notifications are thankfully, in a way, under your control. During your focus time, important meetings, or when you’re in the “life” portion of work-life balance, turn your notifications off on all of your devices. You can create a dedicated time in the day to read and respond.
Sorting through emails. Wasting time in your inbox is one of the biggest time-stealers because it gives you the false sense that you’re accomplishing something. Delegating your inbox to an assistant will give you back a considerable amount of your day. It’s a common misconception that only full-time, salaried assistants can handle email correspondence. In fact, part-time and/or virtual assistants are experts at this specific task. Another option is utilizing automated reply to emails that states you’ll reply at the end of the day.
Editing and proofreading. Some leaders and executives have a hard time relinquishing control of editing and proofreading duties, especially if the content is public-facing. While you certainly don’t want grammatical errors or typos, you can outsource editing and proofreading to online services, ask an assistant, or appoint a person on your team to double check important messaging before it’s released.
Research and data gathering. Good decisions require a level of knowledge that sometimes comes from research. The actual gathering of articles, data, or sources, though, is a low-value task.It should not be mistaken for the high-value task of analyzing and synthesizing the findings. Sometimes, research can be delegated to your social network—asking on Twitter about the best productivity tools can get you the quick answers you need. Alternatively, an assistant or virtual researcher can help you compile information and even write up a report with insights.
Travel details. How many times have you accidentally spent an hour or more trying to find the best flight price/time combination, only to have saved perhaps $100? This low-value task is simple to delegate to an assistant or an online executive travel service. You can easily make sure that whoever is finding your hotels or flights will take price, location, and personal preferences into account for you.
Redesigning your daily workload is possible and is a huge step in becoming more productive. Once you can pinpoint the low-value work that’s constricting your time, you’ll be able to regain your focus and move toward achieving big-picture goals.