Volume 139, February 2015: Organizing Work

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, 2015 ISSN # 1545-8873

“The first law of success is concentration – to bend all the energies to one point, and to go directly to that point, looking neither to the right nor to the left.” – William Matthews

As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is optimizing use of our time. Time-wasters adhere to our schedules, and we are greatly in need of a methodology for pruning and prioritizing tasks.

One of the earliest systems I learned is the A-B-C-D-E method. You start by listing every task you are facing (some say it is good to do this the night before). Then you attach a letter to each task, weighing its importance. A’s are Must-Do’s, which will have serious consequences if left undone. B’s are Should-Do’s, like returning calls or responding to email. C’s are Nice-to-Do’s with no consequences if left undone, such as planning to meet a friend for lunch. D’s are something you can delegate to someone else. E’s can be totally eliminated. You can further subdivide the tasks, as A-1, A-2, A-3 and so forth. Every day you attack the A’s in order. And drop to the B’s when every A has been advanced. Microsoft Outlook has priority settings of High-Normal-Low. There is reason to put off low-value activities.

Another problem we deal with is procrastination. Whether the source of procrastination is due to fear or fatigue or choice, it is fair to say that we all avoid some activities. If there is something of value that you need to get done, it requires your focused attention. Assemble the necessary materials, get enough rest, pare down tasks into smaller steps, and begin by taking the first step.

Mark Forster (2001) has an interesting work trick that supersedes the “get disciplined, work harder, prioritize lists approach.” It is about “working in short bursts” and “working in rotation.” Studies have shown that people are more efficient at the end of a work period, and to some extent, at the beginning. Three sessions of 20 minutes are more effective than a single 60-minute session. This method overcomes resistance and procrastination, by paring down the tasks into smaller steps. And it also increases interest by changing the topic every 5-20 minutes.

Yet a third organization tool is a Process or Work Flow Map. Map out your workspace as a bird would view it. Then study your efforts by the time spent and number of steps you use (or waste) by going from place to place. The Process Map is sometimes called a Hairball Diagram because of the complexity and criss-cross of your work paths. Try to eliminate the wasted effort in your work flow.

Practice Point

Practice the A-B-C-D-E system one day, and practice working in rotation the second day. Finally, count your steps and map your movement through space on a typical work day – pare out the time-wasters.


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