Five Steps to Making Time for the Work That MattersAre you frustrated and overwhelmed by a flood of e-mails, meetings, and endless administrative tasks? Does it feel like the harder you work, the less you accomplish?

In their article, “Make Time for the Work that Matters,” in the September issue of Harvard Business Review, London Business School professor Julian Birkinshaw and productivity consultant Jordan Cohen report on their three year study on increasing knowledge workers productivity. They found 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.” That’s a lot of frustration and lost time!

Using this variation of the Stop/Start/Continue approach, study participants “cut desk work by an average of six hours a week and meeting time by an average of two hours a week:

1. Identify Low-Value Tasks – try to find up to 10 hours per week by stepping back to identify the proverbial low hanging fruit in your daily activities that aren’t that important and/or could be dropped, delegated, or outsourced.

2. Decide Whether to Drop, Delegate, or Redesign – sort your low-value tasks by “quick kills (things you can stop doing now with no negative effects), off-load opportunities (tasks that can be delegated with minimal effort), and long-term redesign (work that needs to be restructured or overhauled).”

3. Off-Load Tasks – study participants were able to delegate from 2 to 20% of their work with no decline in their own or their team’s productivity.

4. Allocate Freed-Up Time – be strategic and thoughtful about where you’ll reinvest the time you’ve saved. More time with Clients, coaching, or focusing on broader issues will provide higher satisfaction and returns.

5. Commit to Your Plan – the more you involve people like your boss, colleagues, mentors, or team members in your development plan the less likely you are to slide back into old habits.

After reading my July blog, “Are You Staying Sharp, Focused, and Productive“, peak performance coach, Ray Perras, added this timely comment: “I coach executives and find that most of the time, they take pride in being able to multi-task. I keep telling them that that is humanly impossible. We need to focus on one thing at a time to be effective. I like the expression ‘taking a step back to take a step forward.’ Unfortunately, too many think that they don’t have time to step back and sharpen the axe. A lot of energy is spent repeating the same mistake because there is seldom introspection and self-evaluation which result from stepping back.”

How sharp is your axe? Are you making time for the work that matters?