5 ways to ensure you spend time on the right tasks at work

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Effective work time management is just a starting point. Once you’ve found more space in your calendar, you have to focus on the things that bring you the greatest benefit. Five business leaders shared with us how to make sure you spend your time on the right activities.

1. Focus on the big rocks

Nigel Richardson, SVP & CIO Europe at PepsiCo, told ZDNET that it’s important for professionals to manage their energy. If you’re tired of doing too much, you won’t improve your business.

Richardson says you have to make sure your energy is directed at what he calls the big rocks: “What are some things that will make a difference?”

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In addition to being important to you, these big rocks need to align with the broader organization’s goals.

“I share with my team the five most important things I’m working on,” he says. “Then I have a very rigorous process of recording things weekly and monthly. I check in to say, ‘Okay, did I spend the right amount of time on those things?’

People who aren’t focused on the big rocks can get distracted by smaller, non-value-added activities, Richardson said.

“Manage your energy, clearly identify focus areas and share it with all the people who matter, so others know the goal and can be very disciplined in executing.”

2. Categorize your tasks

It can be easy to think that checking a task off a list means you can move on to something else, says Toby Alcock, CTO at Logicalis. However, it is important to work faster and at a lower speed.

“Autocracy or urgency is always the biggest trap for any leader,” he said. “People often think that getting the most important work done means getting your strategic time back.”

Alcock says professionals climbing the career ladder will find their diaries filled with a complex mix of strategic activities and day-to-day requirements. Categorizing those tasks is very important.

“My role is strategic,” he said. “I have to look to the horizon and know what’s coming. But like anyone else, I can get bogged down in urgent requests. Doing something simple, like color-coding the sun my signature, is something I find empowering.”

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Alcock also told ZDNET that connecting with connections, peers, and colleagues will help you understand important activities.

“Operating in an ivory tower means you are doomed to fail,” he said. “We have 7,500 employees globally. I like to spend time with them and see what they’re doing for customers because they’re coming up with great ideas. So I think it’s important to connect and be intentional about your time.” Strategic timing is critical to focusing on the right activities.”

3. Adopt a data-driven approach

Tim Lancelot, head of sales enablement at software specialist MHR, says it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by tasks in the modern professional environment. One way to avoid drowning is to make sure you know how smaller issues fit into broader business concerns.

“Start with the whole and move to the parts,” he said. “Make sure you get the 30,000-foot view before focusing on the finer details. From there, get to a point where you can measure. Rely on the data when making decisions.”

Lancelot says facts and figures that demonstrate the importance of a business problem will help you make smart decisions quickly and effectively.

“Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of problems you encounter,” he says. “Use data to objectively say, ‘Well, by some measure, this is the biggest problem to fix.’ That approach means you’re using your time and resources as efficiently as possible.”

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This methodical perspective will help you spend your time on the right activities, Lancelot told ZDNET.

“Don’t try to solve 10 problems at once,” he said. “Try to solve at least one problem to an acceptable level and move on to the next problem. You can circle back and solve that problem at a deeper level later.”

4. Focus on long-term goals

Jessie Sobel, Vice President of Strategic Growth Initiatives at Freshpet, says the best way to ensure you’re spending time on the right activities is to choose a few priorities.

Sobel’s role at Freshpet is to identify new business opportunities. She focuses on prioritizing initiatives that she believes will help the company grow.

“Much of my role focuses on looking at a number of long-term initiatives and implementing and implementing them,” she said. The number of initiatives we undertake is limited based on priority.”

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However, even people like Sobel with tightly defined core roles and responsibilities also have to deal with other peripheral issues: “We have day-to-day needs for the business, but that’s just is a combination of everyday work life.”

Sobel told ZDNET that she tries to keep her eye on the main prize as much as possible, including Freshpet’s recently launched Custom Meal offering, which generates personalized orders using technology Ordergroove API.

“In this project, it’s not necessarily just about market opportunity,” she said. “It’s about managing some of the capabilities that we build on top of our digital platform. It’s also about knowing where to build some of our resources within the organization.”

5. Pursue your passion

Richard Wazacz, CEO of foreign exchange specialist Travelex, tells ZDNET that being passionate about an activity makes it easier to focus on areas that give you experience, proficiency and credibility.

As CEO of a fast-growing business, Wazacz uses his entrepreneurial flair to ensure his time is spent on value-adding activities.

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“I always come back to the question, ‘What are the biggest problems my customers and colleagues face? What role can I play in solving them?'” he says.

“Sometimes that approach is about making sure I hire the right people. Sometimes it’s about creating the right environment. Sometimes it’s about rolling up my sleeves, looking at the data and seeing if I can create a hypothesis for the problem or not.”

Making time for the right activities requires coordination: “There’s no magic answer, such as allocating percentages to different things,” says Wazacz.


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