High Value Tasks vs Low Value Tasks

Instead of being paid a salary, imagine that you were paid by the task, and that your boss paid you according to the table below. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume each task takes one hour.

  • Task A – $500
  • Task B – $50
  • Task C – $5
  • Any other task – $0

Now, most people would probably spend, oh, 100% of their time on Task A, and no time on anything else, right? Right. If you did that, you could make a good living and not have to work very hard at all, or you could really work hard and make big money.

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time on Task C at $5 per hour  (or worse yet, Task D, E or F at zero), you would have to work A LOT in order to have a decent paycheck.

Now imagine that your boss told you that you had to do each task at least once per day. If you’re smart, you’d get through Tasks B and C as fast as possible, and you wouldn’t worry about doing them perfectly, just enough to meet standards, and get back to Task A.

How much time would you spend on email? As little as  possible. What about paperwork? As little as possible. Meetings? Ditto. You would crank out lots of Task A, and then go home when you had earned what you wanted.

Now, you may be thinking, “it would be great to have a system like that!” You would be wrong. You already have a system like that, you just don’t know it because the tasks don’t have price tags attached. You already have high-value, low-value and no-value tasks. And you have email and paperwork. The problem so many overworked, overwhelmed people have is that they’re spending too much time on their respective Tasks C and D, and not enough on their Task A.

“But I have to answer all of my email,” you may whine.


Chances are, you are already leaving work undone while you craft your precious emails, the problem is you are leaving high-value work undone in order to do low-value work. Therein lies the problem.

“But people will get mad at me if I don’t do it.”

That’s probably true, but that’s not your problem. People, including your boss and his / her boss, are probably mad at you right now because you’re not doing enough of Task A.

“But my boss tells me to do lots of Task C.”

That’s probably true too. It’s your job to remind the boss of what’s important and high-value and stay focused. If that doesn’t work, then you need to recognize you have been put in a no-win situation and find yourself a new job.

“But I don’t know the value of the tasks!”

OK, fine, I get that. This is, in fact, THE TRICKIEST PART of time management, knowing what various tasks are worth, especially if the pay-off is in the distant future. It’s your job to figure this out. You may want to look to others in your company who are succeeding, and follow their lead. You may want to look at your job description or talk to your boss and find out what the big priorities are. You my want to ask yourself what you will wish you had finished, six months from now, and make sure that you push back on the day-to-day muck and get those things done. You will probably have to say NO to a lot of low-value crap, no doubt about that, and it’s not easy sometimes. You can certainly learn from trial and error. Entrepreneurs have to make those decisions every day. There are no guarantees, but it is a skill that can be learned.

The most important decisions that you make every day, are what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do. You can’t do it all, and if you let the low-value tasks crowd out the high-value tasks, you will have t work very hard indeed just to keep your head above water.

Practice setting a value to your tasks, in terms of the expected “pay-off,” even if that pay-off is far off. Practice saying NO, as much as possible. Once you have mastered those, and don’t get me wrong, that takes a lot of practice, the world will be your oyster.

Image courtesy of MorgueFile: http://mrg.bz/9E470D

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Dave is trained at the Coaches Training Institute and certified by the International Coaching Federation. He has worked with dozens of clients to achieve remarkable results, including revenue growth, clearer strategic direction, enhanced leadership, and promotions to positions of greater responsibility. You can learn more about him at www.DarkMatterConsulting.com or follow him at @DarkMatterCon,  FaceBook.com/DarkMatterConsulting or GooglePlus.

2 Comments to “High Value Tasks vs Low Value Tasks”

  1. [...] Originally published at DarkMatterConsulting’s Blog. [...]

  2. I love this message, and it is especially important for us entrepreneurs. Farming out the low value tasks (heck, even just letting go enough control to THINK about getting someone else to do them) is a constant challenge. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Dave Kaiser says:

      thanks for your comment, Brigitte. I think one of the adventures of being an entrepreneur is to keep moving up the value chain, doing mroe and more of the high value work we love

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