In my book, 25 Things They Don’t Teach in Business School, I talk a lot about the value-add path and how you can use it to identify what the “valuable” and “important” projects are and how to select the projects that will get you the most recognition. I also have a chapter in my book called “Do Not Become Old News”, devoted to discussing how to prioritize your projects and to-do lists to stay motivated and reach maximum efficiency at work.
The value-add path and my chapter on prioritization are key to being successful at work and I use them, or some variation of them, at work on a daily or weekly basis. Lately, I have come up with a method that I find, when used in conjunction with the solutions in my book, is even more effective. This method is another approach to identifying what projects you should be focusing on first and foremost and I would like to share it here with you.
I recommend that you first identify what projects fall along the value-add path as this will greatly simplify the process of identifying the most crucial projects or to-do’s you should be focusing on at this moment. However, if you have not done that you can still use this method. It will just be a longer process because you will have more projects and to-do’s to sift through.
Create a list of the projects and/or to-do’s that you fall under your umbrella. For every one of your projects, ask yourself the following questions:
1) What will happen if I do not do this task or complete this project today?
The first question is most important and should be thought of in terms of life and death. If I do not complete this task, will things still be ok or will there be negative repercussions? Consider this question at the company level, client level, team level and personal level. Will the company, client, team or I suffer because I did not get this item completed today?
If the answer to these questions is yes for any of your projects or tasks, you must, of course, complete said tasks immediately and those yes-answer tasks and projects must be the focus of your day. If you answer no to these questions for all of your tasks, or if there are more tasks with yes-answers than you can possibly complete in one day, go to Phase 3.
2) What will happen if I do complete this task or project today?
If you are asking yourself this 2nd question, and especially if you need to pick and choose between several tasks that you MUST complete today because you answered yes to question 1 for too many tasks, consider these two additional questions and pick the projects and tasks that answer yes to both:
3) What projects and tasks will give me the most recognition?
4) What projects and tasks will give me the biggest results?
If you get projects or tasks that answer yes to only one of these questions, use your best judgment to determine which question, 3 or 4, is more important given your work environment. In most cases, projects with yes answers to question 3 and no answers to question 4 are better than projects with yes answers to question 4 and no answers to question 3. Recognition is better than results in the working world. Emphasis on the words “working world.”
I am a strong believer in results and believe that that is truly what is important and best for an organization. If the world were ideal, I would recommend that, between results and recognition, you focus on the projects that produce the best results. But this is not an ideal world and we all know people who produce the best results and get the least recognition. We all know people who produce results but are the last to get promoted. One of those people we know might even be ourselves. This is why I suggest that, for the corporate world, projects that provide more recognition should be weighted greater than those that produce bigger results.
There will naturally be projects that are not life or death and that also will not give you recognition or produce meaningful results. While these items and projects do need to get done, do not spend any more time or energy on these items than is necessary. While you may be encouraged or expected to go above and beyond in everything that you do, this is not reasonable in real world practice. Go above and beyond on the tasks that will give you the results and the recognition, and do only what you must for the rest.
I will tell you why this works. Obviously, there is not enough time in a day to do everything. That is a given. If you are hesitant about my advice, my reason for why you should mainly focus on the projects that produce results and recognition is, if you produce big results or you work on things that give you recognition, that success will be enough for good managers to let slip that the “little” stuff isn’t done with utmost perfection. If you produce results and let both yourself and your managers shine, they will be willing to overlook the small stuff because they will be more interested in the wins. At the end of the day, results and recognition are what matter.
Even if you had all the time in the day, does it really make sense to focus all of your energy and talent on something that will never get noticed or something that is not considered valuable? Why not use that energy and time to put your best into things that will get noticed and that others do value?