Get the Best ROI on Your Time: Process vs. Personal Control

by dsnider 25. October 2013 11:27

"Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way." --Booker T. Washington

Once you’ve cleared out all the tasks it makes no sense for you to be doing, you’re well positioned to spend your time productively on what matters most.  But how you approach the remaining tasks will determine whether or not you get the best ROI on your time and efforts. 

Nearly all functions consist of a mix of (1) high value-added tasks and (2) lower value-added, usually administrative, tasks.  This is not a value judgment, since both categories of tasks are necessary and important.  (We already got rid of the unimportant stuff in the first step.)  Rather, it is simply a value distinction drawn to permit the highest and best allocation of time and resources. 

Even among high value-added tasks, some are better handled by people with skillset A, others by people with skillset B, and so on.  For example, as you now know, I’m not good at handling teacher conferences.  Should I spend my time getting better at it or learning to cope with the frustration it causes me?  No, not when there’s someone equally concerned and available who’s already good at it.  My time is much better spent doing more of something I’m good at and like to do.  I add more value that way, and I’m happier.

Lower value-added tasks cannot be ignored nor can they be dumped onto the desks of the less fortunate.  If these tasks are not to swallow too much of your scarce time and efforts, they, too, must be handled properly on a highest-and-best-use basis. 

For instance, like most lawyers in our computer age you probably spend more time than you should typing and formatting documents.  Isn’t that silly, given that you have an assistant who is no doubt faster and better at those tasks?  What about form letters and documents?  Have you taught your assistant (or asked someone junior who could use the experience) to do first drafts for you, so that your review is limited to substance?  It’s always faster and easier to revise than to create, so save your creating time for the docs that actually require your creating skills. 

These are examples of solving problems for the long-term instead of every time they occur, of creating reusable tools that work tomorrow, next week, and next year instead of only today.  As you think of other ways to design and implement processes, routines and the like to handle necessary basic and lower value-added tasks, keep the following guiding principles in mind:

Everything that can be automated should be automated.

Continuity is very important. Continuity of process is best because it minimizes and, in some cases, eliminates the chance for human error.  Moreover, processes can be initiated by anyone, in turn eliminating the need for continuity of people.  Continuity of process can be a wholly automated computer program or command, a detailed how-to manual or any other process that, once established, dictates actions and requires little or no further thought, analysis or decision-making.  If continuity of process can’t be achieved, then continuity of people is desirable.

The goal is to do and control personally only what cannot be done without the value you add, and to design and implement process and system to do and control the rest.  Personal control relative to doing individual tasks must be relinquished when process and continuity can be used to assure quality.  Personal control is neither the goal nor a necessity; instead, it is a luxury that steals your time away from the high value-added tasks that offer you and your firm the best rewards.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, blackjack player, and mother of two grown children. Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love” and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband of 36 years now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.



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