When I was younger, I worked construction for a few summers. As anyone who has ever laid patio stones, decking, or fencing can tell you, a string-line is very important. We use the string, stretched out between two posts, to ensure we are operating on a straight line. That way, the newly constructed patio isn't wavy and unsightly. But as anyone who has used a string line knows, they get tangled into the most unusable mess of knots.
As part hazing ritual, part real need, any new hire was given the task of untangling knots from these string lines. Often this was an irritating, but relatively fast process, taking only a few minutes to complete.
One late spring day however, the knotted mess of string was worse than it had ever been, and Justin was our most recent new hires. Arriving early, our boss set the task to Justin, untangle the string. And there Justin sat in the front yard untangling string. The sun rose high in the sky as the rest of the crew were digging, sawing, and hammering away. Then the sun started sinking down, and exhausted, the crew made ready to leave. It was then that we noticed Justin, still sitting in the front yard, untangling string.
Do you know what the tasks you do every day are worth?
In our professional lives, we often come across tasks that are time consuming. The question we must ask ourselves is, is this task worth it?
Untangling string for those 10 hours certainly wasn't worth it for Justin. That $ 8.00 string line ended up costing the company well over $ 100 in wages on that spring day. And the cost was far beyond the simple wages cost, there was also the opportunity cost of doing valuable work for that day.
In today's work environment, being busy is worshiped. Running from meeting to meeting, task to task. And this busy-ness is destroying the value that we can command. Instead of focusing on being busy, we need to focus on becoming more valuable.
How do we become more valuable at work?
Ask yourself what the estimated cost of each task that you are doing is. You do this by taking your annual earnings divided by 2,000 hours. This will estimate what your hourly rate is. Next, multiply that hourly rate by the amount of time the task will take. The result is the cost of you completing the task. Now ask yourself, is the task worth the cost of that time commitment? Or could you be adding more value if you worked on something else instead?
Understanding what the most valuable task that you could be working on at any given time makes you more valuable. Instead of sitting for hours untangling string, or some other equally unrewarding task, you will demonstrate your value when you focus on the task with the highest payoff.
How do you determine the value of a task?
For many of you, each task doesn't have a clear cut line to profits or expenses. If you can measure the cost in terms of time commitment, but not the value you derive from completing the task, how do you prioritize based on value? To measure this, mark all tasks by which of your top 3 goals they support. Often, the majority of our To-Do lists will be unassigned, meaning the task doesn't directly contribute to our valuable goals. These tasks need to be either delegated, or eliminated wherever possible.
Focusing on the tasks where the value, or contribution towards your goals, exceeds the cost of action will help you increase your value.
What to do with the unassigned tasks that can't be delegated or eliminated?
Some tasks that pop up on our To-Do lists can't be given away or ignored. When confronted with these tasks, carefully consider if there are other options. If so, what are these other options, and are they the better course of action? In our example, Justin should have recognized the futility of such a task quickly, and we could have bought a new string line saving a day of wasted efforts. Identifying better alternatives is another way to increase your value, as you become known as someone who solves problems. Of course, sometimes the task can't be done in another, better way. In these cases, if the task is truly important, the best course of action is to buckle down and grind it to completion.
We become more valuable when we think about what we are doing, and what we are trying to accomplish. Making sure our efforts are aligned with our goals helps us achieve more, and increase our value. When those moments come up where we must do things that don't directly add value, we should consider if there are better alternatives. Only if the task is essential, and no better alternatives are available should we commit the resources to accomplishing it. If we do this, we'll spend less time untangling string, and more time adding real value.