Do things quicker and better…but most of all do the RIGHT things!


Most of us are not in control of our lives at work. Yes of course we respond to what happens around us – often superbly well – but that is not the same thing. But exerting more control can be straightforward.

Added on 07 February 2014 by Roger Delves

Here are some tips to help you take control of your working life and empower you to work smarter:

Focus on what really matters

Lists help us to capture what we have to do. Without a list we tend to do whatever we are currently thinking about or we respond to the latest demand made on us. We get distracted and the really vital tasks may get overlooked. So write down the things that you need to do to stop them buzzing around in your head creating noise and consuming your concentration. Keep that list with you – you’ll find you are immediately more productive.

Lists also show us how much of what we are expected to do is actually just helping other people meet their objectives. This is a huge issue. Many of us spend much of our time doing things that don’t actually help us to meet our team’s objectives. We all have to prioritise so we spend more time doing the right things. We need to ask ourselves why does my job exist? Where can I make a real difference?

The time that you have available should be focused on where you can contribute best to your objectives. If you feel that you work like mad but achieve little you probably focus not on your objectives but on someone else’s – you spend your day reacting to the demands of others. Of course external factors demand some reactive management and this will vary from job to job but if we all spend our time reacting not much would be achieved against our own objectives.

Differentiate between important and urgent tasks

The right things on which to focus are the proactive activities. These are the areas you can plan and control. Here it is useful to differentiate between importance and urgency. Urgent tasks often require a reactive response – a machine has broken down there is a customer complaint someone has gone sick a senior figure needs something immediately someone needs your availability for a meeting tomorrow and so on. But many urgent tasks are really not important and these soak up time and effort better spent on doing the things that will achieve your own team’s objectives.

If we allow the merely urgent to overcome the really important we become reactive out of control achieving little that we can set against our own objectives. But it is not just the urgent that can overwhelm the important. People telephones and other minor interruptions can be intrusive and disruptive. Email in particular can rob us of valuable time as we get seduced into reading and replying to mail which is neither urgent nor important. Maintaining priorities is vital. Remember that what is most important is not usually the thing that shouts the loudest or looks the most attractive.

Important tasks will more often relate to your own objectives and can be effectively scheduled with planning and foresight. You know when the financial budget has to be completed you know when you have to have done the personal appraisals for your team. You may know that these things will take four days but don’t leave it until the last four days. Get the days booked in your schedule and make sure the task is on that list you now always have with you.

Learn to delegate more

Still worried that you don’t have time to do those important things that help you to meet your objectives? Then it is time to consider delegation. What you think of as boring someone else in your team may see as a developmental challenge or opportunity – and everything you delegate gives you more time to spend on the things that matter.

Many of us don’t delegate because we worry it won’t be done properly or we will be giving up power or influence – but the more we delegate the more we bring people on and the more time we can spend doing the things that really make a difference. It’s easy to delegate activity without giving up control – just make sure the person to whom you delegate knows exactly the limits of their responsibility.

Here’s the golden rule: whatever you are doing regardless of how well or how quickly you are doing it ask yourself this one question: knowing why my job exists and where I can make a real difference is what I am doing the right thing to be doing? If the answer to that question is no don’t blame others – look to yourself and work smarter!

Roger Delves Director of Masters in Management at Ashridge Business School and co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Problems. Pearson £12.99.