What motivates you to do your best work? It might be time for a change. When you do your best work…
- Work becomes easier and more efficient
- Everyone on a team works more strategically
- Smart task management is the best way to improve your productivity
When we talk about productivity, we usually think about software and lists and time tracking.
My strategy is totally different–and will hopefully completely change the way you think about tasks.
I want to teach you a powerful concept that I like to call Alphabet Work.
Here’s how it works: Everyone excels at different kinds of tasks. Some people love details and routine, some people love creativity and spontaneity.
The key to productivity is hitting your best work.
Your best work is called “A work.” “A work” would have gotten you A’s in school. It comes easy to you. It makes you feel smart. It’s your favorite kind of work to get into the flow. Time flies when you are doing “A work” and it makes your day better.
Your second best work is called your “B work.” This is work you can do and you’re pretty good at it, but it doesn’t make your heart sing. You aren’t above average at it, but you can do it.
Next comes your “C work.” I bet you guess where this is going! This is work you are solidly average at. You can do it, but you really don’t enjoy it. It takes energy and time and you often put it off because it’s not your favorite.
A ‘D’ in school meant you failed. And your “D work” is your least favorite. D work takes you longer than other people, you often don’t do it right, or do it well. We make the most mistakes in our “D work” and feel the most unfulfilled and unproductive doing it.
Never do “F work!” “F work” is to be avoided at all costs. It not only drains you, but usually is riddled with mistakes!
Here’s the Problem:
When we think about assigning tasks on a team or tackling things on our to do list we often think about:
Time & Bandwidth
We ask ourselves — do I have time to do this right now? Or we ask a team member–do you have bandwidth for this project? But we also have to consider:
On a team, everyone has different A, B, C, D and F work, but we rarely talk about our tasks this way. If we only split up work based on bandwidth, we don’t always get work that’s done well or on time.
Someone might have time for a project, but if that project takes them twice as long as someone else, it is a bad task assignment!
I want you to put away your to do list and start thinking about your tasks in terms of alphabet work.
Step #1: Your Top Tasks
What takes the most of your time? Do you do the same tasks daily? Weekly? Monthly? For the first round of this exercise we are going to tackle your biggest tasks. Make a list of the top 10 to 15 tasks that take the most time AND the most of your brain power. For example, here is my list this month:
- Writing Blogs
- Creating Courses
- Responding to Emails
- Writing Video Scripts
- Team Check-In Calls
- Editing Videos
- SEO + Marketing Strategy
- Filing + Bills
- Creating Graphics
- Checking Social Media
Make your list, and if needs to be longer, that’s okay too! You always could do this exercise multiple times and add 50 or more tasks–if you do that many, wow!
Insider Tip: I like to number them–most time to least time–so I can have an idea of where I am spending my time. But that is an optional productivity add-on.
Step #2: Do Your ABC’s (…and D’s and F’s)
Look at your to do list and write a letter next to each task. Now make a typical daily to do list, weekly to do list and monthly to do list. Assign each task a letter. It might look like this:
Vanessa Daily To Do List:
- Emails (B)
- Check Social Media (D)
- Write blogs (A)
Vanessa Weekly To Do List:
- Write Video Scripts (A)
- Edit Videos (C)
- Create Graphics (D)
Vanessa Monthly To Do List:
- Team Check-In Calls (A)
- SEO + Marketing (B)
- Filing + Bills (D)
Step #3: Do Your Team’s Alphabet
Now look at your team or colleague’s tasks. Can you assign them A, B, C, D (or even F) work? Let’s look at my business partner, Scott:
Scott’s Daily To Do List:
- Marketing Strategy (A)
- Social Media Management (D)
- Emails (B)
Scott’s Weekly To Do List:
- SEO (A)
- Video Editing (C)
- Graphics (B)
Scott’s Monthly To Do List:
- Emailing with Students (C)
- Creating Courses (D)
- Website Design (B)
You can do this as a collaboration, or take your best guess on someone’s to do list and preferences.
I like to guess first, then ask them about their real ratings — this way you can gut check your instincts!
Step #4: Optimize for Alphabet Work
With these lists you want to ask yourself and your team the following important questions:
- Can you give everyone their A work? This might take some work trading, but it’s worth it. For a while I was outsourcing help with writing on the blog. This was a terrible idea! I love writing on the blog and it’s my A work. When I gave it away I made more time for me to do my B work. Nope! That didn’t last long!
- Can you segment B work? B work isn’t so bad, but you do not want to prioritize it. For example, I am more productive and creative first thing in the morning. This is when I should be doing my A work NOT my B work! I should save my B work for afternoon, post-lunch slowness. It will get done, but it won’t take the precious time away.
- Can you give away, outsource, or stop doing people’s C and D work? Everyone has to do some C and D work sometimes, but can you minimize it? For example, Scott and I both hate video editing and we are not good at it. We decided to hire a contractor whose A work was video editing. Everyone wins!
- Can you avoid F work at all costs? No one should be doing F work ever. Period. It is a recipe for mistakes, unhappiness, and low productivity.
Here’s the bottom line: Every discussion should be centered on allowing people to do their best work. You should think about your day in terms of prioritizing A work because you do that best! When giving away work you should give it to people who have the bandwidth AND the skills.
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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