Focus on Priorities to Increase Work Productivity

Topic(s): job performance
Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: Make Time for the Work That Matters
Authors: J. Birkinshaw, J. Cohen
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

How many of us frequently find ourselves with a never-ending to-do list, wishing there were more hours in a day? We want to achieve our goals and increase productivity, but there’s just no way to get it all done. The trick to boosting productivity is not necessarily having more time to accomplish tasks, but instead simply making the most of available time by setting priorities.


To help people in their quest to become more productive and time-efficient, the current authors (Birkinshaw & Cohen, 2013) developed a self-assessment that can be used to identify low value tasks that are performed every day. Managing time effectively means being able to recognize priorities and delegating non-essential work whenever possible. However, that can be a difficult task when an employee is facing a long list of tasks, all of which seem to be high priorities. This tool will help employees decide which of their daily activities they should either (1) eliminate, (2) delegate or outsource, or (3) redesign.


The authors suggest that employees sort their daily tasks into three categories:

(1) “Quick kills” – Effort expended that may be appreciated, but is not absolutely necessarily; the kind of work that no one will notice if you stop doing.

(2) “Off-load opportunities” – Tasks you can painlessly delegate to others.

(3) “Long-term redesign” – Work that needs to be restructured, so it can be performed more efficiently.

Careful consideration of this framework will allow employees to get rid of pointless tasks, clear up their schedules, and focus their time on work that really matters.