Think “Highest, Best Use” by

get things doneImagine this: you are at work. You get paid for the effectiveness with which you perform you work, your productivity. To be effective, you have to focus on doing what matters most based on your own determination of what is important.

Now imagine that you begin each day with a finite amount of time and energy to devote to work. Whatever you want to accomplish in terms of “work” each day, has to fit with that fixed amount of time.

Now imagine that everyone you work with has the same set of finite constraints on their time and energy. Each of you has a to-do list that is chocked-full of all sorts of tasks. Some of these tasks are simple tasks like entering a new event in your calendar, or filling-out an expense or sales report. Other tasks can’t be done as quickly because they require some thinking, reflection or even research to consider options. These tasks generally have a right and a wrong answer. To make the “right” decision, you have to investigate the facts and details pertaining to the task in order to make the decision.

Still other tasks in your day take more time to complete and are extremely complex to determine a path forward. These tasks rarely have a right or a wrong answer, but instead require you to weigh a series of options and swaps to make your decision, and any decision you make has both upsides and downsides.

Graphically, we could express these different tasks this way:


Based on all of these imaginings, here’s the question: where do you add the most value to your organization: by completing the simple tasks or by taking on the harder ones?  Of course the answer isn’t that simple, is it? Most of us would answer by saying we have to do the easy tasks because they are just part of the job, but the complex tasks are where we add the most value.  So in reality, in an ideal world our task/complexity graphic would look more like this:


The point of this exercise is to think about what we call “highest, best use” as a decision-making filter for what you work on. Now, ask yourself: “of the things I should be doing today, what are the tasks that represent the highest, best use of my time and talent?” The reason so many of us detest meetings is that we don’t consider attending them as our highest, best use of time. They tend to fall more into the “have to do” vs. “want to do” category.

Organizations for which people are working at their highest, best use are more productive, more creative and more efficient than competitors who are not as prepared to leverage their employees’ expertise. Highest, best use is not a guarantee of profitability, but it sure helps because speed of resolution, innovation and timeliness matter today more than ever. And thinking highest, best use does not promise that customers will be better taken care of or served. Those factors are influenced by other variables such as strategy and culture.

The key to highest, best use is to have an organizational structure that allows people to work at the top of their game more and do only the required minimum of non-value added tasks that keep things moving.

Try it: as you prepare for your work week ask yourself: “what will be the projects and activities that represent the highest and best use of my time for creating value in my job?”  Do them. See what happens.

One more thing, imagine this: you are at home, in your community, with your family, loved ones and friends. Your time off is a premium because of the tempo of the world and the work that you do. Without time away from work, your time at work becomes less effective, your senses get dulled and the quality of your thinking goes down. What’s the highest, best use of your time off work?  Do those things. See what happens.

Let us know what you discover.

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