Four Steps Toward Clarifying Your Highest-Leverage Activities: Determining What They Are and Why They Matter

“Once you have a clear picture of your priorities—that is values, goals, and high leverage activities—organize around them.  —Steven Covey, American businessman and speaker.

At some point in your working life, you’ll end up with so many tasks on your to-do list that there’s no way you’ll ever finish them all, short of a 30-hour day (a possibility in, oh, a billion years or so). You’ve probably blown past this point already, and applied standard time-management tools like delegating, prioritizing, and abandoning to your stack of tasks. I’ve written a great deal about these topics in the past, so this time, I’ll come at it from a different angle.

Ultimately, you want to give away or cut every task that doesn’t provide the best bang for your buck. The remaining tasks are your high-value activities (HVAs)… and you guessed it, they’re going to change as your career evolves. Which begs a question: how do you determine your HVAs in the first place?

You’d think they would be obvious, but that’s not always so. In part, your HVAs, especially the most productive of them, depend on your current position and goals. While it’s vital to align your goals with those of your team and organization, there’s usually some wiggle room in how you do so. If you want to move rapidly up the office ladder, you volunteer to take on more high-visibility projects. If you’re happiest in one place, deepening and broadening your specialty may work best for you.

Even if your HVAs are obvious, that doesn’t mean you’re prioritizing them properly. Even the smartest among us can fool ourselves about what truly matters, sometimes allowing style to override substance. Thus, you may be ripe for an assessment or reassessment.

Whether this is your first attempt at it, or you’ve decided to reassess your to-dos and change them according to what you discover, here’s how to go about it.

  1. Look at the big picture first. Make a list of your daily tasks. Which ones profit you and your team the most? These are your HVAs. Usually, they’re the tougher tasks requiring thought and creativity. But even if a highly productive task seems easy to you, it can still be high-leverage. You may have a special talent for it, or may have become so experienced it’s now second nature.

  2. Determine which HVAs yield a multiple of the energy you invest. This will help you refine your existing HVA list. Your Personal ROI should come to at least three times your salary. The most profitable HVAs get you there. They may include cultivating business relationships, networking, product development, and even writing blogs or posting YouTube videos, since “virtual real estate” can remain online for years, earning you interest (in both awareness and fiscal terms) over a long period.

  3. Pick the most productive few. Ask yourself: if you could do only one HVA all day to maximize your productivity, what would it be? Put your answer at the top of your priority list. Then ask yourself the same question about the remaining tasks again and again, until you have at least three and no more than six such tasks on your list, in order of value.

  4. Break out the tasks only you can do, based on experience, relationships, or branding. Even if it’s just because you’re the only person left who knows how to convert a legacy computer system’s results into a form everyone can use, it counts (for now). This most commonly applies to high-level employees for whom the highest-value work is creative or managerial in nature: R&D, project oversight, or liaising with the government or other companies, for example. In some cases, HVAs at these levels may earn your organization thousands of dollars per hour—e.g., the negotiation of a contract worth $100 million.

    Try to get your list down to no more than three highly productive HVAs. You can add others to your list to fill out your work-day, but these few are your Highest Leverage Activities.

A Lever Long Enough

Once you discover and refine your HVAs, organize your work-life around them. You may not find a way to move the world, as Archimedes claimed he could if he had a long enough lever and a place to stand; but, you can shift your productivity to the better. If your place to stand rises high enough, you can boost your whole team, division, or organization. The trick is finding the right levers, and ensuring they’re sturdy enough to handle the weight. These tips will help you get started—and guide you back to the right path if ever things change.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland