What are your core activities? Do you know how to determine when it’s time to pull your resources in so you can focus on your core activities?
Over the course of the year I’ve learned a lot of good lessons about how to manage my Time, Energy, and Attention (TEA). Since we were moving, growing the business, selling our house, and moving across the country, it required a lot of truthful assessments about what we could and couldn’t do.
I often thought about this as if we were on a starship in the Star Trek universe. In case you’re not a SciFi nerd, the starships in this universe have shields, engines, weapons, engineering labs, science labs, holodecks, and a whole host of peripheral augmentations that aren’t critical to the functioning of the ship. In times of duress – say, during a starship battle or weird astronomical anomaly – all non-essential activities have their power redirected to the critical function of keeping the ship moving and defensible.
A lot of this year’s resources have been directed at keeping our shields and thrusters going. That we’ve managed to keep things going at the rate we have is something worth celebrating.
At the same time, I haven’t been able to do as much active and passive watching of what my clients, friends, and partners have been up to. I haven’t done as much outreach writing and guest posting. I’ve slowed the rate of product development. Some of these activities are secondary efforts, but them being secondary doesn’t mean that they’re not important.
Core Activities for Businesses
It’s also helpful for entrepreneurs, businesses, and organizations to think in similar terms when it comes to the aims of their ventures. If you’re going through a major product launch or PR event, it’s probably not the time to focus on all the tertiary activities that you might normally go through. Focus on the high value activities (HVAs) and the specific tasks at hand, do them well, close them out, and then think about those peripheral activities.
(“Business” and “organization” will be interchangeable here so it’s easier to write and read.)
Or, more succinctly, don’t mop the floor when the building’s on fire. Get out or put the fire out. While this seems obvious, you’d be surprised how many people are sweating the small stuff at precisely the time they’re slipping on the major items. Keep a better eye on satisfied customers than on your notebook inventory.
The fascinating thing is that the more you focus on your core activities, the better your results will be. There are a surprising amount of peripheral activities that can eat up your resources without any significant payoff.
What catches many people, though, is that they don’t know what their core activities are. For instance, freelancers often spend a lot of time getting better at the craft when they need to be getting better at marketing the solutions they provide. A manager may spend more time wordsmithing reports than managing her people. Or a CEO might spend more time micromanaging people than setting the vision and strategy for the company.
When it comes to businesses, then, there are two ways to think about core activities:
- First, think about what the business’s core activities are.
- Second, think about what the core activities are for the people who make up the business.
One final clarification: some HVAs aren’t core activities. Networking, for instance, is a high value activity, but it’s also non-essential during short-term crises or sprints.
The value of knowing what your core activities are is that you can make accurate assessments of where your resources should go to accomplish the task at hand. When it’s time to pull back, you want to be able to pull back to the right things.
What are your core tasks?
Alex Blackwell says
My core tasks are determined my role. For example:
As a parent: Listening first before talking; modeling our family’s values and providing unconditional love.
As a husband: Supporting Mary Beth’s life; being honest and finding ways to meet her needs.
As a blogger: Sharing my heart; providing inspiration and creating the most useful content possible.
I like the image, Charlie, of mopping the floor when the building’s on fire!
The funny thing is that so many of us will respond to a metaphorical fire in our business by doing “safe” and known activities like social networking, organizing paperwork and many varieties of “tweaking”.
Our safety brain says something like “don’t look directly at the fire…it’s too stressful”.
What my clients and I have learned over the years is that, if there’s a (metaphorical) fire and we can’t seem to respond with actual firefighting, then it’s time to get some support.
I’d love to see a follow up to this post like “how to know if your business is on fire”, with some of the warning signs, because in the absence of actual fire, it’s surprising how long it can take us to see it.
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for this post: it is brilliant. Your point is well-taken.
I think that’s why so many business owners want to hire fresh employees:the art of delegation is not lost on them.
In order to focus on core activities, you also need to be able to farm out the details. The details are important, but not always essential. The details may steal your thunder, over time.
It would be great if you could hire competent people to do that for you: virtual assistant, personal secretary, personal assistant, house-keeper, maid, valet, driver, etc.
A lot of successful and wealthy people have learned about this through the school of hard knocks, so they know how to best use their time–wisely.
Just make sure the detail-oriented people you hire are competent and trustworthy.
And maintain a good working relationship with such employees. After all, you don’t want too much riding on your shoulders. To start with, a cost-benefit analyis can help your business.
Gabriele Maidecchi says
I notice in my experience that the hardest task is often understanding what your HVAs are in first place. The priority naturally switches according to that particular historical time, but many entrepreneurs/managers often find difficulties in adapting promptly to a newly developed situation.
Ali Luke says
We went through something similar this summer (moving house – involving some computer/internet access difficulties for a few weeks; getting married; finishing my MA…)
I pulled back to the core stuff – stopped guest posting for a while, didn’t post much on Aliventures, focused on paid work – and we got through everything okay.
Now I’m facing the problem of suddenly having a lot more time, and *some* obvious core tasks and HVAs, but a lot of “hmm, I could do this … or this … or this” type tasks. I’m doing my best to focus on the kinds of things that will build my business for the long term – making new contacts, expanding my reach, taking on some more challenging projects – but I’m finding it a little tough to switch back out of “core stuff only” mode.
At the moment, I’m working on pinning down which periphery activities are valuable to me (like guest posting) and which ones maybe aren’t so useful or important.
Adam Lottes says
I think being organized is very important…I think it should be a “core” activity…organization is for me, at least…when you are organized you work more efficiently. I’m getting rid of a lot of papers around my desk at home and at work by filing them electronically using an online server. I can’t believe how much extra paper I have around that I really don’t need…I found a free version of cloud computing software at http://www.xambox.com. Remember:organization=productivity! Just start filing a few documents every day and in no time, you will be practically clutter freeïŠ
Charley: I just found this article in Brip Blap and I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Marly and I blog on makingmyownwork.blogspot.com. I’m in the process of starting at least five businesses with chair massage, blogging, stand-up comedy, storytelling and running workshops to teach people how to relieve each others muscle pains, in an attempt to make myself financially independent and debt free.
As you can guess, I need as much productivity help as I can get. I personally can not multi-task, and do much better taking several days to complete one project, take a few more to catch up on the peripherals, and then starting another project. For example, I might take three days to write ten blog posts and then spread them out over the next three weeks. Then I might take a few days to catch up on emails, blog comments, house stuff, etc, and then spend five days coming up with and practicing a comedy routine or storytelling venue, and contacting possible gigs at local churches, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
Unfortunately, this often means that I fry myself out concentrating on one project for so long, and answering emails does not go far in healing fried brain wires, so I give myself permission to watch a good movie or read a fun book.
I like your concept of High Value Activities, and will definitely be coming back to this site. Nice to meet you.