Prioritize the vital few, drop the trivial many

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

TIME management shapes our performance as long as you know what you’re doing and doing it right. After all, many of us mistake our movement for achieving something. That’s what I call the rocking chair mentality—that we often miss asking the question: Busy doing what?

Our brain starts working the moment we wake up in the morning. It can start from scratch at every brand new day. This is one thing good about rest and sleep. It gives us the chance to reflect on what we’ve done the day before. It also gives us the chance to correct ourselves. In my case, most of the time, I tend to take a break from my daily chore of writing articles and resume with a fresh set of eyes and mind.

Let me tell you a story. A four-year old boy loves his mother as she reads bedtime stories. One night, after she finished reading another book, the boy cuddled up to her and said: “I love you, Mommy!”

His mother smiled and feeling grateful, she asked: “How can you love a mother who is so fat and ugly?”


The son quickly protested: “No, Mommy. You’re not. You’re fat and pretty!”

What happened? The boy was straightforward. He appears to have an undying love for his mother. He minced no words in telling her that she’s fat without knowing its implications to the mother, who would simply smile and accept it as gospel truth.

Taking the systematic and calculated approach to answer the same question, adults will not give a correct and direct answer but will mask a negative comment with some kilometric statements of praise. In people management, that’s the sandwich approach.

This elaborate justification process might seem artificial when you work with people whom you’d like to work as fast as you can, except that for some reason, they treat the common objective as third, fourth, fifth, or if not, the last priority. Urgency is not on everyone’s agenda.

Isn’t this unfair? You’ve done your job well and submit it ahead of the agreed group’s deadline. After two days of waiting for feedback, you feel that no one is moving to support, if not, say something about the idea. That’s when you hear the sound of silence as a frustration to the highest degree. Many times, you can find this happening in groups that are tasked to do volunteer work.

Since time immemorial, this experience taught me one important lesson. When faced with so many tasks, our rational approach is to start working with the most important thing in our “to-do” list for the day. Focus only on the things that matter to our work life, at least for the next eight to 10 hours.

In total quality management, there’s one philosophy that you can’t afford to ignore when you try to complete your work with very limited time. That is called the ABC rule. It means that 80 percent of your time is best spent on only 20 percent of your tasks or current problem on hand. To make this idea work for you, there should be a classification of the items in your “to-do” list.

Class “A” includes the vital few (or must-do on the first hour of each day). On the other hand, Class “B” are those that are not quite as important as “A” while Class “C” tasks are very small items although there are many of them.

As time manager, you can start working on Class “A” items, and arrange them accordingly as A1, A2, or A3, with A1 as the highest priority and A3 as the lowest priority among the Class “A” tasks. Do the same thing with Class “B” and Class “C.”

Sometimes many of them can be disposed of quickly with an urgent telephone call or email, delegating the task to a key person. As soon as you reach tasks “B” and “C” you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that B1 tasks are done with many “C1” to “C5” tasks disappearing on their own, without you even realizing it.

In the end, following your own gut feel, it can lead you to a satisfactory outcome or at the very least prevent you from ending up with a team or group of people you really don’t want to be associated with.

Really, time is a great healer, but a poor make-up artist.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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