What Are Your High Payoff Activities?

by Mike Leigh

Would you like to improve your effectiveness?  Do this quick exercise.  Write down five activities that would have a significant positive impact on your personal and professional goals if you spent more time on them.  Some examples might be developing your team, meeting with clients, or spending time with your kids.

Now look at your calendar for the next week.  How much time have you scheduled for these activities?  These are called High Payoff Activities (HPAs), and they are the key to personal and organizational effectiveness success.  Unfortunately, if you are like most professionals, you’ve probably scheduled little or no time for your HPAs.  Most of us spend the majority of our time in meetings, putting out fires, handling interruptions, or simply reacting to whatever comes our way.

To improve the effectiveness of you and your organization, these HPAs must be clearly defined, and time must be scheduled for them.  In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, the author describes a matrix with four quadrants into which all activities fall.  He explains why it is necessary to spend more time on Quadrant II activities (important but not urgent) which includes HPAs.   Since these items are not urgent, we tend to put them off until later, or reschedule them when something more urgent interrupts us.

Redirecting more time to HPAs first requires saying NO to unimportant tasks.  Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Decline meetings.  Look at your calendar and decline every meeting that is not important to you or your work responsibilities.  In its place, schedule time in your calendar to work on a HPA.
  • Shut your door.  Many organizations with “open door” policies want their leaders to literally keep an open door.  This invites interruptions at any time.  Instead, close your door, turn off email notifications, and shut off your cell phone during the HPA time you have scheduled.  Deal only with real emergencies during this HPA time.
  • Close your email.  Email is a huge time-waster in many organizations.  Close your email during the portion of the day when you are most productive.  It will help you stay focused on important tasks and not get sidetracked by unimportant, but seemingly urgent email correspondence.

The best part is that even a small amount of time redirected to your HPAs can have a huge impact on your success.  Redirecting just one hour per day is equivalent to gaining six weeks of productive time each year!  By dedicating more time to your HPAs, you and your organization will be more effective and experience greater success.


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