Valuable Productivity Tip: Buy Two Large Trash Cans

by Steve Cassaday, CFP®, CFS

Every businessperson strives to be as productive as possible. Adopting a few simple concepts has helped our company achieve important goals, relieved stress and provided a great life balance for our employees.

After starting Cassaday & Co. Inc. in 1993, I added “business owner” to my other responsibilities of investment manager, financial planner, dad and husband. Unfortunately, over the next year I would spend so much time on my new business that it had a very negative impact on my personal life and physical health.

The turning point occurred when I returned from a one-week business trip and was startled to see how much my three sons had changed. They had grown noticeably and looked different after just one week! I realized that this time with them was very precious and could never be replaced. I made a goal to work fewer hours and spend more time at home.

I needed to develop a way to produce the same amount of business in fewer hours so I could spend time with my family and get to the gym occasionally. Understanding productivity and how to maximize it on a continuing basis are key components in a better work-life balance.

Productivity is a measure of how efficiently goods and services are delivered. It is also is a measure of how wisely you invest your time. Learning to think of time as a form of capital is essential to your efficiency and success as a businessperson.

To truly understand how you spend your time, you must document your activities.

Keep a log of what you do in 15-minute intervals for five days. (Nothing I have ever done has had as profound an impact on my professional life as this one thing). If your time is worth $100 an hour, decide which activities don’t generate $100 of revenue.

Once you have identified your low-payoff activities, you will realize that some of them still need to be done. We developed a solution and called the process DEA, which stands for Delegate Eliminate and Automate. Look at each low-payoff activity on your activity log and determine which solution is best.

Examples of DEA for me were:

Delegate: My assistant screens my snail mail and e-mail, deleting what is not important. A day or two of training is needed for a good assistant to learn the ropes but is a great investment.

Automate: Standardization of spreadsheets, proposals and correspondence. We found that we were often doing the same spreadsheets and letters from scratch.

Eliminate: Stay off of the Internet. Although necessary in some cases, it is the opiate of modern business. Set aside time when you do not go to your browser so you can focus on other things.

Other productivity enhancers for me included:

  • Setting aside sacrosanct times to accomplish high-payoff tasks.
  • Eliminating interruptions. Keep your door closed, discourage nonessential visitors, don’t be a visitor and hold your phone calls for certain periods each day.
  • Investing in talent. Hiring people I can delegate to has been my best investment.
  • Empowering your team. Inform employees of your new strategy, train them to help you, vest them with authority to do things and have them set their own goals.
  • Making a list of “things to do” every day. Give a copy to your assistants and review the list for DEA.
  • Keeping your workspace arranged so everything you need is accessible.
  • Keeping your workspace clear of anything not related to the current task.
  • And finally: Toss your way to success.

The greatest thing a manager ever did for me was give me two trash cans. After telling him what a big shot I was and how I deserved executive perks, I was confronted with two “executive sized” trash cans in my office the next morning. Although a little insulted at the time, 20 years later I realize this was actually a turning point in my career because of the advice that accompanied this “gift.”

He told me, “Steve, if you can fill both of these up every day you will be a more successful businessman.”

I developed a mindset that every executive must adopt: The trash can is your friend. We are inundated with reading material, paperwork and e-mail. It is impossible to effectively address even a small percentage of it. And we haven’t even mentioned voice mails and texts. So, when in doubt throw it out.

Focusing on high-payoff activities and delegating, eliminating or automating low-payoff activities will have a significant impact on your income and the quality of your life.

My goal was to invest 100 percent of my time capital in the 20 percent of the activities that produce the most rewards. This process has helped our company achieve well-above-average growth and maintain a great personal and business balance for our employees. We are also very proud of our extra-large trash cans.

As seen in the 3/1/2010 issue of Washington Business Journal


Contact Michelle Tigani

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