How to determine the highest-leverage activities in your work

Takeaway: To identify your three highest-leverage activities in your work, first capture all of the tasks you’re responsible for in your job. Then ask yourself: if you could only do one thing on that list all day long, what would it be? Ask yourself the same question again to figure out your second and third highest-leverage activities.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute, 51s.

Hammer and electronics

According to Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, “[t]hree core tasks that you perform contain most of the value that you contribute to your business or organization. Your ability to accurately identify these three key tasks and then to focus on them most of the time is essential for you to perform at your best.”

You may already be familiar with the Pareto principle, which says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions, that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers, and so on. Likewise, there are a very small number of work tasks where you deliver 80 or even 90% of your value. These are your highest-leverage work activities.

How do you go about identifying them? Tracy recommends that you do four things:

  1. Make a list of everything you do over the course of a typical month, and figure out the main tasks you’re responsible for in your work.
  2. Ask yourself: If you could only do one thing on that list all day long, which item on the list would add the most value to your company?
  3. Third, ask: “If you could do only one more thing on your list of key tasks, which would be the second activity that contributes the most value to your company?”
  4. Finally, ask yourself what the third most important task is.

According to Tracy, “90 percent of the value that you contribute to your company is contained in those three tasks, whatever they are. Everything else you do is either a support task or a complementary task that could probably be delegated, downsized, outsourced, or eliminated.”1

When so much of your results come from so few activities, it’s worth thinking about what the highest-leverage activities in your work are.

Better yet, run through the same ritual and ask yourself what the three most important activities for your mind, body, career, finances, and relationships are. Figuring out where you can get the biggest bang for your buck is something you should do in every aspect of your life.

In case you’re curious, the three highest-leverage activities for my AYOP project are: writing, running productivity experiments on myself, and reading as much as possible.

  1. Source: Eat That Frog 

  • I remember reading this in the book. Great advice. It is good to get a refresher about this concept from time to time to make sure it is always in the back of my mind.

  • I remember reading this in the book. Great advice. It is good to get a refresher about this concept from time to time to make sure it is always in the back of my mind.

  • This reminds me of a company I worked for once. They listed off the revenue and business based upon the clients we worked with. It turned out that 80-90% of our business was done with just ten clients. We had hundreds more that added little. So they took a bold step and actually cut loose some of the lesser paying clients so we could focus on the better ones. We gave the better quality service so they wouldn’t shop around. I think it paid off. If anything, it’s good to take a look at what things do the most.

    • Interesting! That reminds me of how Sprint implemented a policy several years back to “fire” their least valuable customers–the ones who contacted customer support most frequently (who probably accounted for 80% of the support calls!)

  • This reminds me of a company I worked for once. They listed off the revenue and business based upon the clients we worked with. It turned out that 80-90% of our business was done with just ten clients. We had hundreds more that added little. So they took a bold step and actually cut loose some of the lesser paying clients so we could focus on the better ones. We gave the better quality service so they wouldn’t shop around. I think it paid off. If anything, it’s good to take a look at what things do the most.

    • Interesting! That reminds me of how Sprint implemented a policy several years back to “fire” their least valuable customers–the ones who contacted customer support most frequently (who probably accounted for 80% of the support calls!)

  • I’ve thought about this in regards to my finances (rent, student loans, car) but never thought about applying this to my work or other major areas of my life. I think I’ll give it a try and see what comes of it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Awesome! If you remember, let us know how it goes!

    • Tomas

      That’s funny Ryan – I have successfully implemented this thinking at work, but never bothered to think of it in regards to my finances. Thanks for the tip!

  • I’ve thought about this in regards to my finances (rent, student loans, car) but never thought about applying this to my work or other major areas of my life. I think I’ll give it a try and see what comes of it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Awesome! If you remember, let us know how it goes!

    • Tomas

      That’s funny Ryan – I have successfully implemented this thinking at work, but never bothered to think of it in regards to my finances. Thanks for the tip!

  • Nice and simple. But very powerful.

    This is what I base my life on.

    • That’s why I love little tips like these: so simple, but they pack a huge punch. :)

  • Nice and simple. But very powerful.

    This is what I base my life on.

    • That’s why I love little tips like these: so simple, but they pack a huge punch. :)

  • joewired

    I’ve been able to accomplish a lot following this advise but there is definitely room for improvement.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • joewired

    I’ve been able to accomplish a lot following this advise but there is definitely room for improvement.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Chris, thank you for sharing this. It has been the single most influential piece of writing that I read in 2014. It has vastly improved my 2014 and it’s featured in my 2014 Year in Review post. http://www.lafabbricadellarealta.com/2014/12/29/2014-my-year-in-review/

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