For a long time, the picture of a good employee in the U.S. has been someone who stays late, comes in on weekends, and always appears to be grinding away. People like this sometimes make a big show of how busy they are. In actuality, though, productivity isn't about how much you're working; it's about how much you're accomplishing.

As Americans get smarter about efficiency in the office, many have started to accept more non-traditional ways of being productive like working remotely, using technology, and prioritizing. A Harvard business school professor recently chronicled changes like this in The New York Times.   

Everyone appreciates a dedicated worker, but sometimes perfect is the enemy of great. Keeping a project moving forward is often more effective than waiting until it's totally polished. An object in motion, after all, tends to stay in motion. If you're overly meticulous, it can be hard to keep going.

Think of it this way: If you're planning a trip to the moon, the most important parts of the trip are the exit trajectory and the re-entry trajectory, not what kind of water you're serving on the shuttle. Attention to detail is one thing; analysis paralysis is another.

So how do you advise employees on the best ways to organize and prioritize? I go back to what a mentor once told me: Think about your work in A, B, and C buckets.

Bucket A: These are tasks you have to get done right and get done now. The work that truly matters to your core business. You better, for instance, be able to handle a customer service matter right the first time an individual calls. 

Bucket B: These assignments don't have to be perfect or great, but you probably should get them done (it will be noticeable if you don't): your logo on an invoice, a voice recording for when you're out of the office, appropriate packaging for your shipments. 

Bucket C: The stuff in this category is usually stuck in a drawer somewhere, or at the bottom of a long-forgotten list. You hope they don't come back to bite you, though some of them might. When you're running a small business with only a few employees, you have to make choices.

It's never a bad time to think about how you and your employees are doing things. Is your staff wasting time on the non-essential? Do you have projects that have been lingering? Get it done, or put it in the C Bucket.

Published on: Feb 8, 2013
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