One my first weeks on the job as a consultant, I was on a conference call with my boss and a client and spontaneously recommended a program that would add a significant amount of work for my company. Since we billed clients at a flat rate, it seemed I had just added a bunch of work that we wouldn’t be getting paid for.
“Nonsense,” said the director I was working under. All I did was add a deliverable, which was a good thing. It helped justify our fee.
Years later, that lesson in consulting has infiltrated my entire approach to work and productivity. Treating all your work as a series of deliverables will shift the way you think about getting things done. Instead of task lists, you will have lists of deliverables. Instead of priorities, you will have your top one or two deliverables. At the end of every meeting, instead of action items, you will have generated a list of deliverables.
The power of thinking in deliverables
Why is thinking in terms of deliverables so powerful? Because it forces you to spend your time working toward concrete goals and in the service of getting stuff done. This holds true whether you’re a consultant or an employee.
As a PR consultant or an employee in charge of media relations, for example, you may be tempted to spend time reading the news, monitoring twitter, or searching for new media targets. This is a good way to let four hours pass without actually getting anything done. What would you say to your client to justify the time you spent doing that? The answer is to think in terms of a deliverable: compile list of ten top media targets or engage five key industry influencers on Twitter. Thinking in these terms not only ensures you have something to show for time spent at your desk, but it justifies in writing the money your client is spending on you.
As an employee, being sure to always work off a list of deliverables will help justify your pay check, besides giving you ample fodder for reporting. You’ll never walk into another department meeting or employee review and struggle to explain what you’ve been doing with your time. More than anything, getting into the habit of thinking in terms of deliverables will focus your mind on tasks rather than on busywork.
Turning busywork into important work
And yet, even busywork like replying to email can morph itself into concrete a deliverable if you become practiced at it. By one estimate, your average office worker spends 650 hours a year on email. That’s more than 16 work weeks worth of email checking. Of course it’s become common practice to admonish workers that constantly checking email will sabotage your productivity, but what if instead of checking email, you gave yourself a deliverable: send feedback and edits back to designer. All of a sudden you’ve turned what is probably a little bit of back and forth email into a concrete deliverable, something you can report on and check off as accomplished.
To put this mind shift into action, start a spreadsheet. If you’re a consultant, put all your clients on one page, and underneath each one brainstorm the deliverables you need to get done for the week. If you’re an employee, the process is the same, but perhaps instead of dividing deliverables by client, you’ll want to divide them by area of responsibility. Add a column for due-dates if your deliverables are time sensitive. As the week progresses, you will likely add to-dos to the list, such as action items captured after a meeting. Put checks next to the deliverables as you complete them. At the end of the week, you should be able to scan through the spreadsheet and get a good sense of what you got done. Things left undone get carried over to the next week.
And always remember: if it’s not something you can write down as a deliverable and feel comfortable including on a monthly report to your client or boss, then maybe it’s probably not as important as you think.