IN TODAY'S fast-moving business environment, how many times have you heard: "Sorry, I'm too busy!"

It is a sad fact, but how busy are we really? Indeed, many people put in long hours. They are certainly dedicated but how efficient are they?

More often than not, people do not prioritise their activities and get overloaded with mundane details.

The consequence is long hours at work, frustration, stress and a feeling of not having accomplished anything very useful. How motivated can these people be in these conditions?

Here are some quick tips that will help prioritise work and which will lead to more efficiency, less stress and more accountability.

In order to focus on the essential, organise your activities in four simple categories:

1. Urgent and important

In this case, action is necessary because activities in this category will prove to be essential not only for the good of the business in general but will help keep deadlines and improve the knock-on effect experienced by colleagues and subordinates who have a role to play in the bigger picture.

The actions under this heading are usually characterised by important deadlines and if the latter are not met, unfortunate consequences will be the result.

A simple example of this is closing the payroll on time. Another example is providing an input which is vital for a major decision to be taken. This is especially true for projects where interdependency of team members is essential.

2. Not urgent but important

These activities are more strategic in nature, requiring more thought and possibly the involvement of subject experts. Due process will have to take place to gain the commitment of key stakeholders.

Quality time needs to be devoted to these activities as ultimately, they will migrate to the first category. If important (but not urgent) matters are left on the backburner too long, expediency will take over from a well-thought through piece of work, essential for the project to succeed on time.

A typical example in this category is the re- engineering of a product portfolio to ensure market share growth and meeting the expectations of ever-more demanding clients.

3. Urgent but not important

If this is the case, you may wish to consider delegating these activities to a competent administrator. Make sure you choose someone who has demonstrated a punctilious attention to detail. You will be delegating to peoples' strengths and the probability of expediting these activities with precision will be increased.

An example of this is responding to an overdue query on a minor issue.

4. Not urgent and not important

These activities should be scrutinised because they will constitute the bulk of unnecessary interference that will lead to a waste of time and will make people "just busy".

Sifting through all the e-mails that are copied "for information only" is an example of this. So many e-mails are copied to so many people that they create confusion as to who has to do what.

This results in more useless work. Streamlining communications so that only those who are accountable get a copy should be the rule.

Teamwork

For all the four categories above, there is an important caveat: To whom are the activities and their consequences urgent, important or not?

This is where teamwork comes into play. It is a question of perception because what could be seen, say, as "not urgent and not important" to one person could be essential for a colleague.

An example of this is the constant chasing of managers by HR personnel to get performance appraisals in on time so that salary revisions can take place in a seamless manner.

It is therefore essential that when listing one's own priorities, to take into account the needs of colleagues for the benefit of the whole organisation, rather than one single department.

This teamwork aspect will not fundamentally change the four categories described above but will only give them a new perspective.

For a more productive worklife

In order to increase productivity, it is well worthwhile asking yourself in which category does your activity fall. Simply prioritising activities will cut through the chaff and help you focus on what you really have to do, rather than keeping yourself busy with unnecessary clutter.

Over a period of time, things will look simpler, more focus will emerge, details will not be overlooked and teamwork will be of the essence. These will lead to increased productivity, less frustration and stress and a higher sense of achievement and pride.