Work Smarter by Defining High Value & Low Value Activities

Wolseley PRO Pipeline Blog

By Greg Weartherdon

Work smarter, not harder! How many times have you heard that one? Usually when it’s uttered, everybody and anybody nods their head with conviction that doing so is the right move. The problem is no one explains or defines what working smart looks like. To make matters worse, you probably thought you were already working smarter! If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone in trying to figure it out.

 One of the most common problems I find with growing contracting businesses is that they have trouble identifying high value and low value activities being performed by their various employees, including the owners. Not knowing the difference between the two can have a tremendous impact on the performance of the organization and your effectiveness.


Define high and low value activities

Before going any further, let’s define high and low value activities. Simply put, high value activities require specialized skills or training, and generate higher revenues and profitability. While all activities in a company can be defined as high value, the activity must align with the individual’s specialized skill set or knowledge. What can be considered low value for one individual, is in fact a high value activity for someone else. For example, having an experienced HVAC or plumbing technician doing administrative work, is an example of a mismatch of skills. Aligning an individual’s skills and primary job function with the work they do is critical for continued growth and effectiveness.

Why this happens


In the early days of a company’s life, everyone hired is expected to perform many wide-ranging duties.

Many of these duties or tasks didn’t require any training or need to align with an individual’s skill set. The company just needed someone to do the job.  Good or bad, that’s just the way it is. However, over time as the enterprise grows, this philosophy remains in place because no one has taken the time to question whether it makes sense or if it creates roadblocks to getting more important things done.

False savings

What ultimately happens is, as the company grows, the demands of an individual’s technical role increases. As a result, they are not able to dedicate themselves to these higher value or primary responsibilities because they are constantly being distracted by lower value activities or “busy work”, which are mostly administrative activities. To put this another way, why would you pay someone $35/hr to do what is easily a $18/hr job?

Here are just a few examples:

  • The bookkeeper doubles as the de facto office manager. As the company grows the financials become significantly more important (High Value) yet they are being distracted by needing to order supplies (Low Value).
  • The service manager (High Value) also oversees the company vehicle maintenance program (Low Value). Although it’s important to keep equipment in top running order, most of these schedules are time based and therefore can be delegated to a more junior position.
  • The sales manager (High Value) who also must produce the physical invoice (Low Value). As a company grows, invoicing becomes a time-consuming task and if I know sales people, producing invoices is a painfully tedious exercise. Wouldn’t their time be better spent using their skills to generate more sales for the company and let someone else do the administration? 
  • The owner of a contracting business orders parts. Wouldn’t that time be better spent training existing staff to be more efficient? Better still would be to spend a couple of hours a week networking with key individuals in the community, where a single order could be worth thousands of dollars.

dark-depressed-face-262218These are just some typical examples of where good intentions end up costing a company’s growth and profitability. They effectively sideline their key resources with activities that they’re not particularly good at and would prefer not doing.  To compound the situation, when individuals have to do things that they don’t enjoy, they tend to get done poorly or not at all. Plus, you waste time that could be spent more productively.

We must remember that people go to work to be successful, and in order to do so it usually means being able to do what they are good at and enjoy.

Granted, every position in every company has duties that are not to the individual’s liking. But the real trick is to ensure that the majority of their time is spent performing duties and tasks that align with their training and offer the greatest return for the company. 

Not sure if you currently have an alignment problem with high and low value activities among your team? Just ask them. 

Greg Weatherdon is a small business expert and author of Get More LIFE Out of Your Business. He is a featured speaker at the 2019 Wolseley One Tradeshows He also produces The Small Business Minute Podcast that available on all major platforms including iTunes, Google Play and Spotify. Visit for more information.