Success Strategies - October/November - 2017

Highest and Best Use

In real estate, they talk about the “highest and best” use of parcels of land. For example, a lakefront lot in a resort area probably isn’t well suited for a convenience store, unless there’s a dock and plenty of boat traffic to serve it. A downtown lot wouldn’t lend itself to farming, and so on.

The highest and best use of a property is the one that serves the needs of the location and its owner most fully.

An empty lot in Silicon Valley surrounded by companies like Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Apple, and Intel would probably be an excellent location for a commercial enterprise that serves tech company headquarters. Not so much for a movie theater or amusement park.

A building with large service bays would be best for some automotive operations, assuming it was well located in relation to streets frequented by its intended customers.

The same principle applies to people and their time and talents. You’re very good at some things and not nearly as good at others. When you’re using your top-value talent on the job, you could say that you’re at your “highest and best” use. Conversely, when you do things that are well below your talent level, then you aren’t worth nearly as much to the company.

The transmission rebuilder who’s filing papers in the office is of much less value to the shop than during a rebuild. But we still have to do the paperwork, don’t we? Yes, and these are our “chores.” Besides, there isn’t always a higher-value task awaiting you.

At home, I can be of most value when I’m loving and caring for my family, but someone still needs to take out the garbage, call the repair service, paint the fence, feed the dog, and… you get it. So how do we decide when or whether to do chores instead of seeking out high-leverage activities?

One part of this is timing.

If you don’t brush your teeth this morning, it probably won’t be much of a problem, except for your breath quality. But after a few days of neglect, cavities will develop, and you could eventually lose your teeth! How about completing and filing work orders? It’s not important at first but, when you need to locate an accurate file quickly, it becomes very important.

My wife once observed that I was being impatient. I replied, “I was patient up to the point where I could see further problems developing, but then someone had to take action.” Patience is like fresh fruit: It’s a perishable commodity. So are chores. At some point, they’re no longer chores; they become emergencies.

So how do you determine the best use of your time and talent right now? That question itself would be a good starting point.

Time management expert, Alan Lakein, once recommended that we use this question daily: “What is the best use of my time right now?”

To determine best use, there are a few other points you need to clarify:

  1. What outcome are you seeking?
  2. Who or what method or tool can best achieve that outcome?
  3. What other priorities will you affect by this action?
  4. What will happen if you do nothing?
  5. How urgent is this? How important is it? (They’re not the same thing.)
  6. Is this more important than something else you or they could be doing?

With the answers in mind, ask yourself, “Should I do this or teach someone else to do it?”

My sister once lost an important promotion because she was doing everything herself instead of training others and then delegating. She thought she was being a good worker by staying late, doing extra duties, and going the extra several miles.

But her boss realized that Kathy wasn’t applying her highest and best. Instead, she was spending $100 talent to do $10 activities. Of course, she had to do her chores, but beyond that, she wasn’t thinking like a manager and making tomorrow’s work more efficient than today’s.

My colleague, Dr. John Lee, another Time Management expert, teaches the use of the Four D’s. He says that, in considering all of your work duties, you should first:

  • Drop: What could I not do at all and just drop from my workload without any negative impact? Sometimes we do unimportant work out of routine or habit. (Throw away the junk mail without fully reading it.)
  • Delay: What could be postponed or rescheduled to a different time, to be done before it’s too late but without interrupting today’s priorities?
  • Delegate: What could someone else do or be taught to do to free up some of my workload? Use the time and talent that has a value close to the work item’s value. Filing can be done by an hourly worker. Financial decision-making needs to be done by a manager or owner. Job scheduling should be done by a manager, foreman, or chief technician, while minor customer service issues can be dealt with by an office clerk.
  • Do: Of the remaining items, you should do what matters most first and then do the others.

That’s a very useful model. It helps you avoid spending valuable time and talent on low value activities. At the same time, it keeps you aware of the chores that are soon-to-become-urgent, must-do items.

Once you’ve followed these guidelines, you’ll become an excellent judge of when and how to use the time and talents at your disposal. I once toured the White House with a group of young leaders. Gerald Ford was president (1976) and his chief of staff was Richard Cheney.

Mr. Cheney held a briefing with our group in which he told us, “We never take a simple problem to the president. If it’s simple, we should handle it; not him. In each case, we evaluate the essence of the problem and generate a number of workable solutions. Only then do we present them to the president and he makes the final decision as to which action we take.”

I think that’s brilliant. We need to preserve and guard the time of those with great talent or knowledge so they can focus on the things that’ll make the biggest difference for all of us. If it’s a small issue, handle it and just let others know what you did. If it’s a big one, bring all your guns to the table and get the best minds focused on the problem.

May you always get to use your “highest and best” talents.

Jim Cathcart, founder of, is a Top 1% TEDx speaker with over one million views of his video, How to Believe in Yourself. He’s also a bestselling author and a strategic advisor to ATRA and GEARS Magazine. Contact him at