Playing Your Cards Right [How to Create a System to Manage Your Resources in Your Career]

Written by Carol Phillips, CPA, CFE on July 8, 2019

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At a different time in my career, at the end of a workday, I could look at a finished stack of papers on my desk and evaluate how productive I had been that day. My day’s metrics were the height and weight of the “finished” pile. The taller and heavier the stack of papers, the more I had accomplished and crossed off my list.

In an increasingly paperless world, the “weight test” is no longer an effective way to evaluate my progress for the day. As my work became more electronic, I would find myself lacking a comparable way to evaluate how effective I had been at the end of a workday because my files were stored on a drive instead of on a desk. Without the satisfying view of a finished stack of work, after no less than eight hours on the job, I would leave work and find myself asking, “What have I accomplished today?”

As I advanced in my career, I gained more responsibilities and became more involved in my company and throughout the community, and my effectiveness couldn’t  have been measured by the size of a stack, even if that would have made me feel better. Different activities required different investments and had different returns, and soon, many of those different things began to compete for my time and resources.

Business leaders today are faced with many important decisions to make and questions to answer, but I believe that one of the most important questions is: How can you determine what is the highest and best use of your time and resources?

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Why Create a Resource Management System

An increasingly popular analogy explains effective resource management in terms of an empty container to be filled with rocks, pebbles and sand.

Essentially, the basis of the analogy is that unless you begin filling the empty container with the large rocks first, then the smaller pebbles and finally the sand, all of the things won’t be able to fit into the container. If you begin with sand and then add pebbles, there won’t be any room for the large rocks in the container when it’s time to add them.

It’s meant to illustrate that if you don’t prioritize your most important commitments and responsibilities, other things that are of lower importance will consume your time and there won’t be room for what’s most important.

The goal isn’t necessarily to fit as much as possible into the container, but to make the best use of the space that you have. Your goal as a professional and business leader likely isn’t to pack as many projects or tasks or responsibilities as humanly possible into your workday. More than likely, your goal is probably to be as strategically efficient and effective as possible with the responsibilities you’ve been given in the time that you have. That’s why establishing priorities and creating an effective process to manage and measure your efforts is imperative for the professionals of today.

How to Create a Resource Management System

Creating a system to organize and prioritize your professional responsibilities and commitments is no easy task, and it will look differently for everyone. There’s no secret sauce to creating the perfect system, but there are steps that you can take to help you think through how to make the best use of your time and resources. As I’ve thought through this process in my own career, and as I’ve strategically advised organizations and their professionals, I’ve developed a simple, but helpful, tool. Below, I’ve included three steps that you can take to help identify priorities, grasp responsibilities and maximize effectiveness in your professional capacity.

Step 1: Outline and Define Your Commitments

To start, visualize all the different hats that you wear in your professional capacity. (If you struggle, consider taking a week or two to monitor what consumes your time, and keep a running list of your activities.) Evaluate your list and create a visual aid for each of your responsibilities and commitments; create categories if it makes sense for your different roles.

For example, I use color-coded index cards to represent my commitments. Having these cards on hand helps me to add a visual aspect to my understanding of where my time goes.

  • Red cards outline my different initiatives in the community, such as my involvement in my church and my service on nonprofit boards.
  • Blue cards comprise my responsibilities in taking care of my clients at Warren Averett, such as serving as a Member on an audit engagement or providing fraud examination services.
  • Orange cards outline what I call my “people initiatives,” like mentoring others and leading training classes.
  • Green cards represent my different business development activities, including serving as a leader of the Firm’s Nonprofit Client Solution Group or outside speaking engagements.

Step 2: Evaluate your Commitments in Light of Your Desires and Available Resources

I’m not sure what the perfect number of cards would be, but I do know that you can have too many. When a person has too many cards, how can you even begin to play your cards right? And by that, I mean: how can you determine where you should focus?

If you have several commitments, and all of them are important, it’s imperative to do a self-assessment to evaluate how your responsibilities intersect with your resources. It’s important to know what your big rocks are so that you can protect them. Sometimes, knowing what those priorities are is easy. Sometimes, it’s not. The key lies in understanding your company’s values and expectations, your own desires and your personal capacity.

Business leaders have some responsibilities that are necessities, while other responsibilities are fulfilling. It’s important to create a balance that takes care of your necessities and still allows you to do the work you enjoy. In your evaluation, it’s important to consider both sides of the coin to best establish your priorities:

  • What activities does my organization value, and what does my organization need from me?; and
  • What activities satisfy and fulfill me?

For example, my business development activities (on my green cards) often provide the greatest return on investment for my company, but the people initiatives (those orange cards) are what I enjoy most and what I believe are the heartbeat of the organization. Both are important for meeting the company’s needs and my own desires so I can be a productive employee all around.

Step 3: Revisit

Your resources, responsibilities and your plan won’t stay stagnant, so it’s important to remember that managing your resources is an ongoing and ever-changing process.

It can be a challenge to introduce a new card or a new rock (whichever you prefer) after you’ve established your priorities and your resource management system. Don’t let your self-evaluation be a one-time event. Revisit your resource management plan periodically, but especially whenever you look at putting new projects on your plate.

When you consider taking on a new commitment or relinquishing an old one, you may even consider sitting down with your supervisor and explaining the resource management system you’ve created, discussing how your time and priorities are currently divvied up and asking how he or she would advise you. The reality is that if you are maximizing the time that you have now, it’s likely that one of your priorities may need to take a back seat, or be delegated, in order to introduce a new one. And that’s ok.

A Few Steps Further

Once you’ve established your system, there are more steps that you can take that might help you maximize its impact.

Introducing Your System to Your Company’s Team

If you find that creating a resource management system is a valuable asset for your career and professional operations, which I think you will, encourage others on your team to spend time on their own self-evaluation.

Once others have thought through managing their resources, you may even consider creating a system for your team as a whole—just as you did as individuals—in order to evaluate your company’s overall resource management.

Determine which members of your team have which skills, and evaluate if their commitments and responsibilities coincide with the available resources. Then, strategically create a plan for your team. This may include reassigning responsibilities throughout your team or editing priorities. Where are the gaps in responsibilities and resources, and who can fill them? Which of your team members may have the skills or resources to fulfill commitments that others don’t? Is everyone in the right seat according to his or her skills?

Considering these factors can not only increase efficiency as individuals, but it can ensure that your company is making the best use of its human resources.

Introducing Your System to Your Personal Team

So far, I’ve positioned a resource management system as an effective way to be efficient in your professional capacity, but it can also be applied to your personal life. Just as you would discuss your professional responsibilities with your colleagues and supervisor, consider discussing them—and your personal responsibilities—with your family and those who are important to you outside of the office. They will also be able to give insight into your inventory of resources and how you use them. You may even encourage your family members to create systems of their own so that, just as I’ve described concerning your company’s team above, your personal and household responsibilities are as efficient as your professional ones.

Applying Your Resource Management System

While you probably can’t judge your effectiveness by the size of a stack of paper, having an infrastructure that can help you think through your priorities, your commitments, your resources and their return can help you analyze your effectiveness and efficiency.

Establishing a system can help you answer the difficult question of what is the highest and best use of your time, and in turn, can help you maximize the resources you have for what’s most important to you.


Carol Phillips is a Member at Warren Averett, oversees the majority of all governmental and higher education audit engagements for the Firm and serves as the chair of the Firm’s Public Sector Practice Group. Click here to learn more about her or contact her directly.

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