Manage Yourself Using the 80/20 Rule.
The ongoing struggle with having too much to do seems to be a chronic condition afflicting everyone in business these days and it’s a problem that never seems to go away. Most of us feel overwhelmed by how many things we have on our “to do” lists, and in spite of our best attempts to manage our time, we never seem to get everything done.
We have too much to do because we think the more we get done, the better. This is a product of the pervasive “more is better” mindset we apply to how we manage ourselves as business people. It hinders our progress. Rather than helping us, the “more is better” mindset tends to move us further and further away from what should be our most important objectives – to be more efficient and effective.
Part of our problem is we evaluate ourselves (and others) on the basis of productivity, but productivity is really just a raw measure of output. We tend to focus on volume, or the number of items marked “done” on the to do list. This has nothing to do with the quality of what’s being done. We’re seeking to be more productive and figure out how to get more done when we should be thinking about how to get better things done.
Ultimately, success is not about how much you accomplish, it’s about what you accomplish. There is nothing to be gained in doing more just for the sake of doing more. This should seem obvious, but almost everyone seems to miss this point at some level. If you successfully complete a large number of meaningless or relatively insignificant tasks, you really haven’t accomplished much at all.
If you find yourself struggling to get everything done, you may think you have a time management problem, when in fact you don’t. It is much more likely you have a prioritization problem. The key to improved performance and success is not to find more hours in the day: it’s learning how to make best use of the hours that you do have. Focus not on how much you do, but rather on what you do first.
If you prioritize the right things, the things that generate the best and biggest returns, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you get to the relatively insignificant low return items that populate much of your to do list.
While it may be argued that many of the low return items on your list are of some value, it is necessary to assess their value in relative terms. In assessing whether or not a particular action item is important, don’t ask yourself whether or not it’s a positive thing to do, but rather, given all of the possible ways in which you could spend your time, energy and other resources, is this the optimal way to allocate those scarce resources? Is this the best use of your time? Will doing this keep you from doing something more important? Will this lead to a significant result that will further your key objectives? If not, although it may have value, don’t do it first, or don’t do it at all.
The most successful business people are the ones who have a clear desk and a clear head. These are the people who always have time to focus on what is important – because they don’t waste time on what is not important.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, tells us that 80% of effects arise from 20% of causes. In other words, of all possible causes, there is a very small subset that will lead to most of the results. It is widely recognized that the 80/20 rule applies universally: it accurately describes dynamics of cause and effect in a wide variety of applications, including business applications.
Take a look at your task list. If you are like most people, 20% of what is on your list will ultimately be responsible for almost all of your success. The real problem is that many of us spend time and energy on the low return 80%. That means we are spending a lot of time and energy on things don’t matter much at the end of the day.
Why do we do this? Often, it is because the low return 80% is easy and familiar. The low return 80% of tasks on our lists are generally things we’ve done before or we’ve gotten into the habit of doing. Often in the 80% are things that served us well before, but those are not the things that will take us to the next level.
On the other hand, the high return 20% are the real game changers. They are the things that are new, different, unfamiliar and more challenging. These are things that you must do, and you must do them first.
This is not about drive and discipline. You can have those things and still fail. Success is entirely about setting priorities and focusing on your high return 20%. It’s that simple.