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Improve your productivity with the 80/20 Rule

You, like me, probably have heard of the pareto principle at school. This principle is name after the Italian-born economist Vilfredo Pareto. The principle is very simple: 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes or inputs.

The original observation of the Pareto Principle was linked to the relationship between wealth and population. According to what Pareto observed, 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Today this principle is apply to many areas. A few examples:

20% of the sales reps generate 80% of total sales.

20% of customers account for 80% of total profits

20% of patients account for 80% of healthcare spending

The 80/20 rule can also be applied on a personal level. Time management is the most common use for the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule applied to time management sounds like: 80% of your work-related output could come from only 20% of your time at work. In other words it suggests that two out of ten items, on any general to-do list, will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items put together.

The sad fact is that most people procrastinate on the top 10 or 20 percent of items that are the most valuable and important, the “vital few,” and busy themselves instead with the least important 80 percent, the “trivial many,” that contribute very little to their success.

You often see people who appear to be busy all day long but seem to accomplish very little. This is almost always because they are busy working on tasks that are of low value while they are procrastinating on the one or two activities that could make a real difference to their companies and to their careers.

The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex, but the payoff and rewards for completing them can be huge. Before you begin work, always ask yourself, “Is this task in the top 20 percent of my activities or in the bottom 80 percent?”

The rule for this is: resist the temptation to clear up small things first. Why is that? Well, if you choose to start your day working on low-value tasks, you will soon develop the habit of always starting and working on low-value tasks.

I feel we need to talk about technology because while technological progress has put amazing tools in our hands, not always we are using all these advances in the best ways possible. People still assume that they get more out of doing more - and that’s the wrong approach.

In reality, if you want to be happier, you need to find a way to get more by doing less. Specifically, examine your life until you identify the most valuable and productive 20% of your activities, the part that gives you the best return for your effort.

It's very tempting to try to cross all those little things in your to-do list because we get satisfaction from completing tasks; but that satisfaction is not comparable with the satisfaction of accomplishing big goals and feeling we are making an impact that is aligned with our purpose. And we can't forget about that feeling of being centered and in balance.

The second things I feel we need to address is the sense of pride we feel when we say we are busy. Our default answer to “How are you?” specially the workplace is usually something along the lines of, “I’m stressed/busy/tired/overworked.” Many times we respond that way almost in auto pilot. We even feel proud of saying we are busy, as it was a good thing. I am guilty of this, and I am actively working on changing it. I believe us saying we are busy, stress, tires of overworked as frequently as we tend to say it creates different problems:

  1. It loses its value. I mean what do you expect others to say or do when you say you are busy, tired and stressed. Is like the Pete and wolf story. There will be a day when you are truly busy, tired and overworked and you need support, and when the time comes you might not get the attention you need or expect because you are being busy, tired or stressed is the normal.

  2. It makes you feel more busy, tired and stress. It's a mindset thing. We talked about mindset on the prior episode. If you keep telling yourself you are tired and stress, whether you are or not you will feel that way. It's only making that feeling worse.

While applying the 80/20 rule can help you feel less stressed and much more fulfilled, it's also important to change our language. So next time someone asks you how you are, instead of saying you are very busy, try to practice using phrases like:

  • I am having a productive day

  • I am working on this or that projects and I'm happy with the progress we are making

  • I am a little overwhelmed right not, but I expect to go down as soon as I finish this tasks / project.

  • I have a lot of things on my to-do list, but I am excited with the results

Now you might be asking yourself how you can practically apply the 80/20 rule to increase your productivity. Let me share how I leverage the 80/20 rule in my planning and prioritization:

  • Every year I spend some time at the beginning of the year doing a Vision Board for the year. Learn how here.

  • After drafting my vison board I set annual goals, and I break them down in quarters.

  • I use my 90 Day Plan to create 30, 60 and 90 day plans that derived from our quarterly goals.

  • Every month I look at my 90 day plan and I break that even further into monthly desire outputs.

  • Every week ask myself what can I do this week that will bring me closer to achieve my desire monthly outputs.

  • Finally every day, as part of my morning routine, I set my 3 priorities for the day. I ask myself questions like: What can I do today that will bring me close to accomplish my weekly goals? If I only could do three things today, what are the three things that will create the most value?


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