Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions you take, while 20% of results are produced by 80% of the actions you take. If you tracked it for a while, you would probably find this to be true for most of the outcomes you are working on. The mistake most people make is to spend a lot of time doing the 80% that gets only 20% of the results, and they never get around to doing the most important actions. If you do the most important actions first, you will get results faster, and with less effort. Let’s call these important actions (20%) your “high priority actions” and the rest of the actions (80%) your “low priority actions”.
There are many reasons you might be making the mistake of focusing on the low priority actions. You may be choosing your actions unconsciously or consciously based on one or more of the following dis-empowering criteria:
- It happens to be on the top of your to do list
- It’s the easiest action
- You already know how to do it
- You know you won’t look bad doing it
- It’s urgent (but not important)
- It’s on your desk or on top of the pile
- Somebody else wants you do to it
- You’ve always done it this way
- Someone else or your company has always done it this way
- It’s the only way you know already
- It’s more comfortable
- It won’t require as much time (or so it appears, but in reality it gets less results so you’ll end up spending more time)
- You can do it in small blocks of time, which are all you seem to have
- Someone told you to do it this way
- You saw it in a book somewhere
- You’ve broken this strategy down into manageable steps, but you haven’t broken the high priority strategies into manageable steps
Have you heard the story about the man who lost his keys? He was looking for them underneath the street lamp on a dark night. A woman walked up and asked him, “What are you looking for? Can I help?” The man answered, “Yes. That would be nice. I dropped my keys and I can’t find them?” The woman asked, “Do you know approximately where you dropped them?”. He answered, “Yes. I dropped them way over there by the car.” Perplexed, the woman asked, “Why are looking for them over here then? You’re nowhere near where you dropped them.” He answered, “It’s dark over there by the car and I can see over here under the street lamp.”
This story is an extreme example of what you may be doing on some of your projects. You may be spending too much of your time on the low priority actions that don’t produce results as efficiently as the top 20% high priority ones. I propose that you take a little time to identify the high priority actions, and then commit to doing them first. If there are obstacles to doing the high priority actions, deal with those obstacles directly. Also, stop doing the low priority actions and don’t do any of them until after you’ve completed the high priority ones. The exercise below will help you to apply 80/20 rule. You can do this exercise in 5-15 minutes, and it might just save you hours, or days, of work!
Exercise – Applying the 80/20 Rule
Step 1: Choose a goal or intention. A measurable goal such as “have 50 clients by June 15th” works best, but you can also do this exercise on an intention, such as “to get more clients”. Write down your goal or intention now.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of all the potential actions you can think of that will lead to achievement of your goal or intention. Include the actions you’ve already been taking, as well as any new ideas. Don’t censor your ideas. Write down everything you can think of. Make a list now.
Step 3: Now, ask yourself, “If I only took 20% of these actions, which ones would likely produce 80% of the results?” Circle each action which fits in the top 20% category. If you don’t know which actions will create the most results, then include some actions that will help you learn the answer to that question.
Step 4: Commit to taking the circled actions first. Also, commit to not doing any low priority actions until the high priority actions are complete. Doing the high priority actions will sometimes require more thinking, creativity, or effort initially. However, you will likely achieve your objective before you even get to the low priority actions, saving massive amounts of time and effort.