This One Calendar Management Tip Will Change How You Spend Your Time
The Pareto Principle holds true for managing your time.
When it comes to calendar management, there’s no shortage of hacks and strategies to improve how you spend your time. For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh uses an email management system called “Yesterbox.” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos prevents wasteful meetings by keeping them as short as possible. Warren Buffett simply says “no” to almost everything.
All of these techniques can help change how you spend your time. But if there’s one rule to apply to everything in time and life management, it's the 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle.
Weighing the ROI of your actions
The Pareto Principle was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He discovered that roughly 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Since then, observers have used this concept to explain that things in life are not evenly distributed. For example, 20 percent of a company's workers produce 80 percent of its results.
However, as noted on BetterExplained, this doesn’t mean these numbers must be 20 percent and 80 percent exactly. Workers could create 10 percent, 30 percent or even 90 percent of the results. It simply explains that things often aren't distributed evenly.
I explained previously that the idea is that 80 percent of your results spring from 20 percent of your actions. With that in mind, a to-do list with 10 items will likely have only two high-value tasks listed. Using the 80/20 rule, you'd be selective in choosing the two things you tackle early in the day -- they need to have the biggest payoff.
But I'm not alone in my support of the Pareto Principle. Greg McKeown, author of the bestseller "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," writes in Harvard Business Review that “we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.” As such, the Pareto Principle should be “applied to every kind of human endeavor” to help distinguish the “trivial many” from the “vital few.”
Brian Tracey is also a big proponent of the 80/20 Rule. Tracey suggests, “Before you begin work, always ask yourself, 'Is this task in the top 20 percent of my activities or in the bottom 80 percent?'”
Here’s how you can make sure that 80 percent of your output comes from 20 percent of your time.
Evaluate your tasks.
The first place to start is by identifying the 20 percent of your tasks that will produce 80 percent of your results. You can achieve this by asking questions: Are all of the tasks on my list urgent? Are these tasks necessary to the overall outcome?
Am I spending too much time on specific tasks? This can identify ways you're working to make things great when they can simply be good.
Are the tasks included in my list my responsibility? Do I have the competence to complete the tasks on my list? Are there any tasks that I can delegate to someone else?
Rethink your to-do lists to create a new ranking.
The Pareto Principle can help you spend your time more effectively by forcing you to prioritize your tasks. Because this can be difficult to determine, Geoffrey James recommends you get started by rethinking your to-do list.
“When you make a to-do list, prioritize each item by the amount of effort required (1 to 10, with 1 being the least amount of effort) and the potential positive results (1 to 10, with 10 being the highest impact),” writes James.
From there, you can create new rankings by dividing “the amount of effort by the potential results to get a ‘priority’ ranking. Do the items with the lowest resulting priority number first.”
James offers this list as an example:
- Task 1: Write report on trip meeting; Effort=10, Result=2, Priority=5
- Task 2: Prepare presentation for marketing; Effort=4, Result=4, Priority=1
- Task 3: Call current customer about referral; Effort=1, Result=10, Priority=1
After seeing this, you'll realize you need to do Task 3 first and Task 2 second. Task 1 takes a back seat -- and may never get done at all.
Goals and tasks may not always be intertwined. However, you can still use the Pareto Principle when thinking about the activities needed to reach your goals. In this case, you want to be able to accomplish 80 percent of your goals with 20 percent of your activities.
For example, if your goal is to spend more time with your family while keeping clients happy and increasing productivity, you could work late just today (20 percent activity) to achieve 80 percent of those goals.
Identify and eliminate distractions.
Whether you work from home or in a bustling office, you’re surrounded by distractions. As a result, you lose focus. Even worse, it takes longer to complete tasks. Both can hinder your productivity.
Thankfully, you can use the 80/20 Rule to combat these distractions: 80 percent of your distractions come from 20 percent of your sources.
Begin by identifying the distractions interfering with your productivity. These could include email or social media notifications, incoming phone calls or text messages, unplanned visitors and thirst or hunger.
Focus primarily on the distractions that interrupt you the most. You’ll probably notice that it’s just two distractions making up the majority of the problem.
After identifying these distractions, think of ways you can quash them, such as blocking out specific times in the day to respond to emails. Turn off your phone when you need undisturbed time to focus. Close your office door. Require scheduled meetings. Keep snacks in your desk.
We all have certain times when we’re most productive. Some of us are ready to tackle the day first thing in the morning, while others crank out the most work at night. Carry a time log or use a tool like RescueTime to determine when you have the most energy and focus.
After determining when you’re most productive, make sure to work on the top 20 percent of your tasks during that prime time. You may just reap more than 80 percent of the rewards.
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