Long time no see. I had it all thought through, I was to pre-write my posts for times of emergency and I had a list and I was all motivated. It was going to work out great. In the meantime what happened is life. And bad weather. And other more or less serious events which have successfully prevented me from posting last two Thursdays as well as yesterday. It’s not that I was uninspired or lazy but I did feel a lot of pressure. Suddenly having a full time job became too much and not having enough time to relax started to stress me out.
So today I would like to talk about time management. Or brain management. Or understanding that you don’t always have to be busy to be able to accomplish something.
How to do less and achieve more
I always keep saying that I like to work smart and not hard. And that’s probably true simply because the rest of the time I prefer to do nothing. It is not that I’m lazy or like being idle but I like having the comfort of knowing I can afford myself some slothful time for a nap or binge watching 7 episodes of Broadchurch.
The key to being lazy and yet having all the things done and completed on time is, for many, the Pareto’s Rule, also known as the 80/20 rule. You probably heard about it as it is a well-known concept applicable across different fields. In simple terms, the 80/20 rule states that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers, 80% of the crashes come from 20% of the drivers and so on. This phenomena has been observed across many unrelated fields including business, economics, software, health & safety and others.
So if this rule applies to virtually all aspects of life, how do we make sure we take advantage of it and have enough time left to bum around?
The busy bee
A lot of folks these days try to be hyper-productive, everyone calls themselves a hustler. We all know some people who rush from one task to another, always checking e-mails, organising, making a call, running an errand, etc. The people who do this often subscribe to and preach the idea that staying busy means you’re working hard and therefore are going to be more successful. Sadly a lot of bosses subscribe to this idea setting crazy KPIs and making you stay longer just for the sake of it. While this belief may be true to an extent, it often leads to mindless “productivity” — a constant need to do something and a tendency to waste time on dull tasks.
Keep going on like this and before you know it the day is over and you’ve gotten nothing done (but you’ve made it till 6pm and you can leave work now, yay!). It doesn’t have to be this way, though. It all comes down to understanding there are a vital few and a trivial many when it comes to tasks and activities.
Instead of being robotic in the approach to tasks, try to be thoughtful and always ask yourself if something can be done more efficiently, delegated or eliminated altogether. It’s about simplifying work, doing things faster, and relieving stress. It’s about clearing away space in your life to make time for people, play, and rest.
In work related productivity the 80/20 distribution is measured in the amount of effort we put towards our goals: the first 20% of your time yields 80% of the results. And then you spend another 80% on the remaining 20%. For example, it might take 2 days to create a working webpage. It seems it’s almost done, but then it takes you another 8 days to finish it off. There are bugs to be fixed, polishing the design and copy takes more time than expected, testing it across browsers and devices may reveal more bugs, etc.
Since the last stretch takes more time than the first, it is important to get feedback early so you can evaluate, adjust and evolve your work early before you invest too much time into it. Throughout the lifetime of the project you’re working on you can analyze and measure the results, learn from them, and evolve your plan. This way instead of completing your project to initial requirements, you build it to the best way it can be.
Know when to call it done
The first 20% of the effort brings 80% of the results, the second 20% bring another 10%, the third 20% bring 3%, and the distribution continues. The farther you are in a project the less of the results it brings, so know when to stop. If you’re a perfectionist you might be tempted to keep working on something forever, but that’s not the most productive use of your time!
I know for myself I could never fully go into the creative field, simply because I would keep working on and polishing a piece until I’m sick of it and that’s probably quite literally. Funny enough, before I even knew about any productivity hacks I used to apply them to my school and work life all the time. The more I had to do the more efficient I was. Or when I had little to do I wanted it out of the way so that I could play. It hasn’t been working so well recently so I am writing this post partially as a reminder to myself that there is a way and you don’t always have to be busy and tired. It is a lot harder to apply when you have bosses that value quantity over quality, but I’m sure if your output is good enough you will be able to convince them that it’s not all about how many calls and minutes you made on the phone, how many emails you answered or how many cases you closed in Salesforce.
Overall the Pareto’s Rule or the 80/20 rule is a useful construct when analyzing our efforts and outcomes. It is priceless when applied to task or goal lists, and it provides a useful analytical framework for many problem situations. Use it liberally, but don’t accept it as an absolute. Here are some tips from the folks over at Inc. : 5 Ways the 80-20 Rule Can Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder
Have you used the 80/20 rule to boost your productivity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!