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How to Use the 80/20 Rule to Improve Your Time Management

Time management is starting to feel like one of the great certainties in life. Death, taxes and time management issues. In our age of information overload CEOs, Founders & Entrepreneurs are major sufferers of the time management epidemic.

Volumes of advice are produced each year. There are common principles around which millions of words are written and rewritten. They’re not wrong, but they vary in their effectiveness for various reasons which will be personal to you. So how do you work on the time management techniques that will work best for you?

The 80/20 rule or Pareto principle is a well known heuristic or rule of thumb that we use to solve problems based on experience.

It states that in many events 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. As an example, some (poorly run) businesses talk about 80% of their revenues coming from 20% of their clients.

So how can you use the 80/20 rule to improve your time management? Use these 5 approaches:

    1. Find the 20% technique: one significant problem with time management techniques and advice is that there is so much of it and that makes us tend to apply a number of techniques at once. This leads to a validation problem. We can’t identify the 20% technique which provides 80% of the improved time management. Take these 7 ways to get things done or the 4 approaches below and select one approach that appeals to you. Try it for two weeks. If it works keep doing it, and select another and repeat the cycle. If it doesn’t work, select another and repeat the cycle. You’ll end up validating 1 or 2 as highly effective for you.
    2. Don’t prioritise. Identify your 20/80 tasks instead: this is a simple one. Take any list of actions or tasks you have to do. Don’t prioritise them because prioritising is sometimes too complex an activity; too many variables for our fluid intelligence to handle. Instead, think 20/80. Simply ask yourself which 20% of the tasks on the list would really have 80% of the impact on how happy you felt. Bring happiness into it because we want to use your intuition rather than logic or emotion. What you’ll find is that – time-wise – if you work on those 20%, the 80% will either be quick to complete or go away entirely as you realise they are unimportant to achieve your goals (see 4. below) 
    3. Identify your 20% goals: sticking with happiness, intuitively identify the the 20% of your goals that would have 80% of the impact on how happy you felt. Focus on these first. Challenge the other 80% of the goals, and whether they’re truly important to you. Cutting out 80% of the things you thought you were going to have to achieve has a massive impact on your time.
    4. Evaluate your 80% goal work: look at your long term goals (and especially your 20% goals from 3. above) and then assess all your activity (in and out of work) against these. Find the 20% of the activities that you undertake – or should be undertaking – that will truly enable you to achieve 80% of your goals. You’ll find this very challenging at first. Immediately you’ll argue that your work is fixed and doesn’t align with your goals. Stop and think about the implications of this. Then you’ll argue that there’s no way you could get away with only doing 20% goal activities. True – this isn’t an overnight change, but adopting this technique will long term enable you to create a powerful filter for non-value adding work
    5. 80/20 any spare time: this is a favourite. Whether it’s a spare hour, afternoon or 15mins that comes up between meetings: DON’T WASTE IT. Work with your emotions/ stress/ accountabilities to be in the detail and always-on for 20% of any time. Use the other 80% of any time on either 20/80 tasks or 80% goal work. This has impressive power to make you feel both in control and achieving new things at the same time.

Most executives first find applying the 80/20 approach to improving time management insultingly simple and vaguely reckless. When they start to see the results, not applying the 80/20 approach and overloading themselves with poorly evaluated tasks, goals and ill managed time commitments seems far more reckless.

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About Si Conroy

Family man, founder/CEO, investor & CrossFitting ultra runner. Businesses apply cognitive science to goal setting & goal achievement for leaders. Love life.

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