Professional organizers often apply the 80/20 Rule (a.k.a., the Pareto Principle or the Law of the Vital Few) to decluttering. For example, in a closet, determine the 20% of clothes you wear 80% of the time, purge the 80% of clothes you seldom or never use, and – voila! – you have space for clothes more like your favorite few.
The principle also applies to time. Most of us accomplish 80% of our best work in just 20% of our time, and fritter away 80% of our time doing…what? The key to really accomplishing our goals, to really making an impact, is to focus on the 20% of things we are really good at.
Determining our best 20% when it comes to clothes is pretty straightforward: pull everything out of the closet and start sorting: things I love (or not), things that fit (or not), things that make me look great (or not), etc.
But how do we determine our best 20% when it comes to work? Claire Diaz-Ortiz, in the book Design Your Day, suggests this similar pull-out-and-sort activity to find out:
First, get two pieces of paper. At the top of one write “Big Wins” and on the other write “Activities.”
On the “Big Wins” paper, list things that you’ve done in the past few years, personally or professionally, that have brought you the greatest joy, that have made you feel most alive, that have made you feel like you were in the sweetest of sweet spots. These could be things that happened just once, or continuing things.
On the “Activities” paper, list absolutely everything you do on a regular basis – fun or not fun, significant or not significant, necessary or unnecessary, whatever. Then sort these items into three categories: Things Only I Can Do, Things Someone Else Can Do, and Things I Should Stop Doing. (It might help to rewrite your activities on a fresh piece of paper with three columns headed with these categories.)
Next, cross-check. Things that appear on both your “Big Wins” list and your “Things Only I Can Do” list are your best 20%!
Now, set priorities:
- First Priority = Big Wins + Things Only You Can Do
- These key activities are what you should focus on, but you could also think about if there are ways you could do them in even less time.
- Second Priority = Big Wins + Things Someone Else Can Do
- These are things that need doing, but that could be delegated. You can better do your best work if you’re not trying to do everything!
- Third Priority = Things Only You Can Do
- These items need to be evaluated carefully, because they are not on your list of Big Wins.
- This category will have important necessities (sleep, doctor’s appointments) and other things that are just time-drains.
- Not a Priority = Things You Should Stop Doing
- Cut it out! (But, don’t be afraid to leave some fun, non-productive activities that rejuvenate you or bring you rest.)
As Diaz-Ortiz says, “ultimately, this activity is a mind-opening way to see where your time and work is really moving the needle and where you’re just running on the hamster wheel to stay busy.”
Let 2018 be the year where you focus on the few vital tasks that best get you to where you want to be.
80/20 your 2018!