Are you focusing on the 20%?

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Most weeks we start with a list of things to get done only to get sidetracked along the way and run out of time. We won’t stop to reflect on what we completed and what we planned to achieve. By Friday afternoon the last thing you want to do is look back and work out which blocks of time you used productively and which blocks you didn’t.

The segment of productive time use I wanted to provide insights on in this article is the 80/20 rule. When I was first introduced to the rule, it left me stunned for a minute. How could I leave a piece of work unfinished, isn’t this going to hurt my career? Over the years I have realised the concept is more than limiting your time on a task. It is also about pausing to get clarity in what you are about to do and why you are doing it. It is changing your mindset to evaluating what is indeed required.

A minority of inputs lead to a majority of outputs.

Here are five things I concentrate on to ensure I am maximising my outputs.

One. Get more stuff done. When you’re given a task. The first thing you ask is ‘when do you need it by?’. You work out if I start at this time, I can get it done. Then you get distracted and time passes. You are now squeezed for time, and you do what you do best and cram. You work in the only way that is available when you are cramming. That is the same way you have always worked. So the outcome is the same.

Your goal of getting more done with less time means something has to change. This is different from rushing a task and compromising your best work to finish quicker. The 80/20 rule is about knowing what the outcome you need is. Then figuring out which things you can strategically drop to achieve your best work.

This can be achieved by giving yourself time to think about the outcome first. This process leads to a line of questioning and a broader view of what you are trying to make. Write down your plan and set time in your calendar to continue working on the task. In the meantime, your subconscious mind is processing a broad range of data as well as different lenses. As a new thought comes into your head, write it down. Once you get back to the task, you will have more clarity and be able to simplify or drop anything unnecessary.

Two. Find the right things to work on. The key to productivity is not in increasing your effort. It is what you are choosing to say NO to that has the most significant impact. I am generally helpful so when anyone comes to me for help or ask me to do something they couldn’t. I would say yes sure. It usually is something that is not adding value to my day or that I am an expert in. But I help anyways. Until one of my managers helped me get comfortable with saying no. But even with all the coaching I still want to say yes. So I have adopted a low-calorie way of helping without helping. I refer them to someone who is keen on that type of work or is an expert in it.

By spending hours working out how to complete the task and additional hours because I am not happy with the quality. I have less time to work on things that I am good at or should be working on. When you add that time up over weeks, months or a year it dilutes your effectiveness. The 80/20 principle is focused on achieving more by diluting less.

By referring or delegating the task to more of an expert. It allows you to focus more of your time in a week on the things that you are good at. This increases your effectiveness and by definition output on the things that matter. The other trick I use if I end up stuck with a task is to add it to my Eisenhower to-do list and ensure it is not in my Important and Urgent quadrant. This is the most disruptive to your effectiveness levels as it takes time away from your important tasks to complete this one.

Three. Find the right role for you. The 80/20 rule book focuses a great deal on this concept. It is a balancing act of knowing what you enjoy doing and what you are good at. Sometimes what you enjoy is the same as what you are good at, and you are already excelling in your role. Sometimes there is a gap, and things seem much harder. This is a hard one to write about as you might be finding difficulty in your role for a range of reasons. Personal hardship, imposter syndrome holding you back, poor time management or a variety of other things. I want to focus on the individuals that do not have any significant challenges. But feel like they can do more and are unhappy they can’t. If this sounds like you, you should:

  • Speak to your manager and colleagues and ask them “what do you think my natural genius is?’.
  • Complete one of the strength finder activities.
  • Take some time and self identify what you like doing and what you are good at.

Then you can work out how to change the way you are working on your current role or changing your role altogether. The 80/20 rule is all about getting 80% value from your 20% of the effort. Being in a poorly aligned role is like a natural runner taking up discus throwing. They could still do well in it, but the effort required is a lot more.

Four. Invest in the right relationships. In your life, you will interact with different types of people. Some people will increase your productivity and happiness (advocates). Some will decrease your productivity and happiness (detractors). I would always worry about upsetting people, so I thought the balance was 50/50. I found this resulted in diluting my effectiveness and my wellbeing. After considering the 80/20 rule I realised you don’t need to cut people off or burn bridges. It means I can ensure I can give time to those that I need to, but control the quantity. Every relationship is important, but it can’t come at a constant personal sacrifice. So allocating the right amount of time to the right sort of relationship is vital.

Have a think about the relationships you have and which ones you can tune down. How do you think that would impact your effectiveness and wellbeing overall?

Five. The 20% will advance your career. When was the last time you saw a promotion announcement that read? Congratulations Ray, you have performed your job, and you deserve a promotion. It would be nice, but the reality is your career highlights are focused on the 20% of what you do day to day. These are the extra initiatives that move the dial. The new skills you have learnt and executed. I find the easiest way to ensure that my extra 20% is focused on a career advancing initiative. Is to check if it aligns to the business goals or ask my manager in my 1:1. Knowing earlier if it is a worthy cause, will ensure you are not diluting your effectiveness.

Do less simplify. Enjoy more

The 80/20 rule can be a significant shift in mindset. Starting with one task at a time and thinking about the principal will increase your effectiveness in everything you do. Speak to your manager or find someone in your organisation that you can talk to or use as a sounding board. Choose people that look effective in their productivity. Ping them on chat, email or ask them for a coffee for their tips and tricks in adopting and sticking to the 80/20 rule.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.




Leader | People | Innovation | Technology— Experienced people manager keen to share my thoughts and ideas on leadership, personal growth and people management.

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Ray Moukaddem

Ray Moukaddem

Leader | People | Innovation | Technology— Experienced people manager keen to share my thoughts and ideas on leadership, personal growth and people management.

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