It is commonly believed that if people are more productive then their lives are more in balance. (I will address whether or not this is really true in a future post but for the purpose of this discussion, we will operate from this premise.) But having a life that is “in balance” is becoming more and more difficult. One problem is that balance is always shifting. What is in balance today might not be in balance tomorrow. It is also hard to be in balance when your priorities are unclear. If you don’t understand which activities advance your priorities, you will find yourself overfilling the time in your days with things that just don’t matter.
The Pareto Principle
Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, developed a principle that specified an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. For instance, 20% of a company’s customer base accounts for 80% of its revenue. In terms of personal time management, 80% of your work-related output could come from only 20% of your effort at work. This principle is referred to as the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule.
How can the Pareto Principle be applied to help us maximize productivity so that we live a life that is more in balance? Here are six steps to regaining your life’s equilibrium:
- Define a clear vision
You cannot prioritize your activities if you don’t know which ones are critical to achieving your ideal. And you cannot define the critical tasks if you have no idea what your ideal is. So, the first step to applying the Pareto Principle to life balance is defining a clear vision of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish. This vision can be as complex as visualizing the next 5 years or as simple as visualizing the next 5 hours. This will create a picture of your ideal, clarify your targets, and become the basis for making 80/20 decisions.
Once your vision has been established and targets have been identified, you need to understand where you currently spend your time. Most people do not understand what they actually spend their time on so honestly tracking your activity in 15 – 30 minute increments will allow you to see where your day goes. The key to this step is HONESTY. If you do not commit to recording your time honestly, you will not be able to gather the right data to analyze. Generally, tracking for one week will give you the information that you need to move forward.
3. Make the cut
Your time has been tracked and analyzed for an entire week. Now what? Review the activities and determine which produced little to no results or were time wasters. Now determine if you have control over these items. If you do, decide what can be eliminated, scheduled for a later date, or delegated to someone else. If the activities are not in your control, then you will need to speak with a supervisor to see if non-productive tasks can be removed or reworked to improve efficiency, etc. Eliminating these low-value activities will, by, default, increase your productivity.
4. Define your 20%
After eliminating those activities that don’t really add value to your work, it’s time to review what’s left. What were some of the tasks that you did during the week that ended up being the most important or had the most impact on driving maximum results? If you only had one day this week at work, which items would you have chosen to complete because they were the most productive? If you have control over these activities, can you figure out how to devote more time towards these activities? If you don’t have control over these, again, a conversation will be needed with your supervisor.
5. Commit to change
This is to be seen as a starting point, not the final answer. And it’s important to remember that small steps can have a huge impact. So, after reviewing what you feel can be eliminated and which items should have more emphasis, commit to doing what’s important instead of what is urgent. Take the time to record what you want to change so that it becomes a visible reminder of your commitment.
6. Take action
Then do it! You can’t make changes if you don’t take action. And, volume doesn’t count here. It is quality not quantity of action that means the most.
Clearly defining your vision and then using the Pareto Principle to maximize your productivity will allow you the balance needed to live life to the fullest. It brings new meaning to working smarter, not harder.
If you want to work smarter and not harder to regain balance in your life, I’d love to help. I encourage you to contact me for a complimentary session to determine if coaching is right for you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[About the Author: Stacy is the Founder & President of Minerva Management Partners. As a business executive and certified life coach, she uses her 20 years of corporate and small business experience to assist women in discovering the clarity needed to build the confidence that empowers them to succeed.]