I can appreciate the 80/20 rule, yet I think it’s outdated.
Sure, I accept that a first analysis will often show that 20% of inputs lead to 80% of outputs. I also agree that you can use this to sharpen your focus. But this analysis isn’t a catchall for every situation, and therefore hard to consistently put it into action on a daily basis. Most importantly it misses an opportunity for making really good use of your time – the potential to do things that multiply their effect over time.
How to use time today so that it multiplies its effect in the future?
Unarguably you need to start by doing the right things. It’s common thinking that the 80/20 rule helps determine these – for e.g. that since a small percentage (20%) of your clients x,y, and z make up 80% of your business revenue, focusing (80% of) your sales effort on this group is doing the right thing. You can use the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) to break down many things in this way, determining what critical things need to happen to achieve 80% of the effect. But I think there is a limit to this thinking.
The 80/20 rule stops working as a practical tool for prioritization when we have competing goals. If I spent 80% of my day only doing things for sales acquisition focused on my top 3 customers, when do I have time to manage my team? And I feel like most top performers already have a good feeling for what critical actions need to happen each day. Finally if we just followed the 80/20 rule, we ignore the potential power of the 20%. We can use this 20% to move beyond just doing the right things, to things that will multiply in the future.
A better tool than 80/20
- Can I Eliminate it? Many things really aren’t essential upon reflection.
- Can I Automate it? By investing a small amount of time now, you can save time in the future.
- Can I Delegate it? Some tasks don’t need your personal attention or level of perfection, you can teach someone else to do it.
If you can’t do 1-3, then ask yourself, do I need to do it now or can it wait until later?
What I like about this approach is that it is much more practical and leaves you to manage competing goals dynamically. You can run through this list a few moments a day, and it works.
The crux is that we must recognize that a decision to do something is also a decision to not do something else. And while we say ‘no’ all the time, we must carefully say ‘yes’ to only the right things. What Rory correctly identifies is that we need to give ourselves emotional permission to make these decisions to say ‘no’ easier:
- Eliminate — the permission to ignore (and not waste time beating yourself up over it)
- Automate — the permission to invest (setting up something now to save time tomorrow)
- Delegate — the permission of imperfect (don’t do it yourself)
- Procrastinate — the permission of incomplete (it’s OK to not have all the loose ends tied up)
- Concentrate — the permission to protect (your thinking time and focus)
The most powerful thing Rory touches upon is the concept of multiplying your time. He proposes that instead of just prioritizing based on importance and urgency, you also consider significance – which considers how long something is important. The great thing about this is you begin to consider the wider context of why you are doing things – and their impact on higher level goals. And sadly, this is where he doesn’t take the idea far enough. His argument is that you multiply time by eliminating, automating, or delegating – but this really is just a more effective way of saving time.
Stop saving time, seek tasks that multiply their effect over time.
As young investors we are taught the power of compounding interest. I believe the same is true for our use of time. We really multiply the impact of our time when we make an investment today to make an increasingly large return tomorrow. How do you set things in action that grow themselves? It’s not about impact in one instance, but sustained and compounding impact. Let’s assume some common high-level goals are things like love, finance, health, corporate growth – the question becomes how can we take a few actions, maybe with only 5% of our time, that will give exponentially large returns in the future? Consider things like setting up a passive income, taking a second honeymoon, taking a sabbatical that unites your family, or a corporate retreat that binds all your team through a unique experience? You won’t think about these with just the 80/20 rule or with Rory’s checklist – but I think this is how you can really multiply your time.
Multiplying with others
And to go even further, consider how can your actions multiply the effect of others’ contributions. How can we align a group or team so that their actions compound the effect of each other’s actions, a true synergy? For inspiration on this check out Liz Wiseman’s book ‘multipliers’. She talks about 5 kinds of leaders:
- The Talent Magnet – defines actions that unlock people’s native genius
- The Liberator – generates rapid learning cycles
- The Challenger – generates belief in what is possible
- The Debate Maker – clearly frames an issue
- The Investor – invests resources and defines ownership
The mindset of seeking tasks that multiply their effect or that of others over time is essential. It will help to unlock big wins in the future with comparably small actions today. That’s making good use of your time! To be clear, I’m skeptical that all actions can be multipliers… only sometimes can you make the timing work. It’s like a scrabble board, if you keep your eye out for the 2x or 3x time score, then you can make sure you grab these opportunities. Be mindful that without planning they never happen. The key is that you plan and execute a multiplier every so often – and then reap the rewards far beyond just 80/20!Subscribe to future posts
I have rarely met an entrepreneur who moves as fast as Adrian Beckett, in our working lunch he put me onto thinking about the Pareto principle for time management and inspired this post.