We all spend the majority of our day looking to make a meaningful impact. But how many of our efforts set us up to actually deliver one? Are we going in the right direction or just chasing the same dead-ends of frustration?
We all know to 80/20 rule - 80% of our outputs come from 20% of our inputs. If we focus our attention on activities that rank in the top 20% in terms of importance, we’ll get an 80% return on our efforts. If our to-do lists have ten items on them, the two most important ones will give an 80% return on our time. So your target should be the first 2 important things at any time. Doing something unimportant very well does not make it important.
Start from the END:
Always start with the END in mind. Think about what you want in the END. It is in the nature of things that many hard problems are best solved when they are addressed backward.
Instead of locking down that 20% that will yield an 80% return, try thinking about that 80% of your time that isn’t doing it’s fair share. While it’s difficult to project long-term benefits and major successes, it’s much easier to recognise which parts of our day have little chance of delivering worthwhile returns.
What will I get in the END if I do it ?
Everyone wants only one thing in the END - the solution to a problem. The large majority of entrepreneurs and founders have one thing in common. They didn’t necessarily start out with a great product or world-changing idea. Instead, they all started with the hopes of solving a problem.
If you’re not solving a problem — or opening up a new opportunity — it’s unlikely that you’re going to inspire people to make a change. And if you’re not inspiring them to make a change, why should they bother noticing ?
Ask yourself, is this work solving a problem or just perpetuating the current status quo? I realise that not everyone is working to resolve the organisation’s biggest issue. But most companies have a whole host of inefficiencies and struggles that no one is currently handling (or at least handling well). With these opportunities surrounding us, why would you want to spend your time working on something that isn’t going to bring about a positive change?
Do I really need to do it myself ?
Effectiveness comes from unique contributions. We’re more productive and generally happier when we’re working in areas that align with our strengths and help us make a unique contribution. Would you rather do work that’s unique and will be associated with your legacy, or work that can be easily replicated by any number of people ? Because if your work can be easily replicated, there’s not much that’s setting you apart. If you’re the same, so are plenty of other people.
Too many people fall into the trap of doing work because they can do it. When in actuality, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should. If it doesn’t align with your strengths, there’s likely to be other people who are better suited for that work. Find them. Develop them. Train them. And get back to focusing on work that let’s you stand out.
Does this contribute to my goal ?
It’s easy to mistake the non-essential for the essential when we lack clarity on which work contributes to our goal. The alternative is to stop and consider which efforts further our goal and which ones are non-essential distractions. Keep the important things important. Eliminate distractions.
Am I doing this for a purpose ?
Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. Follow these methods to achieve more with less number of tasks:
At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Only six.
Prioritise those six items in order of importance.
Tomorrow morning, concentrate on the top task. Don’t move on to the second task until the first is finished.
Approach the rest of the list in the same manner and repeat going forward.
This method forces us to prioritise our work and avoid procrastinating on those critical, yet uncomfortable, actions. While prioritising tasks ask yourself: "If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be happy with my day?" If the answer is no, then perhaps there’s a better use for your time.
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings. Don’t trust anyone who actively looks forward to a day of meetings. There’s no surer sign of someone who’s looking to avoid doing actual work for the majority of their day. One either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.
Meetings are sometimes necessary. We need to make sure people have the knowledge they need to do their jobs. But they should be the exception instead of the rule. Most meetings are to report status. And most status can be communicated through other more efficient means. Limit meetings to those that require one. And maybe everyone won’t be so burned out that they’ll actually be useful.
If I don't do this, will it affect my goal ?
Have you ever issued reports that you suspected no one read? Or held meetings that didn’t benefit anyone? If you just stopped doing them, would anyone complain?
This practice encourages us to stop doing a suspect effort and see if anyone notices its absence. It often exposes those tasks which were at one point useful but no longer offer a benefit worth the cost. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Because while most people are fast to say no beforehand, they’re hesitant to object afterwards.
There’s few things more depressing than coming home from a busy day yet having the realisation that you didn’t really accomplish anything worthwhile. It’s tempting to say that everything is important. It’s easy to make everything a top priority and hedge our efforts by focusing on everything all at once. The only problem is that nothing meaningful ever really gets done.
Without the discipline to focus on the truly important, it’s easy to fall into the busyness trap. Without taking the time to set our own priorities, others will be happy to do it for us. While it’s often difficult to see what work will be a top investment, it’s much easier to recognise the efforts those efforts that fill our days with empty accomplishments and frustration instead of fulfilment.
Decide what you’re not going to do. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.