Were you just robbed?

   The Pareto Principle is all around us, from our homes to our relationships, all the way to the workplace. The principle states that 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of the activities. But that also means that 80 percent of our time is spent kicking the ball in the wrong direction. 

   The majority of your efforts aren’t being directed at those real rain making activities. And that’s robbing you of the impact that you're capable of producing.

   But how do you stop robbing yourself?

   The Pareto principle is telling us something we all know. Not all of our work is created equal. Certain types of work that we perform really add value, and other tasks that we do aren’t anywhere near as important. As a professional, you know which tasks you do that are value-add. Often, those are the tasks that you were hired to do, the tasks that you are evaluated on in performance reviews.

   If you still can’t narrow the list down, ask your boss! They’ll be happy to tell you what is most important to do. 

   In one of the major projects that I am involved with, one of our key contributors faced this dilemma. Her experience (let’s call her Jane, not her real name) is likely one that resonates with you, either in your own life, or you see in your co-workers.

   Failing to plan and prioritize effectively, Jane was caught up in the habit of being busy. But as we’ve discussed, not all tasks are created equal. While our unfortunate heroine of this story worked herself into the ground, the small fires that she was putting out day after day weren’t really driving the needle. As a result of spending too much time and energy on the wrong 80% of activities, the company failed to meet its implementation deadlines.

   One of the other challenges that we all face is understanding exactly how much a certain activity is worth. Which tasks in that 80% of low value are worth the least? If you could answer that, it would be far easier determining which tasks to cut out.

   The impact of not prioritizing on the vital work for the implementation means that we need to leverage consultants to do the work instead. Downstream implications of those missed deadlines aside, the hourly cost for not working on the implementation will be $250 USD per hour that we now need to outsource. 

   What does that actually mean?

   When looking at Jane’s schedule, she spent hours building reports that will only get a cursory glance at best. Hours more responding to emails and troubleshooting basic system issues that anyone on her team could have done. All of those activities are worth far less than the $500,000 USD annual salary that we’d be saving if we didn’t need to hire a consultant. (Annual cost: $250/hour * 2,000 working hours annually.)

   Why look at the annual cost?

   Sure, the implementation consultants are only brought on for an extra 2 weeks, or a total cost of 80 hours * $250, or $20,000. But extrapolating the impact of your decisions to the entire year shows the seriousness of the situation. Those errors in prioritization affect you day after day, week after week, those errors add up. 

   It’s far too easy to think that spending an extra hour on email, or gossiping at the watercooler, or any other low-value activity isn’t affecting you. But just as in Jane’s case, spending an hour on a $20/hour activity and not on a $250/hour activity has just cost the company $230 USD. 

   You bear those costs too, every time you do something that isn’t in that list of the 20% that Pareto identified.

   How do you stop robbing yourself?

   Become very clear on what you’re worth. And then look at the tasks that consume your life force. Are you working on tasks that are worth more than you’re paid for? Or less than?

   That doesn’t just mean looking at your annual salary. What about where you want to be financially. Is that six figures? A quarter million annual salary? Think about what your number is, and work backwards. How much is that each week? Each day? Each hour?

   If you want to stop robbing yourself, make sure the tasks that you spend your time on deliver that value. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Do that, and you’ll truly earn that paycheck that you’re thinking of right now.

Appendix 1

Here’s a chart showing the value of a $250,000 / year salary.

Term Cost
Annual $ 250,000.00
Month $   20,833.33
Week (50 working weeks) $     5,000.00
Day (250 working days) $     1,000.00
Hour (2,000 working hours) $        125.00
Half Hour $          62.50

Oh the places you’ll… Sit?

   Quickly, which chair is the most comfortable in your house?

   Is it your sofa chair? Your office chair?

   I'll bet that nobody said their dining chairs. Why is that? The dining room, where you invite your guests, where you want to show off your heirloom family silverware and china plates. Wouldn't it make sense to have nice chairs to round out the experience?

   Ultimately though, we need to consider the utility of those decisions. To upgrade the dining chairs is to reallocate those financial resources from something else. Is a dollar spent on dining room furniture going to improve your life the most?

   To live a rich and comfortable life, you don’t need to have the nicest of everything. In fact, you really need only a few nice things to radically improve your life.

   Warren Buffet jokes about exactly this, suggesting that most middle class families will drive nicer cars than he does. For someone who doesn’t spend much time behind the wheel, even with an abundance of money, his dollars have a far greater impact if he applies them elsewhere.

   What was the answer to your most comfortable chair?

   Now think about your life, and how much time you spend in any one given place in your household. Are you ensuring that the places within your house that you spend an inordinate amount of time are the most comfortable that you can make them?

   We spend an estimated 30 percent of our lives in bed, is your mattress contributing to your better sleep and physical health? If you work from home, what about your office setup?

   I spend a disproportionate amount of time in my office, anywhere from 80 to well over 100 hours a week, whether that’s reading, working, playing games, or simply thinking. I get far more utility for my dollars spent if I make sure that I have a good setup. Given how much time I spend, it was only sensible that I get a good office chair. Having better posture is an investment as much in today’s comfort as in protecting my body for the future.

   The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule works well to describe this phenomenon. 80% of the outcomes are driven by 20% of the inputs. 

   In our chair example, we spend 80% of our time sitting in 20% of the chairs in our house. But we can see that principle applied throughout our lives. 80% of the kitchen work is done by 20% of the knives. 80% of our walking is in 20% of our shoes.

   Finding those 20% of activities and items that produce 80% of our results in any activity is essential. When you start identifying, and improving those 20% of inputs, you can maximize the utility, and live a far richer life.

   If you want to live a richer life, make the most out of the few areas that really drive value for you.

How can you be better at your job?

   This week, several members on my team approached me with the question, “How can I be better at my job?”

   It’s an important question. One we all have asked at one point in our lives. And the answer is one that can have a profound impact on your entire life.

   The answer, perhaps overly simple,  has only 3 parts.

The To-Do List

   Opening up the notebooks of my team members, the first thing that practically fell out was a seemingly endless list of “To-Do’s”. Each of them, independently, had written down all the balls they were juggling right now. 

   And there were a LOT of items on those lists. No doubt, you can relate. How many things are on your lists? 

   How many times have you thought, “There simply isn’t enough time in the day to get all this done?”

   Trying to help take inventory of what their tasks were, we started putting those To-Do’s into buckets. Grouping tasks by the nature of the work gives a better understanding of what my team was spending their time on.

   Ultimately, we were able to separate these task lists into a few separate groupings, or buckets.

   Batching tasks helps give some clarity over where you are actually spending your time. Take out your to-do list, and group those tasks into buckets of similar items.

Make it Rain

   Putting those To-Do list buckets to the side for a moment, we then looked at what jobs they were each trying to do. Boiling down the job into the most basic metric: what makes it rain?

   Think about your work. What is it that you do in your work that makes it rain? What work do you do that makes money? 

   If you are a software developer, it’s producing working software. If you’re an artist, it’s making and selling art. If you are an event planner, it’s running smooth events.

   In every role, there are a handful of actions that really make it rain. Understanding what those few critical levers are will help you become more valuable. 

   Now think back to that endless list of To-Do’s that you have. Which of the buckets are the same on both lists? The To-Do list tasks that fall into one of your make it rain bucket, those are your money-makers. Do more of those, and do them well, and you’ll become way more valuable.

What The F*?

Focus. 

What the focus.

   Asked separately, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet gave the same answer. The keys to success lie in your ability to focus on the important things.

   As my team members looked into their To-Do list, they were really revealing their focus. Anything on that endless list was something that was weighing on their mind, and sapping their time and energy.

   By putting more focus on the activities in the make it rain buckets, my team members will ultimately be more valuable to the company. Put another way, by focusing on the real value-add activities, my team members will be better at their jobs.

   You want to be better. Better in your career. Better financially. Better in all aspects of your life. I know you do, because that’s why you show up here each week.

   Understanding what it is that you do to make it rain, and then allocating more of your time to focus on those key activities makes you better. And that difference in performance between you and everyone else? That will, in time, be rewarded.

   Think about these elements this week: What can only you do to make it rain? Are you spending enough time on those activities? Can you increase your focus, time and energy on those money-makers to become even more valuable?

No Zero Days

   What separates a top achiever from everyone else?

   Top achievers know exactly what they want to do, and then spend the time working on those priorities. If you want to find more success in your life, you need to be able to answer the questions:

   How are you spending your time? What are you working on? Is what you are working on a top priority?

   While we all have endless to-do lists, super-achievers understand that it simply is not possible to get everything done. For these elite performers, they have adopted and embody a simple philosophy: No Zero Days.

   A “zero day” can be defined as a day that doesn’t drive the needle on your top priorities, your big hairy audacious goal, the life defining work we all aspire to. Zero days don’t mean that nothing gets done, quite the opposite in fact. On those zero days we work our asses off, clearing out our to-do lists and attending meetings, all working towards someone else’s agenda.

   This week, I challenge you to have No Zero Days. Start by writing down your biggest 3 priorities. Now spend time each day working on those priorities first. You don’t need to devote all your time towards those goals, that would be impossible. But make sure each day you do something to drive the needle forward. Let’s see if we all can go 5 for 5, making meaningful incremental progress each day. 

   Be sure to review your progress at the end of the week - if those small daily wins feel good, strive for two weeks of No Zero Days, then a month. Success is in your reach, one day at a time.

An Apple a Day

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. 

   We’ve all heard the cliche, often spoken by our parents or grandparents. And while apples may not keep us healthy all the time, there is certainly a positive lesson to learn. Making a small positive choice each day puts us in a healthier state. These positive choices add up over time, eventually bringing with them the succulent fruits of success. 

What are your Apples?

   The apple a day helps with our health. We’re selecting a fruit instead of something else, like chips or cookies. This trade-off provides a positive ROI, as we strengthen our bodies through improved nutrition, and stay away from foods that would do us harm. But that’s only one aspect of our lives where we are making a positive choice daily. To truly capture the essence of this advice, we need to find other apples, other positive choices that support all our goals.

   This could be reading industry news to stay abreast of the technological advancements in our careers. Or listening to a positive themed podcast in the morning, putting ourselves in an upbeat mood for the day. These apples help strengthen the important aspects in our lives. Perhaps far more important than goals, these small positive choices are the actions that we can take that lead us to both goal achievement, and the grander vision we have for our future.

What’s the catch?

   An apple a day, that seems so simple. And it is. It is also extremely simple not to do. Staying consistent with small positive choices is essential for reaping the rewards of long-term investing in ourselves.

How do we stick with these positive choices?

   If we consider each daily action like eating that apple, as a choice, then we are destined to fail. The issue here, is that we are allowing our willpower to decide if we eat the apple or the chocolate bar. Willpower is a fickle substance, and cannot be relied upon to deliver the same result day after day. 

   A far superior strategy is to create routines. These routines cost a lot of willpower up front, but then put you on an unconscious path to success. After a month or two, those decisions you used to make? They aren’t there anymore. You’ll find yourself subconsciously reaching for the apple every time that option comes up.

Time to go Apple Picking

   Now it’s your turn. What is your “apple a day”? What small thing, or things, can you do consistently to make sure you are on the right track to success? And how can you build these into a routine to make sure that you follow the path to success without relying on willpower in the future?