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