Doing More With Less: The 80-20 Challenge

I posted the other day on our facebook page about how the 80-20 rule can help us feel less stressed, get more important tasks done, and work less on doing it. Essentially this will result in better time management in all categories of life. In this post I really want to develop something that can be implemented in our own lives to ensure continuous improvement. I haven’t gone through the process of doing this, so this idea is in beta mode right now and it’s something that I plan on doing once a month to see how it goes, and maybe I’ll publish a follow up to my 80-20 challenge explaining if the 80-20 audit worked out.

First off, for those who don’t know what the 80-20 rule is, it’s a general rule of thumb that says the top 20% of a group is responsible for 80% of the result. The most common way it’s referenced is that the best 20% of customers often are responsible for 80% of revenue. At the same time, you may have 20% of customers who are responsible for complaining more often. In our own lives, the top 20% of the people we deal with regularly, probably occupy well over 80% of our time.

At the same time there are probably about 20% of activities or people who are responsible for 80% or more of the problems in our lives.

What I want to try to do in the 80-20 audit is to focus on a list of tasks and people we deal with regularly and consider a few things about the task and people.

  1. Is this task or person in the top 20% in importance? If so, we’ll circle it a something that needs more attention and focus. Think about if a person helps drive you or improve your life. If the person does, then I’d say they’re certainly worth investing in. My children, wife, and other family members are certainly on this list, and I can probably think of 2 or 3 friends that are, but most of the other ones are not. The goal of identifying the top 20% is really to poor more focus into these items to strengthen them.
  2. Is the task or person in the bottom 20% in importance? If so the person likely should be cut out of your time. The bottom 20% is pretty poor and it’s likely that your relationship will never be that great anyway. Get rid of the waste, and the theory is our friendships that we enjoy will continue to grow stronger, just as pruning the unproductive branches from the tree strengthen the remaining branches. If it’s a task that is in the bottom 20% consider if it can be automated. Most of the time unimportant tasks can be automated or outsourced. One item that I have considered automating or outsourcing in my own life is grass-cutting. It is a relatively simple tasks yet time-consuming. I haven’t pull the trigger on it yet, but perhaps the 80-20 challenge will inspire me to do it.   We also should consider if we need to do anything with the task at all if it’s in the bottom 20% of importance. There’s probably not too many things that make this list when it comes to business, however you may find yourself going to a meeting or publishing a report that you’re simply doing because you feel that you have to, but in reality you could skip entirely. In your personal life, it may be something like checking the news everyday or watching an hour of Netflix. Define what is in the bottom of your list of importance and I’d bet you’d find a way to cut it out.
  3. If the item doesn’t qualify as the top 20% or bottom 20% consider cutting it or strengthening it. Most of the items that we do on a daily basis or people we interact with will be in this category. I’m going to start defining if this task or group has potential to grow into something that is a top 20%er. If not maybe the task can be cut, or automated. In terms of people, I think it is important to try to develop these people into something better.  Have candid conversations with these people and tell them what you think needs to happen to have both parties benefit from the relationship. If it goes nowhere, at least we gave it a shot, and maybe a new relationship that is stronger will replace it.

This idea isn’t a new one. Jack Welch, famed CEO of GE, applied a ranking system in which the bottom 10% of employees were let go each year, and top performers were handsomely rewarded. Jack Welch essentially believed that if you were in the bottom 10% of performers, neither the company or the employee benefited from the relationship. This article is simply attempting to outline what Jack Welch and so many others have done in their businesses.

This may seem cold and callous to some, but I think it may be the most humane thing to do. Nobody wants to be in a relationship where they are identified in the bottom 20% of importance, so why drag out the agony? The same with tasks. I hate cutting grass and somewhere there is a landscaper who enjoys cutting grass who will be able to profit from my disdain for the task. Ultimately the net result is everyone will spend more time doing what they’re good at and like doing. Sounds great when it’s phrased that way.

Equally as important of defining what to do, is when to do it. I’m going to attempt to write down everything on paper once a month (I’m setting a time slot in my schedule right now) and attempt to strengthen the top 20% and cut the bottom 20%. At the very least defining the most important tasks should result in more effectiveness at the very least.

The bottom 20% also may not change from month to month, but at least it will result in a conscious decision to continue to do the task, automate it, or outsource it.  After I get a few months into doing the 80-20 audit I will post the results in a blog to let you know how everything is going. If you have done something similar in your life or you attempt this after you read this please let me know how it went in the comments below.  If you plan on attempting this monthly remember to schedule the time on your calendar otherwise it’s likely that you won’t have to discipline to remember and do it (I know I wouldn’t).

That’s all I have for today folks, Thanks for reading and remember to be great today!

Robert Krickeberg

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