Focus. Concentration. Magic keys to unlock personal and professional power, right? It’s why we’re all searching for better tools to fight the virus of distraction and boost our productivity along focus-lines, to cut and hone those focus keys.
But let’s back away from that door for a moment. Before we consider external gizmos like our music, our workspace ergonomics, our multitudinous focus apps, how about we reevaluate what we should focus on in the first place — and what we ought to outright ignore.
How much time do you spend on really important stuff — and how much time wasting time? It’s not random. In fact, it’s an almost universally-applicable constant that you throw away about 80 percent of your treasurable time.
But that stat’s scientifically accurate and well-documented. Doubtful? Consider five things you can be doing right now that if executed regularly and well, would fundamentally alter the course of your life for the better. Got them? Now how many are you doing? We bet it’s one (20 percent).
The idea behind this famous “80/20 Principle” is that most things (80 percent) fall in the “trivial many” category, and the valuable things fall in the “vital few” category (20 percent). It’s in prioritizing your time and life balance management where the 80/20 Principle can be your best friend. Because only a small portion of all the things we do — about 20 percent — actually matters.
By “matters,” we mean gets us closer to our ultimate goal, our dream, our “mission” in life. Those things are considered “valuable” that propel our missions, move us toward our dreams. That means the other 80 percent of everything we do (most of what we do) doesn’t have as much value, because it doesn’t impel us toward our goals or dreams.
For example, let’s say you set as an important goal to write the next great American novel. The moment you do that, only those things you do to support that goal will have value. So schmoozing with a buddy at the deli, baking peach cobbler, staying late at work, learning a new language – enjoyable as these things might seem at the time – don’t need to be done. None of these things, the 80 percent of activities that occupy your time, will help propel you to that Pulitzer podium.
Apply this principle to any aspect of your life (your heath, your relationship, your finances, your family, etc.) and you’ll find it’s disturbingly true or close to true—most things you do don’t “matter” a whit.
This is especially true on specific tasks and missions you determine as important to achieve, say doubling your sales this year. Twenty percent of all inputs will lead to 80 percent of all results. The other four-out-of-five things together account for just a fifth of the outcome. Lead-generation, current client support, exploring new revenue streams: all valuable. Or maybe servicing that vital client that accounts for 80 percent of all your business? Or focusing on vital that product you sell among all the rest? Or that segment of your customer base? You get the idea.
Sure, this whole 80/20 thing sounds easy in principle, but what about all the stuff you simply have to do in a given day? Even there, you can dramatically optimize your productivity and efficacy, freeing up enormous amounts of time to focus more and more on the stuff that really matters at your job. Which ultimately means liberating lots of time, energy, and enthusiasm for the pursuit of your own missions and dreams.
At both the obligatory stuff – like making ends meet – and the personally important stuff – such as training to become a doctor – focus on only those vital few aspects that matter. Skip the rest—or phone them in at best. Become what time-and-motion expert Brian Tracy calls a “lazy intelligent” person. Working only on the stuff that really matters.Next week: More details on 80/20. This week, grab those headphones, hook up your favorite Focus@Will channel — the one that provides 80 percent of the value of all the channels for your focus goals — and get to work.