The Law of the Vital Few - 80/20 Rule for Reducing Workload
“It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."
I have mentioned the 80/20 rule in a previous blog post, so writing a proper introduction to the concept made sense. If you haven’t read about it before, you are in for a epiphany… this could potentially change your life.
What is the 80/20 Rule?
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, the law of the vital few or the principle of factor sparsity was originally observed in connection with population and wealth. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the population. He then found a similar distribution in various other countries he surveyed. Since then, this principle has been successfully applied to sports, taxation, software, health and I have personally used it for many years when applying Six Sigma principles during my previous life as a Mechanical Engineer. It wasn’t until I started my entrepreneurship journey that I learned how versatile this principle is and can be used for prioritization of tasks as well.
How is the 80/20 Rule Useful?
In a business environment as a entrepreneur, all the tasks coming at you seem urgent and have direct financial implications. So, it is very easy to get into the mindset of a whack-a-mole or of constant fire drills. I applied the 80-20 lens to my business to see how it could help. And lo and behold, I realized that 20% of the tasks that I performed made me 80% of the money. By applying this principle, I was able to gain a significant amount of time by freeing up my calendar of certain tasks and at the same time I was able to increase my profitability and savings. I will delve deeper into an example at the end of this post.
It isn’t just for business, it is also applicable in our personal lives. Society has pushed women to strive to become push-up bra wearing super-heroes where we are not only career-minded, we are also selfless care-givers, well-dressed, physically fit, funny, easy-going - all at the same time. In order to battle the relentless stress of our day to day lives that this expectation fosters, we are now also required to think of our own selves so we can keep fighting the constant fight to meet all of these expectations. Enter the infamous "me-time". Images that come to mind when one talks about self-care are filled with massages at spas, drinks at bars or expensive looking meals.
I invite you to a different way of caring for yourself - a personal growth philosophy that is all about reducing your work load using the 80/20 rule. Reducing work load is a more sustainable approach than escaping this work load for a few hours / days. When I mention reducing work load, I'm not talking about how to be more productive, I'm talking about a strategy that has helped me reduce my workload while still accomplishing my goals - the 80/20 rule.
Applying the 80/20 Rule
I’ve tried multiple methods to tackle a pare down of the never-ending list of to-do’s. One of them included tracking all the tasks performed for a month including the easy / mundane ones that occupied brain space. That method was not only exhausting, it was also stressful and became an added task to be performed each time an actual task is performed! Then I found a solution.
Strategy: Lower the Number of Working Hours
It wasn’t until I decided to go back to my original goal (when I quit my 9 to 5) of not working for more than 5 hours per day that I was automatically forced to pare down my list due to the limited time. I did a time vs. money analysis and eliminated / outsourced certain tasks. My time vs. money analysis involves a simple ratio - of the dollar amount associated with a task and number of hours it takes to do that task.
However, I was still trying to be extremely productive by trying to do almost the same amount of work (even after being pared down) in a shorter amount of time - which defeats the purpose of this entirely.
Tactic: Theme Your Days
Finally, when I implemented a powerful tactic, I was able to figure a way out. That tactic was to theme my days. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square is an advocate of this tactic but this concept has been around for a while. It involves batching similar type of work together on a single day. It is simple but powerful.
So now, I block Mondays or Marketing, Tuesdays for Accounting, Thursdays for site visits - you get the idea. The two obvious advantages are: First, it establishes a focus and attention and gets us out of the whack-a-mole mindset. Second, because of efficiencies associated with grouping like tasks together, I was able to get things done much faster.
One example that I’d like to share is of driving up to visit my rehab projects every single day. Being an Engineer, it felt natural to spend a lot of time at the job sites being hands on and I didn’t even think about the time commitment. When I started to theme my days I forbade myself from visiting the job sites on the days I was supposed to be working on a different theme. Doing a simple FaceTime / WhatsApp video call as opposed to physically visiting the job sites every single day saved me about five hours per week. I still visit the sites once a week but that is more than sufficient when you have a crew that is trustworthy and competent. I combined this with asking my contractor to purchase material and pick finishes. Turns out, he actually enjoyed it more because he had more independence, got to be more creative and didn’t need to coordinate with me. Also, he got better prices than I did because of his connections with suppliers. It saved me another few hours a week that I used to spend shopping around for the best prices possible on all materials I purchased, keeping track of the schedule and all the paperwork that went along with this. Overall, being hands off on rehabs by not visiting the sites each day and outsourcing the material purchase and finishes to my contractor has saved me about eight hours per week and about 10% on my overall project costs. And this is just one single example! The possibilities are endless!
The third and the biggest advantage of implementing the lower working hours and theme-ing my days in order to get closer to 80/20, was in the intangibles - before this strategy, I couldn't see the forest for the trees, now I feel more present and can think even bigger!
Have you tried this? Let me know how it worked out for you!