In keeping with the personal productivity theme started last month, clients often ask me how they can be sure that they are working on the most important activities, while avoiding the overwhelming distractions of corporate life. While each person’s daily actions are dictated by their individual jobs/responsibilities, there are a few overriding principles which help us stay focused. Just as setting goals and creating a theme help us plan for long-term ambitions, living by the 80/20 principles helps us stay focused on what we should be doing right now.
The 80/20 principle basically states that 20% of your activities produce 80% of your results. It was “discovered” by Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century economist. You probably did not know this little tidbit of information because you don't have brother who is an economics professor who feeds you worthless pieces of information. I, however, do. I see this as an opportunity to justify his twelve years post graduate work.
I digress. These 20% activities are also known as High Leverage Activities (HLA). Meaning that engaging in these activities has a greater “payoff” than engaging in other activities. One of the interesting aspects of High Leverage Activities is that while they impact your productivity at work, they cross the precincts of work and play. The following are five points you should know about HLAs which will improve your personal productivity.
#1 Know That Personal High Leverage Activities Affect Your Professional Life
It is important to know that performing your best at work is significantly impacted by maintaining healthy personal HLAs. For example, getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, spending time with friends and family, having your bills paid on time, and maintaining routine doctor visits all contribute to you performing personally and professionally at an optimal level. While there may not be a direct line between personal HLAs and your yearly bonus, these activities help you to maintain both physical and mental health.
#2 Know Your Professional High Leverage Activities
Now the flip side, know which activities at work produce the most bang for the buck. Really think about this. This is job description stuff, the essence of what you were hired to do. List at least three things you would consider to be real HLAs. Litmus test them by asking yourself if your boss would consider them High Leverage Activities. Then ask yourself how often, on a daily basis, are you involved in these activities? If you are producing at maximum capacity, you are involved in these activities on a daily basis. If not, what are three things you would have to do to make time for these activities.
#3 High Leverage Activities are Universal
When I teach this concept in seminars, I ask the participates to write down their High Leverage Activates. Invariably, regardless of their job titles, they name at least one or two activities which are the same. That is because 20% of activities are universal. No matter what you do for a living, there are activities which move your products, ideas and projects to fruition.
So to name a few: planning ahead, taking the time to think about a project from the 10,000 feet view, preparing for tomorrow's meetings schedule, writing everything down, taking lunch with a colleague away from your desk, routinely reviewing your calendar obligations for the next two weeks. These and dozens of others are all HLA activities. Make sure that they are part of your work life.
#4 Work on the 20% that matters
The point here is that you only have to improve your personal productivity on those 20% activities. You don’t have to improve everything, only those things which are important. My clients protest that focusing on these activities takes time. Believe me, I get it. So use your calendar in partnership for this. Literally block time off on your calendar to get work done. I suggest you come up with two or three “meetings” that preclude anyone from scheduling over them. Get creative in naming them. Don’t use Project Work or Planning Time, colleagues will bulldoze right over them. If you book an hour a day starting today, it will take you 3 months before you actually have that time available. However, if you don’t, you will never have it available.
#5 Be clear on what is NOT a High Leverage Activity
Consider this: Is your Email a High Leverage Activity? It must be because according to a McKinsey Global Institute study, the average worker is spending 13 hours or 28 percent of their work week reading, deleting, sorting and sending emails! YIKES!
Start by reducing the time and energy spend on Email with this one practice. Don’t check Email as soon as you get to your desk. I can hear the collective moan as you read this, but stick with me for a minute.
Email almost Never moves you along the productivity continuum. It always pulls you away from things you really need to get done. So, instead of checking it with your first sip of coffee, consider putting it off for 20 minutes. Is your job so extreme that 20 minutes of High Leverage THINKING is going to destroy your relationship with your boss or colleagues or completely derail your project? Pretend you are stuck in traffic, use the time to check your TO-Do list, review your calendar, or THINK about your upcoming day!
I wish each of you a HIGH LEVERAGE day!
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