It’s not the daily increase, but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee
The word “simplicity” seems almost like a single-word oxymoron. The fast-paced, tech-driven world we live in makes it almost impossible to keep it simple. More and more apps are created everyday to help make daily tasks such as communicating, shopping, and budgeting simpler – but the truth is, life these days couldn’t be more complex.
We can agree that on most days, 24 hours just isn’t enough time to get it all done, even though our multi-tasking skills are at their max. Clearly, there is a widespread need for a simpler routine, but achieving success where that’s concerned, is complicated. Where do you even start? (See, even the first step is hard!)
The Pareto principle, commonly known as the 80/20 rule, is a rule that has been universally accepted to explain the balance of output vs. input. In a simple sentence, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of results come from 20% of the action. The 80/20 rule has proven to be true time and time again in many aspects of business such as economics, sales, real estate, health and safety, information technology, and sports.
How does this apply to you? What it boils down to is 80% of overall output -or- your accomplishments, at home, at work, in the gym, etc. comes from 20% of input -or- focused time, energy, and effort. So, in other words, to make the simplest and most effective strides to your goals, you have to focus on the right 20%. Clear as mud? Okay, let’s look at an example.
Have you ever known someone who tends to keep busy all the time but never really gets anything accomplished? That is because they are taking the path of least resistance, working on lots of little things that don’t have a high value or return. Prioritizing quick, trivial or less effective tasks over more difficult, time consuming, yet impactful tasks is the procrastination paradox that leads to running in circles but never getting things done.
What’s the solution? Goal prioritization and time management. Try this exercise to help simplify your goal and task list down to what really matters to you.
- Make a list of 10 things you want to accomplish in the next 30 days – in no particular order. These 10 goals can apply to any area of your life – personal or professional. (The first of a new month is a great time to try this for the first time.)
- Assign a category to each goal – family/friends, career, personal, etc.
- Review the list carefully, considering the areas of your life each goal will impact. Now rank these 10 goals from 1-10; 1 = most important, 10 = least important.
Statistically speaking – and according to Pareto – your efforts over the next 30 days will impact only 2 of these 10 goals. That being said, are the two goals that you’ve ranked #1 and #2 truly the most important to you?
Now, on to the time management piece. Here are a few ways that you can simplify some aspects of your daily routine to pick up more time to work on what is really important to you – aka- free up that precious 20%.
- Prep for success. This can be as simple as making a daily to-do list for personal or work items. A short, simple list of things you must accomplish before the day is over will help direct your focus when you encounter inevitable distractions each day.
- Identify the road blocks in your day. In other words, what are some of the daily tasks that seem to hold you up. For this to work – it must be a road block that you can control, i.e. the long line to drop off / pick up your kids at school, probably isn’t something you can control.
However, do you find yourself standing in front of your closet frantically trying to decide what to wear in the mornings? Choosing your clothing the night before can help you pick up some more time. In the same way, packing your lunch the night before or deciding on what breakfast will be in the morning are simple nightly decisions that can pick up some time.
- Avoid time pitfalls. There are moments in our day that are stolen from us – both voluntarily and involuntarily. Voluntary time pitfalls such as minutes you lose each time you reach for your smartphone to play a quick game of Candy Crush or to catch up on your Instagram feed. If you do this several times a day, the minutes you lose adds up fast.
Sometimes you don’t realize you are involved in an involuntary time pitfall until it is too late. This typically happens when a chat around the watercooler goes too long – or when a co-worker stops you to share details about something work-related then it spirals into a 15-minute conversation about something else entirely.
Words with Friends on your smartphone or in person should be treated as a brief brain-break. These are the quick, easy tasks that we like to do but aren’t the most effective; and in order to make the most of our 20%, time pitfalls should be avoided, limited, or re-allocated to more appropriate times in the day.
If you are going to take Bruce Lee’s path to simplicity by “hacking away at the unessential” – first determine what is essential (AKA rank your goals and priorities) and then start to remove the small barriers in your path that you can control.