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Productivity Power-Ups: Planning & Pareto Principle

Let’s add some more tips and techniques for getting productive. Today, we have these two Productivity power-ups to discuss:

  • The Pareto Principle
  • Planning Ahead

As in the previous post, we will cover these two techniques in some detail. This should be more useful than giving you a list full of one-liners like, “Plan ahead to stay organized” and so on. Since getting productive is the goal, let’s dive right in.

The Pareto Principle

There is a good chance you have never heard the phrase, Pareto Principle. But you have probably heard the more common name for it, the 80/20 Rule.

the pareto principle
The Pareto Principle can guide you to the most productive activities.

Vilfredo Pareto started the whole thing in the 1890’s. He noticed that a small percentage of the peapods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. He noticed similar patterns elsewhere. For example, he saw that that 20% of the people in his native Italy owned 80% of the land.

This general pattern shows up throughout the natural and man-made world:

  • The majority of the wealth on the planet is owned by a small percentage of the people.
  • The majority of the health gains you get working out come from a minority of the exercises you do.
  • The majority of the money earned by book publishers come from a minority of the books they publish, and so on.

Pareto and Productivity

What does this have to do with getting productive? You can apply the Pareto Principle to your work as well. In general, 80% of the results you get come from 20% of the work you do. What if you could identify the 20% of your work that gives the bulk of the results? Couldn’t you then:

  • Spend more time doing the stuff that gets the best results?
  • Spend less time doing the stuff that doesn’t get good results?

In other words, by changing what you work on, you could get more results for the same amount of effort. That seems like a pretty good definition of getting productive to me!

To make this happen, you need to do two things.

  1. Keep track of the time you spend on each work activity
  2. Figure out the returns you get from each activity

With this information, you can see which things generate the most return for the least effort. Once you know this, you can start looking for ways to do more of the productive stuff and less of the unproductive.

Exceptions to the Rule

As you well know, for every rule, there are exceptions. The approach I described above isn’t foolproof. Some things you do don’t have well-defined results, or have results that you will only be able to see in hindsight.

Let’s take responding to posts on social media. In general, there is no direct payoff from doing so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop doing it. As I was reminded recently, making meaningful comments to posts can be a great investment.

But commenting on people’s posts is also a speculation. The only way you will know for sure that it paid off is by looking back. It might result in more followers who eventually become customers. It might result in a job offer of some other valuable connection. Or it might yield nothing.

What’s the Answer?

You need to decide how you are going to deal with stuff like this. Try setting aside a certain amount of time in each day or week for these kinds of activities.

You could schedule 10% of your time for social media and other stuff you can’t assign a specific value to. Then, somewhere in the future, analyze the results. See if the time you spent generated good results.

Planning Ahead to Be More Productive

Just sitting down and going to work without a plan will only get you so far. As we saw when talking about the Pareto Principle, some activities contribute far more to your productivity than others. Imagine that you simply sat down at your desk and worked as hard as you could all day. You probably got a lot of stuff done, right?

planning ahead
Planning ahead can boost your productivity.

But were you working on the right things? The things that benefit you the most or whatever was next on your to-do list? Would your time have been better spent working on this task or that one? Do you even remember what things you worked on?

How Planning Ahead Helps You Be Productive

If you don’t plan ahead, you will have a hard time being as productive as you should be. There are a bunch of benefits to planning ahead. They include:

  • You will likely come up with a better plan than if you are improvising in the middle of your work session.
  • You will be able to produce instead of constantly stopping to figure out what to do next. Just follow the plan.
  • It anchors you when people interrupt you. When you have a plan you are trying to meet, it is harder to get pulled into other people’s issues.
  • You have a basis for applying the Pareto Principle. You can look at the day’s plan to see how much time you put into each task.
    The plan helps you to keep working on the most important things instead of the most urgent or most fun.

Planning tomorrow’s work tonight lets you jump right into it in the morning. It also gives your subconscious time to work out some of the details and issues while you sleep.

I am lazy, but sometimes do plan ahead. When I do, I get better results than when I just wing it, or scramble together a plan in the middle of everything else. Give planning ahead (including planning the night before) a try. See if it helps you get more productive.

Share Your Thoughts on these Productivity Power-Ups

What do you think about using the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead to be more productive? If you have experience with either of these approaches, we want to hear about it. Please leave a comment so others can benefit from your experience.

References

Here are links to some resources related to the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead: