A lot of time is wasted doing unimportant tasks. On the long run this will have a detrimental effect on your career and job satisfaction. Understand what it means to be effective by focussing on the right tasks and learn ways how you can avoid doing unimportant tasks. Once you know how to do this, you can use any to-do system to plan the tasks that need to be done.
~~~ Effective & Efficient ~~~
Being effective and efficient are important parts of being productive.
Effective means to do the right task and is therefore an important quality measure for your plans.
Efficient means to do the task right and is generally a measure for how well you execute/do your plans.
To keep it simple, it is fair to say that effectiveness plays a big role in planning and efficiency in execution. Hence we will focus on being effective on this page and being efficient on the “doing” page.
~~~ Effective: Do the right task ~~~
“Do the right task” sounds simple. In today’s busy world it requires strong decision-making skills to first identify and then discipline to focus on doing the right task.
If you choose to focus on the wrong or unimportant tasks, you can do them harder, faster and better than anybody else and find nobody cares. Being effective has a very high leverage on your performance and career. It is important to keep this in mind.
Does it sound like the newest coffee blend?
Most people have heard about the Pareto principle or the so called 80/20 rule. It is used in time management frequently. And often – wrongly – explained as the rule that the 20% most important tasks account for the 80% most important outcomes.
The Pareto principle can be found in many areas of life. Think of this: The English language has about 200,000 words in common use. An educated person knows about 20,000. That is a 90/10 distribution! Why would you try to learn 200,000 words if 20,000 will do? This will reduce your efforts by 90% and you will easily hold any conversation. You could take it even further: a typical person uses about 2,000 different words a week.
Pareto has found that similar relationships exist a lot in distributions, for example that 20% people own 80% of land. Microsoft found that by fixing the right 20% of bugs, 80% of the most frequent complaints and crashes would be eliminated. Pareto’s law simply says that often a small subset accounts for the biggest outcomes. It can be 90/10, 70/10, 70/20 … it does not need to add up to 100.
Your challenge will be to identity which 20,000 words you should focus on when you are learning English.
~~~ What can Pareto do for you? ~~~
Imagine you would only read the emails that you will ever need to know about, watch only the news that are relevant or at school learn only the things that you will need later in your life. Wouldn’t that give you a lot of spare time at hand? Time that you could use for other, more important, activities in your life.
Be a bit Pareto! Apply Pareto to your work. Nobody will tell you exactly which small percentage of tasks will account for most of your desired outcomes. This is for you to determine. Even something like 90/50 can give you about two days a week for more important tasks. In my opinion, this is a great incentive. The Eisenhower method can help you separate important from unimportant.
Applying the Pareto principle requires you to make decisions and even take risks. An important realisation is that if you try to prevent all problems you will not get anything done. You need to accept small risks to free up time to get the big things done [Tim Ferriss].
~~~ 6 Ways to get rid of doing unimportant tasks ~~~
Finding ways to stop doing unimportant tasks can be difficult. Here are some ideas how to do that:
1Negotiate not having to do a task once. Or ignore it at least once. Assess if the consequences were acceptable. If so, you may have set a precedence for the future and may not be required to do this task anymore.
2Delegate whenever possible. At least delegate sub-tasks.
3What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this task? If the answer seems acceptable, give it a try. See what happens.
4Take responsibility for more important tasks so that over time you get to do higher-value tasks.
5Upskill others – Sometimes we have to do certain tasks because we are the only ones good at it. Train others to do it and move on.
6Free your mind – You often keep on doing tasks because you had to do them in the past. Things might have changed and the task may not be required anymore. Don’t do things because “you have always done them.” Check it is still required to be done. A common example is that people keep on creating weekly reports that nobody reads anymore or that people only read because someone sends them to them.
If it all fails: apologise - Try different approaches to not having to do tasks that you believe are irrelevant. If you cause someone trouble by doing this, just apologise and try eliminate other tasks.
The aim of this planning step is to eliminate as many unimportant tasks as possible. This is the single most important part of planning. If you get this right, you are already way ahead of most others. Applying Pareto, I keep it to this one, most important, point here.
If you are interested in more details on planning, use the tools provided in the “Tasks & Priorities” page. But keep in mind: If you are not very successful in eliminating unimportant tasks, the best to-do system will just help you to juggle minutiae. The worst: If you are good at that, you might not even realise you are doing just that.
Advanced time management
Check out our main article on time management or one of the specialised articles below.
I am suggesting a different approach to prioritisation. One that aligns more with the changing world. If you are interested, check out our key article: a step-by-step guide on Prioritisation (click this link).
By Murat Uenlue, PhD, PMP, 2013.