If you're like me, you have way too many things to do and not enough time to do them. How do you choose what gets your attention and what doesn't? Getting Things Done is great for corralling all your tasks, but then what? That's where the 80/20 Principle can really help you decide which tasks and projects should go forward.
If you haven't heard of the 80/20 Principle, it’s a simple idea: about 80 percent of the value comes from about 20 percent of the inputs. For example, 80% of a company's profits comes from 20% of its products; 80% of productivity comes from 20% of your activities. And 20% of your tasks and projects are going to yield 80% of the value while the other 80% of the stuff on your plate makes cauliflower look good.
Here's a simple, low-tech way to apply the 80/20 Principle: make a Productivity Matrix:
Ignore for the moment my non-existent freehand illustration skills. Along one axis, there's Value from low to high. What's "Value"? Money works (well!). So does personal satisfaction, alignment to your higher values, what your boss wants from you; whatever floats your boat. Along the other axis there's Effort, again from low to high. Effort is trying to write something others will want to read when it's 4am, working till midnight or beyond, e.g., work.
Now, make a list of your current top tasks or projects, say 1 to 10, and then write them into your Matrix. Interesting things tend to happen – most times there will be 2-4 items in that good High Value/Low Effort quadrant and the rest elsewhere. That's the 80/20 Principle at work again. Focus on getting those Few tasks done first so you can collect most of the value, then worry about the rest. Better still, get those done then repeat the process with the next 10 tasks or projects on your plate.
If you want more info on 80/20, check out Richard Koch's site, http://www.the8020principle.com/ or his new book, Living the 80/20 Way. He's the guy that has been really working this for years. You'll also find two other applications of 80/20 I'm posting today at http://codesnipers.com and http://mymicroisv.com .