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45. How to Achieve More While Doing Less

I can remember in the seventies people talked all the time about 'the age of leisure.' The belief was that with all the new technology - meaning that you no longer had to wash dishes, brush carpets or even make tea - in a few years we could all expect to be able to put our feet up for large chunks of the week. In practice, life seems busier than ever before, and the long hours culture thrives. But wouldn't it be great if we could achieve more, and in less time? That's what this week's tip is about. "There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm. Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff, officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office." General Von Manstein I have recently finished a substantial piece of public health work on the needs of disabled people and today I've been thinking about what to do next. I am already on the right 'process' path - I have taken it to this committee and that committee, and in two weeks time I take it to yet another committee - but I have taken reports to committees before and, to be honest, the results are not earthshaking. People listen very nicely, or sometimes not so nicely, they critique and suggest, and then leave the meeting and forget all about it. If you're lucky somebody has agreed to do something about it, but that is not by any means common. But I didn't do this piece of work for it to be put on the shelf to gather dust so I decided to jot down some ideas as to a strategy for getting the ideas taken up and truly acted upon. As I did so, I remembered something I read a long time ago, about the Pareto Principle. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) states that, in many situations, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The phenomenon was noticed by a business-management consultant, Joseph Juran, who named it after an Italian economist called Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto observed, in 1906, that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population - proportions of who owns what in the world today are still remarkably similar. Later he observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. It is also a common saying in business that 80% of sales come from 20% of your clients. So let's suppose that it is also the case that 80% of our results at work come from 20% of our efforts. You don't have to believe it, you just have to try out the idea and see. In terms of the piece of work I've just finished, interestingly, it is not at all hard to see which activities paid the most dividends. There were three: 1. Delegating: this resulted in substantial chunks of the report being written with relatively little input from me. 2. Talking to people who knew more than I did: There were three disabled people in particular, who taught me so much about their disabilities in the couple of hours I spent with each of them, I could have searched the internet for a month and not learnt as much. 3. Taking protected time to write: this is precious time. It's when everything I've learnt starts to come together and falls, piece by piece, into place. Other activities I'd engaged in were looking up things on the internet, going to meetings with a variety of people who didn't know more than I did, thinking and worrying about how I was going to do the report, reading documents, twiddling my thumbs. All of these had their place, (even thumb-twiddling) and I wouldn't drop them if I did the project again, but there is no doubt in my mind as to where the leverage points were. And I intend to employ them again, more regularly. So, the logic is, if you do more of the things that produce 80% of your results, and less of the things that produce 20% of your results, you'll get more results for less effort. Try this: 1. Think of an area of your life where you would like to produce more results for less effort. We're talking about work here, but it could apply to relationships, household chores, a hobby, anything. 2. Ask yourself, what activities in that area produce the most results? It might help to think, what do I do really well in this area? Which parts of this task do I enjoy the most? What are the things only I can do? 3. Then look at how you spend the rest of your time. How useful are those activities in terms of achieving results in this area? Is there anything that you are now doing, if you were to start all over again, that you wouldn't do again? 4. When you know the things that produce the best results, and the things that really don't, do more of the ones that work and less of the ones that don't. Simple! Wishing you a productive and restful week....