The 80/20 Rule: Prioritization Made Easy

It is easy to become so preoccupied that you forget what really matters most. When Peter Lynch, a successful investment banker, was asked why he left his high-powered job on Wall Street, he said, “When I am on my deathbed I’m not going to be saying, I wish I had spent more time at the office.” He wanted to pack lunch for his daughters and be there while they were growing up.

To help cut your work time in half and leverage the 80/20 Rule, every morning ask yourself these three questions and jot down the answers.


  1. is important about today?
  2. must get done today?
  3. is important about the future?

By answering the question, “What is important about today?” you may discover that today’s big event is your son’s 5th birthday, and you want to leave work early to make him a cake. It makes planning the day easier and helps you focus on the important things without getting distracted by everything else.

When you ask “What must get done today?” you’ll start to see that most of the time, relatively few things must get done. This can be very liberating.

If you have a lot of “musts” then you haven’t been in the practice of asking the third question, “What is important about the future?” This question forces you to plan in advance and prevents you from only focusing on today and missing out on preparing for future events.

To read more tips on good time management you may like to read 2 Key Principles to Master Time Management and Get More Done in Less Time.

If you focus on these three questions, your life will become easier. You can’t manage time. You can only manage your activities. Items that aren’t on this list of three questions are often a waste of time or fall into the 80% of items that aren’t really that important. So, consider skipping them. The 20% that makes the difference will end up on your list. This is the secret to leveraging the 80/20 Rule.

Excerpted from bestselling book Coach Yourself to Success by Talane Miedaner.


Q&A with Talane on Prioritization and Time Management


Q: What if you are in the middle of transitioning to a new business, but still have to keep the old business going to feed the family? I have spent years building up a business and don’t want to lose the 200 clients in my database, but then I don’t have much time left to work on the new business.

A: Yes, it is true you’ll be busy if you are keeping a day job and starting a business in your spare time, however, it is all the more reason to apply the 80/20 Rule and Parkinson’s Law as you’ll need to leverage these as fully as possible. If you apply the 80/20 rule to the 200 clients you’ll soon discover that only 20% of these clients generate 80% of your revenue. Focus on these top clients and stop serving the others or let them self-serve. This will free you up to focus on building your new business while still keeping tabs on your best old clients.

Q: What if you have a good routine, but find it boring?

A: Sounds like you need to find a way to balance being spontaneous with getting the job done. And, I’ll take a guess that you are doing too many administrative tasks that could be handled by a virtual assistant. Check out elance.com and assistu.com and find an assistant who could take these boring tasks off your hands for a reasonable hourly rate. Free yourself up to work on the more interesting and challenging projects.

Q: How do you sustain this notion of working smarter?

A: I’d recommend sticking a post-it note on your computer or better yet, making your screen saver be this message: Am I doing the thing that really matters? Ask yourself these three questions every day and you’ll automatically be focusing on the stuff that matters most.

Tip: Focus on one big goal at a time (a big goal might take six months to a year to finish)

Never have more than three projects on the boil at any one point in time and make sure at least one of those projects supports your big goal. Projects take less time to complete than a big goal and can be personal or business related, such as, build the deck, write sales report, etc.

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