“If you want to make an easy job seem really hard, just keep putting off doing it”
In our day-to-day work, business or life in general, we all have tasks or activities that are the most important and make a disproportionate impact on the progress we make. I refer to these tasks as the ‘Vital 20%’. Everything else is just ‘noise’. This is a well proven phenomenon, discovered by the famous Vilfredo Pareto (an Italian economist and philosopher) in the early 1900’s. Pareto asserted (and later proved) that 80% of results are gained from just 20% of activity! The Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule) as it is widely known, shows up in so many areas of life it’s quite remarkable – google it and you’ll be surprised. The key is to identify your Vital 20%and focus on them with greater clarity, that’s what drives exceptional performance in any field. The challenge is that once we identify the Vital 20%, we must then work on them for the majority (80%) of our time, hence the 80/20 rule.
I met with a friend recently who used to work as a Business Development Manager for a Franchising company. In her work she sold the franchises and worked with the franchise owners to develop their business. She was very effective in her position and would direct and coach the owners towards the Vital 20% of activities that needed their continual focus and action, proven to create success in their business. One of the most obvious activities if you are running a business, is gaining clients or selling yourself and your business. My friend was telling me that even though many of her clients realised this was one of the Vital 20% of activities, they avoided doing it. I asked her what they did instead, she laughed and said “they were regularly redecorating their office”. She went on to say she could tell very early on which of her clients would be successful by how well they acted on their Vital 20%, versus “decorating the office”. Whilst we laughed at how ridiculous this sounds, this is a serious problem for many business owners, leaders and employees. When you think about it more deeply the rationale for the problem is understandable. Gaining clients and selling your business requires continued focus and work, and you get a lot of No’s along the way. It creates a level of uncertainty and discomfort that a lot of people find difficult to cope with. Cleaning, tidying, decorating, they are jobs that most of us can do, and be certain we can complete them. The trouble is, they won’t build a business or drive results any day soon.
“Managing your time without setting priorities, is like shooting aimlessly and calling whatever you hit the target”
For many of us identifying the Vital 20% can be straightforward. The real challenge is that when we identity that 20% of activities, they will seldom be the activities that we naturally enjoy, or that we find easy, until we practice them (remember the ‘Conscious Competency model’ from a previous article). Below is a simple framework for identifying your Vital 20% of activities and then a structure for working on them regularly:
· Follow the What, Why, Who, How model (or GRIP – Goal, Reasons, Identity, Plan of Action) from one of my previous articles
· Now write the answers to the following questions
o What are my Vital 20% of activities (maximum of 3 x things) that will enable me to achieve my Goal?
o How good will I feel after I have done these activities every day?
o How much time should I spend on these every day, now that I know they are the Vital 20% that make the biggest impact on my work/ life?
Once you are clear on your priority activities that will deliver the greatest value for you, the next step is to set about working on them consistently.
“The key is not to prioritise your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”
Before we talk about how to schedule your time, lets consider some evidence about our physiology and how we can operate at our highest level. As humans there are 3 x important factors to us thriving, not just surviving:
· Food & diet as a source of energy to sustain us
· Sleep, rest and relaxation to recharge our system
· Exercise to maintain health and strength
We all follow a ‘body-clock’ linked natural daily rhythm. This affects our energy levels, our mood and our ability to be productive and focus. We have a natural peak in the mornings, all of us, regardless of whether we think we are a morning person or not, it’s how our bodies operate*. What this means is that we are more able to complete complex, demanding or difficult tasks in the morning than at any other time of the day. Conversely the evidence shows that many of us seem less interested in more mundane tasks in the morning – we’re actually up for a greater challenge!
*The exception is for people who work on prolonged night shifts or choose to sustain an alternative work/life pattern.
What this means practically is that we should all be focusing on completing our Vital 20% in the morning. We should avoid the less meaningful and mundane activities until later in the day. How we schedule our time, really matters, much more than most of use realise. So, consider how your current days look, and as soon as you can, move all of the less important activity toward the back end of the day; email, catch up conversations, social media, reporting, etc…. With your Vital 20%scheduled as your first tasks of the day.
My advice to my clients is to schedule their mornings for the Vital 20% – the key activities that will help you meet your goals. Set yourself specific targets – one of mine for example is linked to developing my client base and each morning I set myself the following tasks:
· Send connection requests to 10 new contacts in my business network
· Send 10 notes of introduction to people in my existing network (who meet my client profile)
· Follow up on 5 existing client discussions to progress towards my goals
I schedule time to do this every day that I work in my office, the only exceptions are days when I am working with clients. This simple prioritisation and scheduling creates huge momentum in my business and my results.
“Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy”
Beware ‘proscrastination’, it is the silent killer of dreams and aspirations across the modern world. There are so many distractions in the world today and staying focused on what really matters is more important than ever. We all fall foul of distractions (me included), but awareness is the instant cure. Identifying your Vital 20%, focusing on how good you’ll feel after you’ve done them and then scheduling the ‘right time’ to complete them, on a daily basis, will transform your results. I guarantee it! Start to notice when you’re distracted, reorientate yourself towards your Vital 20% and recognise the progress you make.
“You can only grow if you’re willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new”
Once you start working more consistently on your Vital 20% it may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to putting the important things off. If it helps, read my previous article on ‘Changing habits’, it will help you understand how to break through the discomfort and form powerful, positive, consistent behaviours. Rewarding yourself for your own ‘self-discipline’ is the final important step. Every time you have completed work on your Vital 20% (it will take regular, consistent effort), find a way to reward yourself. There are lots of ways to do it; taking a short break, having a drink or snack, giving yourself 10 minutes to relax or simply reaffirming yourself with a “you’re amazing”, whatever it is for you, do it every time!
The positive reinforcement of your actions is important, once you’ve sustained this for long enough (66 times) then you’ll start to focus on the ‘result’ of the activity rather than the activity itself. You’ll generate a positive feeling about doing it in future, then everything changes. It’s incredible, but true.
This simple model is so powerful and delivers BIG results.
If you apply this model alongside the models in the previous articles, you will develop your productivity skills and capability. They will help you stand out as someone who gets Vital tasks done and will positively impact all areas of your life. As a leader, these principles will help you become a role model to people within your organisation at all levels, if you learn to integrate them into your daily work.
As always, I wish you every success in applying this on your own leadership development journey.
Justin Leigh is an accredited Executive Coach and Leadership Mentor. He works with Senior Leaders to develop High Performance organisations. His passion is helping people to become the best they can be. He has worked for large corporations for over 20 years and is experienced in Leadership, Business, Sales & Marketing.
Justin is the Managing Director of Focus4growth Ltd. He can be reached at the following address:
email: [email protected]
Whether you’re new to sales, an experienced sales professional or a leader looking to improve the consistency and performance of your sales organisation, you’ll gain immense value from these articles, the scorecard and the INSPIRE, INFLUENCE, SELL book. Our systems map out a memorable sales process over several steps and also include mastery content for each stage of the system, which will give you deeper insight and expertise. The combination of foundational and specialist material ensures that no matter where you’re starting from, you can become a skilled salesperson.
You might want to work through these articles at the foundational level and return to the Sales Mastery sections once you get to grips with the overall system and have developed your skills. Each article starts with an experience story in which I share relevant, valuable anecdotes. If you prefer to dive straight into the sales system, you can skip that content. These articles are designed to be accessible and flexible, so that you get the most out of them.
As you work through each stage, I suggest you make notes in a journal or notebook. This will help you learn and adopt the content.