With all the talk about balance in our lives, it's no wonder we feel so out of balance at times. The media headlines scream at us to examine our priorities.
Let's face it, during this busy holiday season, we could all use more time. So why do we keep spending more time on things that don't yield results for us - and less time on things that do?
There's actually a scientific theory that explains this. You may not have heard the official name, the Pareto Principle, but I'll bet you've heard of the 80/20 Rule.
The 80/20 Rule states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work - and extended to life - it means that about 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results.
So where are you directing your 20 percent - and your 80 percent? This reminds me of the "urgent vs. important" grids that illustrate how many of us respond to those urgent requests, even if they're not really the important things in our lives. We do the "B" and "C" tasks, rather than the "A" tasks because they're faster and easier to cross off our lists. This gives us a temporary sense of accomplishment in the short run. In the long run, though, those ever-important "A List" items continue to mount. And the temporary glow we felt from crossing off a minor task wanes. Yikes!
I've found we often put off the "A" items because they're major things that seem so daunting. Here's a quick tip: "Chunk down" the big goal into small steps, and cross them off one at a time. The "A" item may have to be carried over into multiple days, but you'll still be making progress every day. This helps to result in the best of both worlds - that temporary glow of short-term accomplishment and the satisfaction that you're still getting closer to that overall goal.
Of all the things we do, it's kind of disheartening to think only 20 percent of them really matter. While this is a convenient theory - and an eye-opener - I believe it's meant to be a tool, rather than an absolute life principle.
"When the fire drills of the day begin to sap your time," says management consultant John Reh, "remind yourself of the 20 percent you need to focus on. If something in the schedule has to slip - if something isn't going to get done - make sure it's not part of that 20 percent."
Which reminds me of the theory of the glass balls. It notes that we're all juggling lots of balls all the time. Some balls, when dropped, bounce back. Others don't. Sometimes we let the most important things - a glass ball - drop. And then we get a wakeup call.
If you have five things to accomplish today, according to attorney/author Steve Strauss, the 80/20 Rule states that only one will be vitally important, the other four much less so.
Following are a few examples, developed by business consultant Bryan Eisenberg, of the Pareto Principle in action in the business world.
And here are some examples of the Pareto Principle in action from a personal perspective.
You're in your 80 percent if the following statements ring true: