The 80/20 Rule for an Effective To-Do List

A Never-ending List

A Never-ending List

Most people I know live by a to-do list.  In fact, just about everyone I have ever known or worked with has a method to keep track of everything that needs to get done.  Some people are old school, keeping a running list on a legal pad or in a notebook.  Others have gone (or grown up) digital, and use one of the thousands of new apps on their tablet, smart phone, or computer to keep everything in line and firing on all cylinders.

I admit to having a to-do list as well.  Even my son has a list.  He started keeping one when he was about ten years old, so I would say that is a genetic thing.  My list is paper, his is digital.   But no matter how you choose to keep the list, there is usually one major problem with it and I would wager it is the same for just about everyone.

We keep lists of everything we need to get done.  All of our commitments and responsibilities.  The fact that we need to keep a list is usually an indication that we have too much on our plates and can’t keep track of it all without a system of some kind.  But that isn’t the main problem.

If you look at your list, I’ll bet there is no mention of the future.

Okay, maybe if you are thinking about the future as a week out.   But other than that, where is any mention of next year?  Or the next five years?  In today’s over-scheduled and over-committed world, we forget to make time to plan for what we would love to accomplish.

We spend all of our time just trying to stay ahead of the game.  When all of our time is spent on the day-to-day crises,  we cannot create any opportunity to dream about our future and what we could do to make ourselves better, happier, healthier people.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a section on personal development on most to-lists.

And yet, personal development is where we grow.  Where we discover what is important to us and what fills us with a sense of satisfaction.  If you never give yourself the time to explore and expand your horizons, you will never sail out of the harbor.  Ultimately, when asked most people will say they want a  more fulfilling existence–they just don’t have time to think about it.

If this sounds familiar to you, I suggest you try the 80/20 rule when planning your schedule.

It's All in the Balance

It’s All in the Balance

Plan to spend 80 percent of your time doing what you need to do.  These are the things you are responsible for and what you need to get done.  This part of your list includes, work, home, and recreation.  Yes–recreation.  That is something that is just as important as getting your job done.  It is a question of balance that helps to keep us all sane and functioning.

Set aside the other 20 percent to focus on dreams and ideas.  Make it a Big Picture time–a time for imagining where you would like to be in five years.  Or ten years.  How can you make it happen?  What do want to improve about yourself to feel better about your life and yourself?

This isn’t a time to chill out and watch TV.  It’s a time to be quiet, dream big, and paint amazing pictures of what your life could be.   Of what you want your life to be.  And how you can make changes to get there.

Isn’t that worth 20 percent of your time?

This is the same strategy used by Google to get the best ideas out of its staff.  Employees at Google spend 80 percent of their time working on assigned items and 20 percent working on projects of their own choosing.  Could that be why Google is continually coming up with groundbreaking ideas?

One thing is certain.  If you don’t like where you are and what you are headed, nothing will change if you keep doing what you’re doing.

The worst thing that can happen is that you will create a future that will astound you.  I may be wrong on this, but  I think it could be worth the effort.

Give this strategy a try, and let me know how it goes.  I would love to hear your results after a few weeks.  It may not be an easy thing to do at first–giving yourself permission and time to focus on you and your dreams–but I bet the rewards will be greater than you expect.


About Chris Griffin

Chris Griffin is a executive coach with a passion for wellness. He helps executives and senior management enhance their performance and their lives by pinpointing and changing self-defeating behaviors.

One Response to The 80/20 Rule for an Effective To-Do List

  1. Chris Griffin September 18, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Glad you like it, Carla. I think we all fall into this trap. I know I do! It really does a take a conscious effort to remember that the future is something that will happen. How it happens is really up to us.