Applying the 80/20 rule

You’ve heard the phrase “the devil is in the details” – the idea that the details are important, that whatever one does should be done thoroughly.

I’ve been knee deep in details of late. I have been writing an e-book and have spent a great deal of time pulling together the content, writing the various chapters, and updating the tools and templates. Now I’m in the detail stage. Editing, refining, setting up the associated Web pages, marketing, etc. I have definitely been overwhelmed with the details.

While I am a big believer in getting the details right, I was reminded of the 80/20 rule during this final stage of production – the principle of the “vital few and trivial many.” The 80/20 rule suggests that in anything, a few details (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial. And it definitely applies in my case. I accomplished 80% of the results with 20% of the effort. Now I am spending 80% of my time on the 20% that remains.

The value of the 80/20 rule for a leader is that it reminds you to focus on the 20% that matters. The 80/20 rule is at work constantly in our management and leadership roles:

  • 20% of your employees cause 80% of the problems.
  • 20% of the work consumes 80% of the time and resources.
  • 20% of your staff produces 80% of the results.

So pay attention to the details, but identify and focus on those things that really matter. Create that balance between “the devil is in the details” and the “80/20 rule.” When the details are dragging you down, when the firefighting is zapping your energy, remind yourself to focus on the 20% that makes a difference.

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