The 80/20 Rule To Prioritise Your Success

a woman standing in a field of sunflowers

One of the hallmarks of being a small business owner is your willingness to get everything done by yourself. It makes sense to fix bugs in your PC, replenish stock or import data into your CRM when the budget is tight.

I do have to question though if it’s the best use of your time.

One common problem I see with business owners like yourself is a misdirected focus on doing the tasks that aren’t associated with the greatest rewards or biggest paycheck.

I recently dealt with a client who was migrating her email host from Outlook to Gmail. What should have been a simple process took her weeks. I’m no technical genius (neither is she) but obviously, there was a problem and despite her best efforts, it wasn’t going to be fixed by her.

Right from the start of this situation I told her to look for troubleshooting options or an IT whiz online. Her argument went like this:

“I’m not going to spend time researching IT people that can help and I’m certainly not going to pay them to come to the office and fix it. It’s a simple problem and I just need to find the right blog that steps me through it”.

How ironic that her argument against wasting time and money was the very thing she did, but she was adamant so I let the conversation slide.

Two weeks later on a conference call, I asked if she’d completed her email migration. The answer, a despondent no. I quickly followed up with a question about how much time she’d spent trying to figure out the problem. She’d literally spent hours over the last fortnight trying to change email hosts.

I could see it was a battle she was losing. I put her in contact with an IT technician I’d found online before our call. It took me a few minutes to get the details and a basic quote. She was thankful for the help, but I wasn’t convinced she’d make contact.

She did and the problem got solved.

My approach to this circumstance might seem cruel but sometimes the best learning tool is making the mistake firsthand. Within two hours and for less than $60, her Gmail was up and running.

This example is an important lesson for small business owners – you’re not always best placed to work on everything. In this case, paying $60 is a lot less than the weeks of research and frustration experienced, especially considering her hourly rate when working with clients is north of $300 per hour.

The Pareto Principle is a theory that states 20% of your time produces 80% of your results. Over the years this has been extrapolated into the business world, with the suggestion that 80% of sales come from 20% of your customers. If this is true, and I believe it is, then without a clear understanding of what your priorities are, it’s impossible to know where your focus needs to be. Without known and achievable priorities, you can’t consistently service your customers, stay ahead of the game and build momentum as you seek to grow.

Realistically, you’re the only person – mentors aside – that can dictate what constitutes as a priority item within your business. Trust me though, everyone will have an opinion on it but you need to make the decision.

It’s a common scenario in emails all the time. How many emails do you receive that state it’s an ‘urgent matter’ requiring your ‘immediate attention’? You need to question whether it is or not.

Identifying a low priority item is easy when you know what they are:

Like the aforementioned, when others tell you what’s important

Tasks that are always done the same way – train up other staff to do it

It’s a warning sign if it’s something you hate doing

Dealing in services or products your customers don’t love

Tasks that take much more time than you planned for

If you’re focusing on things like this, you’re in trouble and you’ll soon get burnt out. It doesn’t have to be that way though. A strategy session can help you solidify what your priorities need to be. If you know your priorities, you can confidently work towards them.

Here’s a hint, you should prioritise things like:

The advancement of your purpose in life

Innovative ways of doing things in business better and slashing the time required for other tasks

Achieving what others have told you can’t be done (history has plenty of examples to inspire you)

Tasks and activities that require creative thinking, that spark enjoyment

Creating systems and processes that enable others to complete tasks currently done by you

As opposed to ‘work-life balance’ I call this the ‘work, work balance’ it just so happens that in this case the scales are tipped 80/20.

Understanding what tasks need your full attention and what’s not the main priority is one of the most refreshing and energising experiences you can have in business – everybody wants something from you, but are you prepared to articulate what’s most important?

So, if you’re stumbling through a task right now that is costing you time and money while causing you frustration, maybe we should talk.