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How should we prioritize when we have a lot going on? In the eighteenth century, economist Vilfredo Pareto developed what is popularly known as the 80/20 Rule, or the Pareto Principle.
This rule states that 80 percent of the value of a group of activities is generally concentrated in only 20 percent of those activities. Stated differently, nearly four-fifths of our efforts are wasted.
Although many activities are carried out every day, the critical few are the ones to target in improving your personal effectiveness. What are the critical few?
In 1918, Ivy Lee, a renowned efficiency expert, was approached by Charles Schwab, who at the time was president of Bethlehem Steel. Schwab sought out Lee in hopes of finding better ways of getting things done. Lee is reported to have said, “I can increase your people’s efficiency if you will allow me to spend just fifteen minutes with each of your executives.”
“How much will it cost me?” the wealthy and astute industrialist asked.
Lee responded, “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it is worth.”
The following day, Lee met for fifteen minutes with each of Schwab’s top executives. He requested each one to commit to a specific practice for ninety days.
He instructed them, before leaving the office at the end of the day, to make a list of the six most important things they had to do the next day.
He then asked each executive to prioritize the items on the list in order of importance. Finally, he directed them to tackle the activities in order the next day and cross off each item after finishing it. Only then should they move on to the next item on the list. If something didn’t get done, he told them, put it on the following day’s list.
Each Bethlehem Steel executive consented to follow Lee’s instructions. Three months later, Schwab studied the results and was so pleased that he sent Lee a check for $25,000. In an era when the average American worker was paid 56 cents per hour, this was a huge sum.
If Schwab, one of the smartest businessmen of his day, was willing to pay so much money for this advice, maybe you should consider trying it out. A century and many technological advances later, this timeless prioritization practice still delivers impressive results.
Deborah Rinner, VP, Chief Learning Officer for Tero International facilitates this Tero Tips video.
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