Productivity. Performance. Success

What I learned from Vilfredo Pareto and my first golf coach

“From Burnout to Superman Productivity” Series: Tip 5

What I learned from Vilfredo Pareto Option One

If you are like most people you don’t prepare for work. You simply  “work”.

Yes, you may have your to-do lists and your meetings are in your calendar; and yes, occasionally you spend time planning for a presentation to the “big client”.

But like most of us, I bet you probably resist planning for most meetings, presentations and phone calls until the last minute (if you do it at all). When you read this, you are probably thinking – who has time to plan a meeting? When would I have the time to plan a phone call!?

So, what happens when we are not planning? In many cases, crises!

Instinctively, when the urgency of last minute is upon you, the “firefighting” mode kicks-in. Action, work harder, overtime, stress! Does it sound familiar?

Tip #5

Know what matters, know its purpose and know its outcome (even before it happens).

I’m not asking you to spend hours planning every meeting and every phone call. The solution is actually quite simple. You just need to understand what really matters and ask these three questions.


1) What matters?

 “A very few things matter at all but those that do matter enormously”.

Rickard Koch

Being effective is about “doing the right things”. When I looked at how I spent my time I realized that I don’t spend enough time on the things that really matter; and even worse I spend way too much time on things that doesn’t matter at all. It’s probably the same for most of you.

You have probably heard of the ‘Pareto Rule’, now more famously called the 80-20 principle. This is the observation that a small number of events give rise to the majority of effects. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population.  

If you look at your business (or your life), chances are that you will find many key metrics that support this principle. There are many business examples such as, 20 percent of employees are responsible for 80 percent of a company’s output or 20 percent of products are responsible for 80 percent of the profits.

These are not hard rules, not every company is the same, and the ratio won’t be exactly 80/20. But from my experience, you will probably see even more disparate ratios. We once realized that we spent 70 percent of our sales effort (time) on customers that were contributing less than 5 percent of our revenue!

If you want to improve your business or the quality of your life, you must first understand what really matters. The events that give rise to the majority of causes.

I suggest that you start by inviting your colleagues to an “80/20 workshop”. My advise is that you develop your own list of “80/20 questions” but keep in mind that answering these questions should help you identify your organization’s “core”; the products, customers and people that really count.

After the workshop, you will know which activities are important and more importantly, which activities are irrelevant for the success of your business.

From here, take a look at your weekly schedule, ask how important each activity is and how it’s aligned to your “core”. Based on your evaluation of its importance, is there any activity that you can cancel completely? Should you reduce the time for any activity? For the activities that really matter, are you well prepared?


2) What is the purpose?

“It never hurts to ask the ‘why’ questions. Any thing you are currently doing can be enhanced and even galvanized at this top level of focus.”

David Allen (author of Getting Things Done)

If you are a leader, you need to ask how your activities are aligned with your organization’s mission. If you want the mission to be more than a jargon-laden plaque on the wall, you have to be careful with how you prioritize your time. You need to show relentless discipline and commitment to your organization’s mission.  Remember that leaders exist to give purpose to their teams.

Every morning I spend 15 minutes writing down the purpose of all meetings and other planned activities. What’s the purpose of the meeting? Why am I writing this email? What’s the purpose of calling this person? Why do I write this blog post?

Asking the purpose of an activity defines success and clarifies the focus. It’s just common sense but I have experienced a dramatic improvement in productivity since I started to ask why questions. My meetings are shorter and more structured.

It gives me a feeling of being in control, which in turn makes me feel focused, relaxed and motivated.

When you supply your brain with a purpose, something extraordinary happens. You will feel like decisions come to you automatically.


3) What outcome do I want?

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

Muhammad Ali

One of the most powerful tools for success in any activity is the ability to create and visualize a clear outcome. I have been playing golf since I was 10 years old. My first golf coach once told me “Jonnie boy don’t hit the ball until you see the shot”. My first golf idol Jack Nicklaus once said “Before every shot, I go to the movies.”

As a business professional, you also can use visualization to improve your performance. I spend a few minutes before every activity (meeting, presentation, etc.) to visualize the outcome. The biggest benefit is that it forces me to clarify (to myself) what the desired outcome is. If you try this, you will probably realize that most of the time, the desired outcome is not clear at all.



To put it all in perspective, here’s how applying the above discussion looks like.

  • Annually – A life planning session on what matters in different areas your life.
  • Weekly – A planning session to align activities to life and business goals.
  • Daily – 15 minutes at the beginning of the day to clarify the purpose of activities that matter.
  • Before every activity – A few minutes to clarify the outcome.

It would be more effective if you can apply all the points but if it seems too overwhelming to try and attempt all at one shot, then maybe choose one or two that seems doable and let me know if it works.

If you are leader, encourage everyone to ask these questions, and I look forward to you sharing with me their responses or if it’s been useful.

Leave a Comment

1 Comment

  1. September 21, 2015    

    I think it’s an output vs input kind of game. But instead of hurrying on to what to input, you better start with “what output do I need to acquire?” what matters, what’s the purpose & how to achieve it, would become 3 highly important questions to fall in your way. The twist is to find the imbalance of your inputs and get them balanced is pretty tough and one might need a greater overhauling. But planning and regular planning (specially daily realization of what you need to do for that day) is very important. It will definitely in the longer run if not too soon, maximize your output keeping your inputs on the track

JONAS LIND is a co-founder of two IT companies, one in Sweden and one in Malaysia. He has been in the IT industry since 2000. He currently resides in Malaysia with his family.

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