Be a Better You in 365 Days Challenge – DAY 26 Create Your 20/80 To-Do List

This is Day 24 of How to Be a Better Person in 365 Days (365 Challenge) October 2011 Challenge. View list of tasks: 365 Challenge Overview

Welcome to Day 26 of “How to Become a Better Person in 365 Days Challenge” (365 Challenge)!

On Day 25 our challenge is waking up early for the next 52 weeks to enjoy the benefits – having more hours in the day, sleeping better and getting our procrastinating tasks on the list to have done before the end of the day.

Today’s topic will be about how to manage your time better and to spend time in the right places. We’ll be assessing our to-do lists.

Day 26 – Your To-Do List

All of us have our own daily to-do lists, from work, running errands, administrative tasks. Every day, we have a set amount of energy, which are channelled into the task, which then translates into output.

Since our to-do lists determine what we work on, it’s important we have effective to-do lists. Unfortunately, the laundry to-do list (where you list everything you need to do) isn’t very helpful, because:

  • We subconsciously assign the same level of importance to every task even though it may not be the case.
  • We tend to spend time on easier or smaller tasks, so we could quickly take them off. For example for me, they include checking/replying email, clearing out my Facebook requests, site administrative tasks and fiddling around with coding.
  • Big-chunk, high-impact projects often get pushed to the next day, and the next, and the next, only get completed when they absolutely have to be done. For the projects without a specific deadline, they are delayed infinitely.

Basically, laundry to-do lists misses out on a very important measure – the impact of the tasks. Because all tasks get piled on without order, they are cleared off randomly too. Bias is given to the smaller and easier tasks since they can be completed faster. But these don’t give us impactful long-term results.

What are the tasks that give us long-term results then? By the 80/20 rule, 20% of our inputs lead to 80% of our outputs. This applies to everything around us, including the tasks on our to-do lists. If you list all your tasks, you’ll find only about 20% of your tasks contribute to 80% of your value output. I call these the 20% high-value tasks.

I refer to the other 80% tasks that bring about only 20% value as 80% low value tasks.

Hence, it makes the most sense to invest our energy into 20% high value tasks so that (1) we invest our energy in areas which are most important (2) we get most value with less effort, rather than spend so much energy on 80% low-value tasks with little value (3) we maximize our life. 20% high value tasks are important things like clarifying on your mission statement, knowing yourself (and values), setting your 5/3/1-year life goals, creating long-term plans, building relationships with loved ones, of which are the very things that 365 Challenge gets you working on. 80% low value tasks are the tasks are things like excessive facebooking/social media usage, random web surfing, idle chatting, administrative activities, and the like.

In the longer-run, spending time on our 20% high value tasks, even if just a few hours a day, will lead to huge changes. The time that you invest in 365 Challenge tasks now (or any Q2 tasks), will go a long way to changing your life for the better. On the other hand, spending that time randomly surfing, playing Mafia Wars/Farmville/doing questionaires/etc on Facebook (a largely 80% low value task) isn’t going to bring benefits in the longer-term.

How do you know whether something is a 20% high value task or not? A good way is to ask this question: What impact does doing this have in my life in 6 months, 1 year,  3 years, or even 5 years? If something causes huge impact which lasts even in years to come, then clearly it’s extremely important. If something causes a small level impact which bleeps off after a short-time frame, it’s not going to be too important.

While this is a very simple concept, I find it highly beneficial in getting clarity on how my day is going and how I’m managing things on a micro-level. When I kick off the day doing 20% tasks, I find it usually goes off on a high tangent and stays there through the day. If I’m spend too much time in 80% tasks, I’ll put a quick stop to it rather than let it drag my day down further.

Some people might say “Hey, more than 20% of my tasks are high value tasks”. The thing is, the 20/80% task principle is a relative, and not absolute, concept. That means even if your current tasks already seem high value, there will be 20% of those tasks that bring the most value, above and beyond other tasks on your list. The key is to keep prioritizing the 20%, most impactful tasks. If your whole list already seems full of high impact activities, then streamline further. Eventually you’ll be left with the bare essentials that’ll change your world when you do them.

Today, we’ll assess our to-do list and put this 80/20 rule into action.

 “The higher my rank, the more humbly I behave. The greater my power, the less I exercise it. The richer my wealth, the more I give away. Thus I avoid, respectively, envy and spite and misery.” (Sun Shu Ao, Chinese minister from the Chu Kingdom, Zhou Dynasty, c.600BC)

Your Task

Part 1: Create Your 20/80 To-Do List

Do this before your day starts, or even the night before. You can also do this throughout the day to get your focus.

  1. On a new page of your 365 Challenge workbook, write down all your tasks you’ve to do today, from checking emails, using Facebook, doing 365 Challenge tasks, different work activities, etc.
  2. Draw a table with 2 columns.
  1. Left column is labelled “20% Tasks”
  2. Right column is labelled “80% Tasks”
  • Classify your tasks into either segment.
    • Put the 20% tasks that’ll bring the most impact under 20% tasks.
    • Put 80% of the tasks that bring in 20% value under the 80% tasks.

Part 2: Improvisation

Improvise on your to-do list

  1. How can you create/add more 20% tasks? For example:
    • Working on your life goal action plan
    • Any of the 365 Challenge tasks you may be lagging behind / or you want to review
  2. How can you reduce / manage your 80% list better?
    • Delegate – Ask someone else to do them
    • Put off – Consciously procrastinate on them
    • Time-box – Allocate a small amount of time for these 80% tasks and finish them all at one go
    • Dump them – Throw them out of the window. If the activities are already low value, you can’t lose much by not doing them.

Part 3: Action

Now, go on your day-to-day activities with strong focus on your 20% tasks. Don’t get distracted by the 80% low value tasks. For any new, unimportant tasks that pop in during the day, create a “Will do” column and dump them there. Sort them out at the end of the day.

Part 4: Review

At the end of the day, assess how your day has been vs. your other days. Has it been more or less productive? How much time did you spend in your 20% high value tasks and 80% low value tasks? What have you learned? How can you make it more productive tomorrow?

Write down your reflections in Day 25 & 26 in your journal, diary or note. Don’t forget to share you experience and feedback.

Day 26 Reflection for 365 Challenge

  1. Is there anything you learned today?
  2. If so, what is it? Write it down.

Share Your Answers!

What goals did you select to go where? Were you successful in creating 20/80 To-Do-List? Have you found more time to put energy to your success?