Focus on the Important Few

Feeling bombarded by lots of issues and options coming at you in your business?  If so you’re not alone.  How do we effectively wade through all the stuff coming our way?  Nineteenth century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto developed the principle we know as the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle.

In the principle, Pareto states that usually 80 percent of all benefit is derived from 20 percent of the items.  You’ll probably find that 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your customers.  Same with profit, although it may not come from the exact same 20 percent as sales does.

Focus on the important few and bypass the trivial many.  So many get caught up in all the details that the real benefit gets lost in the weeds.  Decide where that 80 per cent is to be found and then go after only those items for details.

It’s hard work to keep from being distracted.  Email, texts, phone calls, blogs (like this one), LinkedIn, tweets, etc. constantly bombard us and beckon for our attention with beeps and dings and rings.  You get the idea.  Sometimes it seems as if a Pavlov disciple is trying to train us.  How many times have you been talking with someone, when their phone made a noise, and they stopped listening and grabbed for it?

Then there are the other options that come up and seem more inviting, even alluring.  Some blame that on ADD when in fact it can be just plain difficult to stick with a task.  Our age is not alone in facing this dilemma.  Virgil, Roman writer from the time of Caesar Augustus, wrote about this very issue that his protagonist, Aeneas wrestled with too.  He found it hard to stay focused on his goal to found Rome.   There are always many distractions.

We believe the way to success is to work with your team to set a long term goal.   It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be “found Rome” but it has to beyond your current reach.  Next step is to decide on incremental goals and priorities that move you toward the long term.

The team should passionately debate which priorities are most important.  We suggest most teams focus on a top three list.  Once the three near term priorities are agreed, it is time do a deep dive into the details necessary to implement them effectively.  Then assign a responsible person, allocate them resources, determine milestones, deadlines and finally review progress regularly.

Keeping focused on the top three priorities for the next quarter provides the most value.  A quarter is short enough so that if conditions change dramatically your business can adapt with new priorities for the next quarter.  Remember Pareto’s principle, fight distractions, keep to the plan and success is more likely to be yours.