It doesn’t matter what tasks you’re crossing off your todo list. If you’re doing the wrong thing, it’s going to get you nowhere.
Being effective is 100x more valuable than being efficient.
In life, 80% of our results come from 20% of the effort we put in. This phenomenon is true for problems and solutions and is known at The Pareto Principle.
Imagine how amazing life could be if you just focused on doing the 20% of activities that bring you the most success and eliminating the 20% that cause the most problems.
If we could learn how to only focus on the essential, we’d know that none of our time was wasted and that we’re spending it in ways we won’t regret when we’re old and on our death bed.
Greg McKeown is an expert on this topic and writes about it in his book, essentialism. He outlines the steps necessary for living an effective life and lays the groundwork for you to build upon.
What makes the article below even better is that on top of Greg’s key insights throughout the book, Noah Kagan, CEO of AppSumo, and the awesome writer at OkDork, adds some of his own points to help you build a better life and focus on only the essential.
Here are some of my favorite points, some of Noah’s, and some additional comments of my own.
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will prioritize it for you.
People often make the mistake of prioritizing too many things or prioritizing too little.
The truth is, if you don’t prioritize anything, your boss, family, and friends will be the ones who decide your goals for you. And if you’re unhappy with the way things are, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
But if you prioritize too many things, you won’t be able to focus enough energy on any one goal to make a lasting impact.
So the answer is to decide what few things matter to you most and to focus on those so you’ll get the best results.
***How to effectively choose goals and eliminate unproductive tasks***
Step 1. Eliminating the garbage.
Be careful. We all know that constantly checking social media or binging on Netflix is bad for you. But the REAL DANGERS are tasks we think are helpful, but are actually holding us back. Are those countless meetings or quick email checks actually moving you closer towards finishing your goal or project?
1.1 Walkthrough your typical week and write down any tasks that you think might be a waste of time. You don’t have to be 100% sure. If there’s a chance you’re wasting time, write it down. Something is a waste time if there’s another task that could potentially be a better use of your time.
I.E. a three hour meeting about how to approach a presentation you’re working on is less valuable than a one your meeting and two hours of actually working on your presentation.
Spend at least 10-15 minutes brainstorming ideas.
1.2 order these tasks from biggest waste of time to least waste of time.
1.3 eliminate the top 3 tasks. Rome wasn’t built overnight and your productive habits won’t be either. Focus on eliminating the top 3 bad tasks that cause the most trouble in your life. (The 80/20 rule applies to problems in your life, not just solutions.)
These weekly tasks are ones you do over and over, meaning they’re bad habits. This makes things easier because we can focus on eliminating them the same way we would with other bad habits.
A habit is your natural response to a stimulus in the environment. (Stimulus —> Trigger —> Response)
Let’s take email as an example. You’re at your desk, and a notification pops up to let you know a new email is in your inbox. The stimulus of the notification alerts you and then triggers your natural response. Your natural response is probably to check that email right away.
But what if you could remove the stimulus so this response wasn’t triggered? You could close all email notifications until a certain time when you’re ready to check all of them, letting you batch similar tasks and spend your time being proactive instead of reactive.
And if you can’t remove the stimulus that causes your negative response, try rewiring your natural response to the stimulus. Instead of getting sidetracked for an hour by one email notification, you can build the habit of either deleting the email right away if it doesn’t involve you, moving it to a do later folder if it isn’t urgent, or taking care of it right now as a last resort.
The main point is to have the stimulus of the email notification trigger a positive response instead of your old negative one.
Building a new habit or breaking an old one can take up to 30 days, so be patient with yourself and follow the process.
Once you broke your bad habit by eliminating the negative stimulus or rewiring your triggered reaction, celebrate and then move on to the next habit! Use the momentum to your advantage and crush one bad habit after the next!
Step 2. Choosing what goals to work on next
After eliminating bad habits and tasks, choosing the right things to work on is the next step in living an essential life.
2.1 Walkthrough your typical week, but this time write down any tasks that are bringing you closer to your goals. Also, brainstorm and write down tasks you’re not doing, but that you think might be a better use of your time.
2.2 Order the tasks from best use of time to worst use of time.
2.3 Focus your time and effort on doing the top three 3 things to the best of your ability. If you finish these tasks, is there a next step you could take on them that would be a better use of your time than other things on your list? If so, do that. If not, work your way down the list.
It feels good in the moment to cross little tasks off your todo list. I don’t blame you, it seems like you’re getting a lot done. But the REAL results come from putting in the hard work to get through the most important tasks on your list. Finishing 1-2 large goals a day is more productive than getting 10-15 irrelevant tasks done.
Remember that effectiveness is more important than efficiency.
***A few things to remember when killing bad habits and crushing essential goals***
Noah’s key point 1 – the shortcut is hard work.
Everyone’s looking for that magic bullet. A quick and easy solution to a difficult problem.
It’d be amazing if you could have six pack abs overnight or finish your novel in a couple weeks, but that isn’t how things really work.
Success takes hard and focused effort on a consistent basis. Success is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
That should make you happy though. If greatness could be achieved by everyone, what would be the point in achieving it?
Long lasting happiness comes from facing hard challenges and overcoming them. So embrace the grind, accept that you’re going to have to work your ass off, and then enjoy the process.
Noah’s key point 2 – Essentialism means getting rid of the unnecessary, not outsourcing the essentials.
If something is important, you still have to do it whether you like it or not (if you can’t find someone else who can handle it just as well or better)
Essential work won’t always be fun. But it will be rewarding. Focus on just the essentials and watch your results over time.
That’s just a taste of what Noah and Greg have to offer. For more tips on success, check out some of Noah’s work on OkDork and read Greg’s book essentialism.
If you found this useful, share it with one friend who could focus more on just the essentials.
If you have any additional tips or tricks, feel free to comment or message me.
– Jake at Ignite