The “we’ve always done it that way..” story

Apparently this is based on a true incident.

A quality management consultant was visiting a small and somewhat antiquated English manufacturing company, to advise on improving general operating efficiency. The advisor was reviewing a particular daily report which dealt with aspects of productivity, absentee rates, machine failure, down-time, etc. The report was completed manually onto a photocopied proforma that was several generations away from the original master-copy, so its headings and descriptions were quite difficult to understand. The photocopied forms were particularly fuzzy at the top-right corner, where a small box had a heading that was not clear at all. The advisor was interested to note that the figure ‘0’ had been written in every daily report for the past year. On questioning the members of staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they looked at each other blankly. “Hmmm.., I’m not sure about that,” they each said, “I guess we’ve just always done it that way.”

Intrigued, the consultant visited the archives to see if he could find a clearer form, to discover what was originally being reported and whether it actually held any significance. When he found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended – at least the past thirty years – but none of the forms was any clearer than those presently in use. A little frustrated, he packed away the old papers and turned to leave the room, but something caught his eye. In another box he noticed a folder, promisingly titled ‘master forms’. Sure enough inside it he found the original daily report proforma master-copy, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown……Number of Air Raids Today



How to implement the 80/20 Rule

Ask yourself,

“Which 20 percent of my work should I be focusing on?”

  • Remember your ethics and values. Let them guide your decision making, and you’re bound to end up focusing on your 20 percent.
  • Keep current. Make yourself aware of new technological innovations. However, a word of caution, Randy Pausch reminds us to only use technology that does actually save time

Bad Day at the Office

  • Challenge established routines that could be shifting your focus away from your 20 percent.


The 80/20 Rule of Time Management: The Pareto Principle


“Doing the right things is more important than doing things right”

Randy Pausch, Time Management Lecture


Vilfredo Pareto(1848-1923) was an Italian economist who in 1906, observed that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the country’s wealth.

Over a period of time this observation became known as the Pareto Principle. Pareto’s theory of predictable imbalance has since been applied to almost every aspect of modern life including ‘time management’. Given a chance, it can make a difference in yours.


Recognizing your 20 percent

Simply put, the 80/20 rule states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of the results. Learning to recognize and then focus on that 20 percent is the key to making the most effective use of your time.

80 percent or 20 percent?

Gain more control over your time and your work by taking one small step right now. Simply begin to look for the signs that will tell you whether you’re in your 20 percent or your 80 percent. This increased awareness of what’s vital may be all you really need to start using your time more effectively.

Here are some signs that will help you to recognize whether you’re spending your time as you should:

You’re in your 80 percent if the following statements ring true:

  • You’re working on tasks other people want you to, but you have no investment in them.
  • You’re frequently working on tasks labeled “urgent.”
  • You’re spending time on tasks you are not usually good at doing.
  • Activities are taking a lot longer than you expected.
  • You find yourself complaining all the time.

You’re in your 20 percent if:

  • You’re engaged in activities that advance your overall purpose in life (assuming you know what that is —and you should!).
  • You’re doing things you have always wanted to do or that make you feel good about yourself.
  • You’re working on tasks you don’t like, but you’re doing them knowing they relate to the bigger picture.
  • You’re hiring people to do the tasks you are not good at or don’t like doing.
  • You’re smiling.

The Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi FLOW story


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a professor at the University of Chicago cites similar findings in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

He suggests that Flow – a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity – can be controlled by balancing challenges and skills.

When a challenge is much higher than the skill we bring to it, we experience overwhelm. When our skill level is much higher than the challenge, we experience boredom. There is a place between overwhelm and boredom that Csikszentmihalyi calls the “flow channel”. A task that would fall in the flow channel would be one which you would find challenging, but you are confident that your skills are sufficient to meet the challenge.

It is possible to optimise the potential for flow. Learning to get to the flow channel is both achievable and rewarding

It could be that a task itself is not an overwhelming challenge, but the timetable attached to it is. Is there a way to change the time requirements? Or if a job feels overwhelming, is there a way to chunk down the task so that each part is the right size to balance challenge and skill?

Alternatively, is there a way to increase the challenge when you are faced with a job that could be boring?

The Mcclelland Motivation Story


A pioneering thinker in the field of workplace motivation, David McClelland developed his theories chiefly while at Harvard in the 1950-60’s with experiments such as this one.

Volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs rather like the fairground game; no distance was stipulated, and most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away. However a small group of volunteers, whom McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, took some care to measure and test distances that would produce an ideal challenge – not too easy, and not impossible.

Interestingly a parallel exists in biology, known as the ‘overload principle’, which is commonly applied to fitness and exercising, ie., in order to develop fitness and/or strength the exercise must be sufficiently demanding to increase existing levels, but not so demanding as to cause damage or strain.

McClelland identified the same need for a ‘balanced challenge’ in the approach of achievement-motivated people. People with a strong achievement-motivation need set themselves challenging and realistic goals – they need the challenge, but they also need to be sure they’ll accomplish the aim.



“Delegation is not dumping”

Randy Pausch

Covey presents delegation of tasks that are assigned to List 4 (Quadrant 4), and any tasks that you cannot personally attend to from Lists 1 and 2 (see above), as an important part of time management. Successful delegation, he suggests, focuses on results and benchmarks that are to be agreed in advance, rather than on prescribing detailed work plans.

Randy Pausch agrees. He recommends that you give objectives, not procedures and that you explain the relative importance of each task.


  • Delegate when tasks are urgent, but not important (List 4; Quadrant 4)
  • Delegate any tasks that you do not have time to complete yourself from Lists 1 and 2 (tasks from Quadrants 1 and 2)
  • Grant authority with responsibility.
  • Be Specific

Give people a specific task to do by a specific date/time with a Specific reward or penalty. Remember to reinforce behavior that you would like to see repeated with positive feedback

  • Challenge People.

People rise to a challenge. Randy Pausch suggests that you delegate “until they complain”


How to update your daily To Do lists


Update your daily “TO DO” list each morning. Bring forward the 1, 2, and 4 items not completed the day before

Add new items to the lists after considering carefully where each new item should go using Coveys 4 Quadrants.

Review the list, schedule the new tasks, and start on the top priorities, crossing off each one as it is finished throughout the day.

An alternative to re-writing your list each morning is to spend the last 15 minutes of your day on your list, so that you can start immediately the next day

Update your daily “TO DO” list each morning. Bring forward the 1,

2, and 4 items not completed the day before

Add new items to the lists after considering carefully where each new item should go using Coveys 4 Quadrants.

Review the list, schedule the new tasks, and start on the top priorities, crossing off each one as it is finished throughout the day.

An alternative to re-writing your list each morning is to spend the last 15 minutes of your day on your list, so that you can start immediately the next day





How to plan your schedule effectively



Once you have prioritized your Lists 1 and 2 based on Quadrants 1 and 2, you need to plan your schedule for the forthcoming day, week, month and so on, rather than simply working down your lists; in other words you need to decide when you will work on the tasks, allowing of course for shifting priorities

Start with a realistic appraisal of how long each of the tasks on Lists 1 and 2 (tasks from Quadrants 1 and 2) will take

Start with List 1 and make a note of any deadlines that you have today, this week, this month and so on

Referring to your estimated time frames and working backwards from these deadlines block off sufficient time to complete the tasks allowing for contingencies. You may want to use colour to block off the time on your schedule / in your diary. If you are using hard copy Post It notes can be easily be should priorities shift.

Should it transpire that today’s urgent tasks from List 1 will take 16 hours to complete for example, then DELEGATE! Ideally make sure that you have some time during the day to work on some of your important tasks from List 2.

Now turn to List 2 and slot in the tasks which you have identified as being important. Again, if it transpires that this week’s urgent items and important items together would take 120 hours to complete, then DELEGATE!