How to hone in on what is important in the workplace

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Any internet search for ‘productivity’ comes up with a dizzying multitude of results (which provide ironically enough an easy way to get distracted, reducing productivity still further…). This is testament to the fact that millions of us come home from work complaining that however busy we are, our to-do lists remain as intimidating as ever.

But it’s impossible to be productive if you don’t know exactly which parts of your job are the most important. It may, for example, feel as if a huge part of your job is answering queries from or corresponding with colleagues. But in terms of the output your job performance is measured by, this part of your job may actually be exceedingly trivial.

The 80/20 rule, named after Italian economise Vilfredo Pareto, posits that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. In the workplace, this would suggest that only 20% (or even less!) of what you actually do is responsible for 80% of your achievements.

You can be the busiest person in the office but the least efficient. But by keeping the 80/20 rule in mind, you can start to recognise the 20% of your activities that give you the 80% of your output, and focus on them.

Many businesses are very proactive at setting company, department and individual goals, which should make it easier to focus on those activities which help you meet your targets. If yours isn’t, make sure you talk to managers and peers about which part of your day-to-day activities are the most valuable for the company.

In order to focus on these and minimise distractions, get into the habit at the end of every day of writing a list of three or four crucial things you want to achieve the next day. You also need to make it easy for you to exercise self-control: for example, go full-screen so tabs aren’t a temptation; have some time every day when you can turn off email alerts and your phone; get better at saying ‘no’ when colleagues ask you for help – if you’re in the middle of something important they will understand if you help them later.

It’s a truism that you can’t do everything, so make sure what you do is the most valuable – both for the business and your own career success.

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