There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. - Logan P Smith
Know what’s worth doing
One of the many things I wish I had learned sooner in life is the ‘Pareto principle,’ usually called the “80/20 rule.”
The principle is the observation that 20% of activities lead to 80% of your success. In other words, most of what you’re doing is essentially a waste of time because it doesn’t contribute much to what you want to achieve.
How do you know what’s worth doing? The simple answer is – you don’t. People usually make all kinds of assumptions about what works and what doesn’t but you can never know for sure unless you put everything to the test. It’s a matter of trial and error.
Measuring the effectiveness of what you’re doing is the only way to figure out what’s working. Careful observation of how things are playing out will lead you to better outcomes. If what you’re doing is leading to success, then you can focus your energies on doing more of it.
If, however, you’re doing something that isn’t making much difference, why keep doing it? If you’re stuck in the mud, spinning your wheels is only going to wear out the engine – a different approach is needed.
Urgent VS Important Activities
The writer Steven Covey makes the distinction between urgent and important activities. The former are things that press for our immediate attention and that tend to get dealt with first because they are right there in front of us. These kinds of activities can take up a lot of time and often don’t make much of a difference.
Important activities, however, are the things that are contributing to our getting what we want. It’s vital to learn how to tell the difference and then manage your schedule accordingly.
A lot of the things that seem to be ‘urgent’ are really just things that matter to other people. The emails and phone calls you receive, the requests for help – a lot of them will not make any difference to your success, so learn to put them at the bottom of your list of priorities.
You don’t have to answer the phone right now; you don’t have to answer your email as soon as it comes in. Decide what’s important to you and give this the lion’s share of your attention.
Start small and keep going
Every journey worth making is a long one. A huge mountain can only be climbed one step at a time. When viewed from this perspective, change is easy. Losing weight is easy. Getting out of debt is easy. Becoming financially secure is easy.
But we do need to understand the nature of change. We love the idea of quick fixes, but this isn’t how life works. It’s doing the right thing consistently for a long time that will make a difference.
Consistently doing the right thing can lead to astonishing results. If you consistently do the right things, change is inevitable, and the results can, over time, be spectacular.
When this approach is applied, change is rarely instant but it is bound to happen. A dripping tap, in time, fills a bucket. A stream washing over a rock will turn the rock into a smooth stone and, eventually, into a little pebble.
A sailing boat allows the wind and the tide to carry it along; its crew does not try to sail against these forces, but works with them, allowing them to do most of the work.
Some people have a tendency to do everything themselves. But a job done is a job done, no matter who does it. The leader of even a small company couldn’t possibly do everything that needs doing to the same standard as the people he/she employs. A householder might hire window cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, electricians and even cleaners – it’s virtually impossible for one person to do everything.
It’s possible to hire ‘virtual assistants’ that can do just about any job for you, from making reservations at restaurants and buying theatre tickets to sending birthday cards and completing paperwork for you.
Having other people do the things that need doing – and paying them appropriately – is both sensible and necessary. Delegating to the right people is a skill that comes with practice, but it is an important part of effective action.
Relax and enjoy the ride
Every situation has a natural structure, and the most important thing of all is to find out what it is and follow it – ‘go with the flow.’ The things you need to get done need not be difficult. There is an easy, natural way to go about it all – use the power and resources all around you, and go with the natural grain of things.
When a skilful carpenter is sawing a piece of wood, he effortlessly follows the grain of the timber to create an item of beauty and strength. Force is not necessary – it only damages the final product. Anything can be achieved in time, given the right approach. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey – otherwise, what’s the point?