Business Bites: It’s about time

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

“Life seems but a succession of busy nothings,” Jane Austen

Right now, we have so much to do and so little time. What can be done to help manage our time to be more productive?

Firstly, think differently about time. Time is a precious resource that cannot be recovered. If it was money (as the phrase tells us), would it be money well spent?

One of the ways people may manage their time is by creating a ‘to-do’ list. This is fine as long as you don’t use it to justify importance. ‘I’m so busy, I must be important’ is a misconception. Think more about how productive that time could be, if it wasn’t filled with less important tasks.

There’s nothing wrong with a to-do list, but think about how it is managed. One way to ensure that you are concentrating on the right things is to re-write the list daily. In the process of doing so, look for items that are no longer relevant or important and remove them before they become ‘time thieves’.

Pareto and the 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle is referred to by several different names including Pareto’s Law, Pareto Analysis, the Principle of Imbalance, and the 80:20 Rule. Although named after the economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), the creation and implementation of the 80:20 Rule is attributed to Joseph M. Juran.

The Pareto Principle can be applied to a wide range of different scenarios including quality, time management and problem solving. The model helps us to identify and focus upon the most important factors with the greatest impact in achieving the end result. By identifying the weaker elements and substituting these for higher performing ones, more can effectively be achieved with less.

You’re faced with the constant challenge of limited time and resources; not just your time to maximise, but your entire team’s.  Instead of trying to do the impossible, a Pareto approach is to truly understand which projects are most important.  What are the most important goals of your business and which specific tasks do you need to focus on to align with those goals. Delegate or drop the rest.

An 80/20 mindset will help you to focus on the most productive and important areas.


The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Insights article, ‘Re-prioritising tasks in times of crisis‘ (20 March 2020) tells us: “Priorities have been turned upside down due to the effects of Covid-19. How on earth do you prioritise between finance, HR, operations when each one is critical? Yes, look at the data, give yourself time to reflect and get other perspectives, but try to maintain momentum. Priorities will shift and some issues that feel critically important right now may slip down the list later in the day.”

In her book on time management (available on CMI’s ManagementDirect), author Polly Bird dedicates a section to, ‘How to let go of the unimportant things’. Here’s her guidance: “You know that it is important to let go of the unimportant things, but how can you do that when faced with a list? Many people are reluctant to let go of even the most unimportant tasks because they are afraid that they will miss something.

“You need three techniques to help you overcome the need to keep unimportant tasks on hold – delegation, holding and destruction. Between them, these techniques will help you overcome your fear of letting go. First, decide if any tasks that are unimportant and non-urgent for you are in fact important and/or urgent for other people. If so, pass these tasks on to the relevant people immediately. Cross them off your list. Once these tasks are delegated they are no longer your action. If they cannot sensibly be delegated you can use the holding plan.

“Write down any unimportant and non-urgent tasks that you cannot bring yourself to let go of into a separate notebook. Keep it somewhere out of sight. You will find that you rarely think about the tasks in it. By the time you do look at it most things will be irrelevant or no longer necessary. This is a good way to wean yourself off retaining unnecessary work.

“Finally, the best way of freeing yourself from these unimportant and non-urgent tasks is simply to cross them off your list whenever you recognise them. As you should be looking at your list of goals and objectives and tasks every day, it should become easier to spot the things that will simply be a waste of time.

Get others involved

Who else can you turn to for help and assistance? There may be a group of people that you trust highly who may be able to assist you at this time, e.g. contacts on LinkedIn. Collaborations and partnerships that you may never have considered may be more relevant now. Recent times have even see Apple and Microsoft collaborating to develop Covid-19 tracing apps.

Don’t forget that there is also great benefit to be gained through mentoring, including Reverse Mentoring. When we launched our mentoring platform, our aim was to provide a tool that you could use to help support your career development and to share knowledge. Whilst that is still the case, it does also provide you with an online facility to find a mentor to help support you through current challenges or for you to be able to offer your support to others as a mentor.

You may not be able to solve all the challenges that we will face going forwards, but having someone to give you some additional support and ideas could be invaluable. Mentoring doesn’t always mean older people helping younger people; reverse mentoring can work equally well and be very beneficial. Most traditional mentoring scenarios assume the pairing of an experienced leader or professional with a younger person to achieve a goal or overcome a challenge.

Now, more and more we are seeing experienced professionals turning to reverse mentoring in which individuals – older and younger – encourage mutual growth and each gain new knowledge and expertise as a result.

In summary:
• Take your to-do list and re-write it daily
• Re-prioritise tasks as needed
• Use the 80/20 Rule to maximise your return on time
• Use delegation effectively and look for support
• Maximise that precious resource – time

Useful links

Mind Tools: Pareto Analysis. Choosing the solution with the most impact
Forbes: The 80/20 Rule and how it can change your life
Business Balls. Parento’s 80-20 Rule theory
ABDO Business Support Hub: Leadership
ABDO Peer to Peer Mentoring