Increase your power this week with the 80/20 rule


Are you busy?

Silly question.

As the typical work week continues to expand, you probably have more things to do than you can possibly keep track of. Stressed. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. We’ve got it covered.

Last week I heard someone say they wanted to take a time-management class but they didn’t have time because they were so overwhelmed. Not funny.

Short of overhauling our national policies and changing the culture of your workplace or home tomorrow, what can you do to bring some sanity to your week?

Consider this. Your power goes where you send it and for most of us, it goes someplace like this:

Arugh, how did I get another 200 new emails? Voicemail light flashing. Yikes, I almost forgot to set up that meeting and I have a report due tomorrow. Performance reviews? Again? Didn’t we just do those. And that problem from last week is back again, why don’t those people know how to get it right. Maybe I’ll get started on that memo, oops! Time for a staff meeting already?

That’s the “I’m so busy” trap. For most of us, we don’t even realize we’re falling into it, after all, aren’t the busy, overwhelmed and frazzled the important ones? But this trap saps your power. Here’s a way to jump-start your thinking about your power, where it goes, and how to use it for maximum effect this week.

Most of the things buzzing around our mental to-do list can be broken into 80% low-impact and 20% high-impact.

Low impact: answering a simple email, reviewing a web-page for accuracy, filing your inbox, running an errand, responding to a meeting invitation, setting up a meeting.

High impact: taking that time-management course, thinking through a long-term project by breaking out the pieces and identifying resources for each of them, writing a critical report in time for others to review it well.

Usually, the attention we give to the 80% is a buzz of distraction, gnawing at our focus and leaving us feeilng like we don’t have enough time.

The 20% is what we squeeze in, or where we take shortcuts because we haven’t left ourselves enough room to complete them well. Who hasn’t dashed off something important at the last minute, promising themselves I’ll do better next time?

It’s time to power up and make the 80/20 shift – clear your calendar for next week, leaving only the most essential things.

Part one. Get a paper and pencil (or whatever note-taking tools suit you) and set your timer for 5 minutes.

  • List your 20% high-impact items
  • Put them on your calendar (use chunks – blocks of time – and ditch things that you really don’t have to do)
  • Devote 80% of your attention to these items

That’s right. 80%.

Part two. Set that timer for 5 more minutes

  • List your 80% items
  • Put a time on your calendar for them (again, chunks of time)
  • Devote 20% of your attention to them this week.

It could look like this:


Try applying the 80/20 power rule for just one week and see if power changes.

And don’t forget to take lunch.

(Hint: you might want to do your worst task first or delegate something to someone else)

You delegated and they didn’t deliver. What now?

wpid-2014-09-15-06.51.02.jpg.jpegIt’s three-o’clock.

Your to-do list is twice as long as it was when you started out this morning. You’ve been interrupted twenty times, the email is piling up in your inbox and you’re dealing with more emergencies than an ER. You’re about to throw your computer out the window and head to Belize where opening a bar on the beach seems like a solid next step in your career. Then the employee you just handed a project off to this morning – the project you actually delegated – shows up in your doorway.

“I’m not sure what to do about….”

“Just handle it!” you bark.

Things just got worse.

Delegating well is a skill and like any other skill we can get better at it.  Receiving a project well is also a skill and it’s one we talk about less. They’re the two sides of working together and they’re worth looking at side-by-side.

Handing off an assignment requires three basic things:

1. Clarity

“Just handle it” obviously doesn’t cut it. If you find yourself giving this kind of guidance, you may already be in steps 2 or 3 and a quality conversation with your employee is probably in order, so feel free to jump ahead.

If you’re taking the plunge, set aside enough time to hand off a project so you can be sure to cover the specifics. What are you asking this person to do? What is the deliverable? When should it be complete? How will you be available for questions along the way? Take the time to really listen to them at this point because their questions will signal whether they’re prepared, need some help, or might benefit from a conversation with someone else who has done this type of work before.

You want to challenge and grow the people around you, but throwing them in the pool without any swim lessons is not usually the best way to do that.

2. Communication

Be present during the project. They may have questions. In fact, the first time around, you probably hope they’ll have a few questions. Likewise, you may want to know how things are progressing on a longer-term project. What do you need from them so you won’t arrive at different destinations three weeks from now? Nobody wants to generate a crisis at the last minute because you thought they were doing X and they thought you wanted Y.

Establish some agreement about checking in.

3. Closure

After the project is over, we usually rush on to the next one without half a moment’s pause. That’s a missed opportunity. When someone’s done a good job, tell them. And try to be specific. Did they do something creative that you didn’t originally ask for? Let them know. But don’t just focus on the good.

Have the difficult conversations too.

Did they deliver something that was less than you expected? They need to know. They can’t guess where they didn’t meet your expectations and, if they’re consistently falling short, you need to address that. If you set good expectations at the beginning, you have something to work with. Going over those specifics and comparing your directions to the deliverable is an important step. It will also challenge you to see your instructions from the other side.

Did you really tell them what you thought you did?

Were you clear about the format? The schedule? The content? If so, it should be in writing somewhere from your handoff. If not, you may want to focus more on that step next time.

Receiving a project well is the mirror image of good delegation:

1. Clarity

Are you able to do the project as described? If you have other projects on your plate and you’re worried about time, speak up. It’s not whining to say “You’ve asked me to do these four things. I’d like to work on this project too but I need some clarity about deadlines. Do you have a sense of priority or can I review all five and get back to you with some suggestions? Do you have a top priority?”

Do you actually know what’s expected of you? For some people, this is easy. Maybe you’ve done this type of project before and you have an instant sense of what it’ll take. But when we’re getting something new, it can be hard to really know. In those cases, it’s helpful to find someone who’s done this type of project, run through the steps with them, ask lots of questions and get clear. Then double back with your supervisor with any questions about the direction you’ve received.

2. Communication

If you’ve been asked for updates, share them. Take the time to understand how your supervisor wants to hear from you. Do they like the drop-in? Do they prefer an email? If you don’t know, ask. “I want to make sure you know how things are going, how would you like to receive updates? And what’s the best way to check with you if I have a question?”

If you’re on the receiving end of “Just handle it!” take a step back.

Is it you? Did you catch them at the wrong moment? Did they say they prefer email updates and you’ve dropped by three times? Are you trying to let them know your progress but making it sound like a question? Are you stalling because you’re not confident in your next steps?

When you took on the assignment, your supervisor was probably hoping you’d step up and be part of the team. They may also be nervous that they’ve delegated part of the work and that you won’t follow through and they’ll end up doing it anyway. Take an honest moment to ask yourself if you’re doing everything on your part to make this project a success.

Is it them? Does this happen to you frequently with this person? Are the directions so vague that you really don’t know what’s expected of you? Is this something new you don’t understand? If so, revisit step one. Find the right time and method to tell them your goal is to deliver what they need on time and to do so these are your questions. If they really can’t provide the guidance, at least you’re on the record.

If you’ve muddle through and haven’t gotten what you need, go for step three.

3. Closure

This can feel scary if you’re not sure you did a good job, even if you’re pretty certain you didn’t get what you needed. All the more reason to ask for a time to assess the project when it’s over. If it didn’t go well, say so. Just acknowledging the situation makes it easier to address.

“I’m not sure I delivered what you needed. I’ve given it some thought and I think we didn’t have a clear mutual understanding at the beginning. Next time, what if we tried this approach (describe)?”

It can also be hard to hear when we fell short of someone’s expectation. If your supervisor is telling you that you didn’t deliver what they needed, that’s the time to listen with your full attention.

How have you made happier three-o’clocks?

Is your inability to delegate holding you (and everyone else) back?


You know who you are. You can’t let go. You won’t let anyone else do the work because they never get it right. You’re buried in a pile of obligations, sweating every deadline and working into the wee hours while you wonder why your  no-good co-workers and ineffective staff can’t just step up.

Been there?

Maybe you’re the boss, maybe you’re the employee, and maybe it’s not be as bad as all that, but if you have any perfectionist tendencies (guilty as charged!) you may be having a hard time with the D word. Delegation. And, by extension, maybe your staff is, too.

Delegation opens so many opportunities for things to go well or awry. Delegation is not bossing them into doing it our way. Much of our success at work comes from completing projects in a way that is valued by others. Considering delegation in this light provides some interesting insights.

Does the person you’re handing off to know what you value?

Unless you’re working with someone you have a long established relationship with and you’ve undergone some sort of mind-meld, it’s likely that you need to spend some time explaining the task, the expectations, and how you’ll communicate along the way.

For instance: “I have a project I’d like to assign to you. It’s going to have a tight deadline and some high expectations. Can we find some time today to make sure we have a shared understanding of the milestones and how I will know you’re making progress?”


To: Employee.

From: Uncommunicative supervisor

Date: Tuesday at 6:30 PM


Hey! I really need to you to get the report pulled together for finance by friday. Ok?”


Perfection is the enemy of the good

We’ve all heard this one. And it’s true. It’s so much easier to just do it yourself instead of taking the time to show someone else how to do it, answer questions, and potentially see them fail.

But how much worse is it to stifle your staff because you won’t let them learn?  Remember when you had a supervisor who wouldn’t let you take on the projects you were eager to do?  Don’t be that supervisor.

Employees? This goes both ways. If it’s your first assignment, you want to get it right and you will have questions (you should  have questions!) Don’t hang onto that work until it’s perfect. Missing a deadline because you’re trying to polish something to perfection is not a good choice. How do you approach your boss?


“I know this project is important to you and I didn’t want to work too long in one direction without being sure we were still aligned. Can we check in for 5 minutes?”

And when you have that check in? Be prepared. Have focused questions then listen carefully for new information.

Remember, you’re both working at this together, if you supervisor forgot to tell you something the first time around, don’t roll your eyes and say “I can’t do this work if the direction is going to totally change every time I ask you a question!” (You get my point). They need to know you’re going to be able to work with some independence but you’ll come back to them along the way. The need for check-ins may diminish as you work together more, but even with people I’ve spent a long time working with, the check-in is essential. Things change, schedules shift, priorities rearrange – you will rarely have a complicated project that is assigned and completed exactly the way it was initially described and those are the ones worth learning.

How’re things looking from another point of view?

If you have an employee who has been offered help only to brush it aside…no, no, I got it….and they’re weary, ring-eyed, and intent on doing it themselves, you may be working with a delegation-challenged-perfectionist.

Perhaps an honest conversation about how their reluctance to delegate is impacting others will help them see their situation differently. Appeal to their better self, the one that wants to motivate and encourage others. Acknowledge that they’re drowning in deadlines and assignments and that’s not a sign of success. Ask them to help someone else grow to their level of skills.

Then listen closely. They may be able to point out areas for improvement. Together you might identify people who can help find success.

I have a mentor who regularly asked “who’s your support team?” when I talked about new projects or initiatives. It’s a life-saver of a question, worth internalizing and sharing.

Are you the perfectionist or do you work for one?

How have you met this challenge?