Pie chart of eighty twenty rule drawn on white paper

Use the 20/80 Rule – Better! Results Tip #17

Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 Rule of Time Management. Simply put, this rule suggests that 20 percent of our efforts will account for 80 percent of our results (*). I’ve never tried to measure the accuracy of this rule, but I’m comfortable enough with its basic premise to allow it to influence how I plan my work time each day.

Only recently have I been exposed to what I’m calling the 20/80 Rule of Action. And here’s how this one works.

When addressing any issue needing our attention – for example, anything where we are seeking Better! Results (my MAJOR theme in these articles and my work) – we invest 20 percent of our time in analyzing the issue and its causes, and 80 percent considering and pursuing solutions.

For Example

Time, clock, timer, stopwatch 60 minutes

You have a 60-minute meeting with a work team on an important issue. Applying the 20/80 Rule of Action would prompt you to track the time in the discussion for the first 20 percent (roughly 12 to 15 minutes) before ‘pivoting’ the discussion to focus on possible solutions. The pivot occurs from a short statement like, “OK, I think we have a rough idea of the issue and possible causes, now let’s brainstorm about what we might do about it.”

In short, the 20% mark is where the conscious directed shift or pivot occurs.

I’ve been asked if I’m really that rigid in my timekeeping. And the answer is yes and no. Yes, because I do keep an eye on the clock in my meetings so I’m more mindful of our progress against the time commitment I’ve requested from others. And no, because I see the 20/80 breakdown as a target rather than an absolute. Most days I find 50/50 is pretty good. Much different from the 90% problem discussion/10% solutions discussion I see in most management meetings.

Businessman presenting to colleagues at a meeting

David Rock’s “Quiet Leadership”

In his interesting book Quiet Leadership (currently my favorite business book by far!) author David Rock goes deep into this concept. He says, “It might sound obvious that to transform people’s performance we need to focus their thinking on solutions, rather than problems. Yet it’s surprising how little we do this in practice.”

Rock refers to discussions of problems as interesting, where discussions of solutions are useful. Interesting v. useful – hmmm…

Application in Real Life

I’ve taken Rock’s ideas and begun to apply them more consciously in my work. I’ve seen Better! Results immediately. Here are a few quick examples from recent consulting and coaching engagements:

Example one:

Why did this happen? (20% of discussion)

What do we (or you) need to do to achieve here? (80% of discussion)

Example two:

Why did you do that? (20% of discussion)

What should you do next? (80% of discussion)

Example three:

Why isn’t this working? (20% of discussion)

What do we (or you) need to do to make this work? (80% of discussion)

Problem solving aid mind map business concept

Two Foundation Lessons

I’ve now read Quiet Leadership three times in four months. Each time I pick up new insights and ideas. But there are two foundation lessons I’ve highlighted and hopefully learned:

First, focusing on problems leads us to the past. Focusing on solutions leads us to the future.

Second, problems disappear into the background as solutions develop.

Agree? Let me know – especially if you don’t!

But if you’re not sure it will work, why not try it and then form an opinion. That’s what I did. Now I KNOW it works.

(*) – for fascinating insight into the origin of this concept, do a quick search on  the ‘Pareto Principle’

Find Time to Opt-Out – Better! Results Tip #16

In this era of overwhelming Internet contact and its evil cousin SPAM, we’ve all become familiar with the concept of ‘opting out’ and ‘unsubscribing’. You know, that little hot-link button at the bottom of email offers and electronic advertisements.

One click and whoosh, gone forever. (At least in theory…)

So here’s the deal. Why not adopt the same practice in our cluttered daily business and personal behaviors?

Here are a few examples to consider.

  1. Look at your work space. What piles of documents and file folders have sat untouched for six months or more? I just went through every shelf and drawer in my home office with that benchmark in mind. Have I touched this document in the last six months? Do I really need to keep it? I took just one hour and gave every document and file a quick once over. With each, I made a quick decision to either keep or toss it right then. Result: a two-foot stack of paper, magazines, professional journals and other documents straight into the recycle bin.cluttered desk
  1. Look at your home. That’s the place where clutter takes root and grows until one day you seem to wake up and notice it for the first time. Doubt me on this? Next time you go away for a few days or a week, as you open the door on your return pretend you’re entering someone else’s home and seeing things for the first time. What do you really see? And should some of it be taken out before you get too used to it again.cluttered storage room
  1. Most important of all, look hard at your daily work and personal habits. We all have them. Those routines of how we start our day. The time and direction we drive to work. How we spend that first hour when we get there. Whether we focus our best energy on what’s most important today, or squander it doing minor busy-work tasks just so we can feel like we’ve accomplished something to cross off our list. What work habits should you ‘opt-out’ of right now? And what’s holding you back from doing it?Pushpin on calendar with busy day overworked schedule.
  1. For those very brave souls among you who want to go really deep, what relationships are draining your energy and holding you back? I’m not suggesting tossing them out, just giving each a few minutes of thought about why and how maintaining those relationships could be handled. And to be completely honest, as we grow we may encounter others who simply want to hold us back. They prefer the old you; not the newer more-authentic version you’ve worked so hard to become. Opting-out of relationships can be painful. Be careful, but firm if necessary.Displeased couple sitting back to back on couch in living room

Better! Results Challenge

At a recent conference on personal results, the keynote speaker included the instructions,

“Surround yourself with what you want –the people, conditions, thoughts and actions

that drive you forward toward the goals you’ve set.”

Start with the little things. The safe things. Work and living space. Daily inefficient habits.

Opt-out where appropriate to make room for Better! Results.







Businessman in black shoes standing at the crossroad making decision which way to go - easy or hard

At Decisions – Large and Especially Small – Stop, Think and Choose Better! – Better! Results Tip #15

Example One

Diane set a common New Year’s goal. To lose 10 pounds and get herself in better shape. Two days later, she’s at the food market pushing her cart around the store. Produce came first: a head of lettuce. small bag of broccoli, five bananas, and a ripe tomato. A great start in support of her goal.

Woman standing in front of a row of produce in a grocery store.

Then the moment of trial. Bags of chips, pretzels and cookies lined both sides of the next aisle for the entire length of the store. Then another aisle stocked with nothing but sugary soda and candy – much of it on sale after the long holiday period just finished.

And this is exactly where the Moment of Better! occurs.

If Diane can make it down those aisles without reaching out and placing any of this junk food in her cart, she is setting herself up for Better Results! in the days that follow. Because if this stuff isn’t in her pantry or refrigerator when she hits that inevitable late afternoon moment of hunger for sugar, when she scans her kitchen for something to eat to kill the cravings she simply will not be able to give in to the cravings for junk food.

It’s just not there (but a banana is!).

To review, Diane set herself up for later success – her goal on her terms – when she made Better! Decisions while shopping days earlier.

Example Two

David has an important meeting with the big boss next week. He’s nervous because his improvement suggestions are based in small part on data and in large part on his years of experience and gut feeling.

Let’s face it. David would be crazy to wait until the morning of the meeting to get ready. Instead he makes the Better! Decision of preparing five days in advance. He writes out a one-page agenda with the purpose of the meeting in bold at the top of the document. He prepares his talking points and a tight example of each. And then he does the two things that most of us forget or ignore.

Business planning. Marketing strategy brainstorming. Paperwork and digital in open space.

One, he consciously takes the opposite point of view and prepares to refute his own suggestions. This makes him better prepared to anticipate the soft or weak spots in his recommendations as well as the specific questions he should expect.

Second, he rehearses for the meeting. Not just in his head. Out loud. And he records the dry run rehearsal so that he can both see and listen to himself make the presentation. No fancy studio. He just uses the video and audio recording functions on his mobile phone. Result: outstanding free feedback in a very private setting – allowing David to adjust his delivery and examples for Better! Results with the big boss.

And the goal is always Better! Results.

Example Three

Terry had a crappy day at work. There’s just no better way to describe it. His boss was all over him. His cubicle mate spent the day on the phone arguing with their partner. He started the day with 20 unanswered emails, and 10 hours later ended the day with 35. Then there was the traffic on the way home. Normally a 35-minute drive, tonight it took over an hour.

cars in a tourist traffic jam

So now late for dinner, he sits in his car in the garage about to head into the house where his bride and two children are waiting for dad to make his grand entrance.

How will he choose to feel when he walks through that door? What will he choose to say? Will he take a moment to collect his thoughts, take a breath or two, paste a smile on his face? Or not.

A decision moment for sure.

The Simple Lesson

In our complicated business and personal lives, so much is beyond our immediate control. So when we find that increasingly rare opportunity to control our results on our terms, we should reach out and grab it with passion.

We all have 100% control over our decisions. Every moment of every day in every situation. Whether to get up from our desk or couch and take a five minute walk. Whether to buy the junk food or not. Whether to prepare effectively for meetings and less-formal business conversations or not. Whether to turn off the TV and get to bed a little earlier or not. Whether to be kind to others or not. Whether to volunteer to assist a co-worker or not. Whether to talk on the phone while we drive or not. Whether to smile when we just don’t feel like it, or not.

Better! Results come from Better! Decisions. And opportunities for Better! Decisions are present hundreds of times each day. All we have to do is be present, see them, and Choose Better! in the moment.

Our Challenge Together

Positive change begins with being present and aware. Better! Results come from Better! Decisions at moments of opportunity.

Months and dates shown on a calendar whilst turning the pages

Consciously mark one day on your calendar. On that day, stay present and mindful every time you face even the smallest decision. For one day, pause, give yourself just five seconds to take a deep breath, exhale, and then decide. Consciously. Which option that I have right now will increase the probability of advancing me towards my smallest intentions or larger life goals?

Let me know how you make out.








Integrity – Better! Results Tip #14

After 40 years as a business and consulting professional – most spent in the fraud and business ethics arena – it takes quite a bit to stun me. But it happened yesterday.

The radio interviewer asked the guest what was the most significant development in US politics in 2016. Yeah, I know. Trump v. Clinton, Electoral College v. popular vote winners. Supreme Court vacancies deadlocking progress. State initiatives on legalizing or banning substances. Laws restricting personal freedoms. And a long list of other hot button issues.

And my initial reaction was to reach up and shut off the radio. At this point I’ve simply had enough.

But the three-word answer that was the immediate response froze me in disbelief (and almost caused me to drive up on the sidewalk).

Post-Truth Politics

Wow! I had to listen for more.

Forgive me if I didn’t interpret the message properly or remember it with precision, but my recollection 24 hours later is that Post-Truth Politics assumes that the facts simply don’t matter any more. There’s no need to ‘spin’ or ‘slant’ the truth to make your point. Just ignore the truth and facts completely – and say whatever you want. As often and as loudly as possible.

Political rally

Before your write me a nasty-gram, take a second and listen carefully. My comments here are not politically motivated one way or the other. When asked, I always state that my politics are ‘fact-based’ – a statement that more often than not leaves the questioner puzzled.

So here’s the question for all of us. Has this concept of Post-Truth Politics actually become reality? If so, what about Post-Truth Management? Or Post-Truth Parenting?

Would any of you want to be formally aligned with any anything in life that simply pushed truth to the side and said, “Let’s ignore reality, commitments, agreements, responsibility and accountability and just do and say whatever we want? Is this what we want for ourselves and our children? Or in our business lives?

It’s a simple question: yes or no?

I didn’t think so.

So it’s up to all of us to begin to bring clarity and precision to what we will tolerate in our lives. From our leaders, our organizations, and especially from ourselves.

Truth is an absolute requirement if Better! results are our goal. We must know that what we hear, read and see is based on facts. Do we want others to lie to us or not? Do we want to believe in our organizations or not? Do we want to follow or spend precious family and leisure time with those who will shamelessly lie to us, or not?

It’s all pretty simple.

So here’s my grass-roots challenge.

Truth and lies written on compass

Let’s all try to speak nothing but the truth for one full day. Just one day.

From when we wake up in the morning until we put our heads back on the pillow at night. Every word we say – in meetings, conversations with friends or co-workers, to our partners, children and neighbors – we pledge to be true. In our emails, our phone messages, our business reports, our documents, 100% truth for one day.

Not really a challenge for most of you, I know. But possibly with raised awareness in our own actions, we’ll also raise our awareness level of what we find acceptable in the actions and words of others. And react accordingly.

Let me know how you make out. I would love to hear back from you on this one.

For a great read on this subject, try the book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud