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Focus on what matters

Photo credits - Maritime New Zealand

· Focus on what matter

Focus on what matters (focus on few, rather than trivial many), 80~20 Rule

Whatever job or industry we're in, we may sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by our workload, with no idea where to start. The temptation might be to put things off till tomorrow.

When to start? While yesterday is more often than not the ideal day to have started, the next best thing is to start today, foregoing the usual excuses we allow ourselves. Why? Because today is at our disposal, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. So never postpone taking action. Start now and start small to realize your big dreams.

How to start? Any project, regardless of its size, can be broken down into a series of manageable tasks. Starting small is the most important aspect of realizing a vision that seems impossible to achieve, especially when the alternative is to not start at all. Want to take part in the 100km Oxfam Trail Walker? It's achievable, as long as you get out of the door and onto the hills, and put in the effort one step at a time. When you conquer each task, roar like a lion and congratulate yourself for jump starting your journey towards your vision. Haven't you heard? Rome was not built in a day.

Where to start? So you've segmented your project into a multitude of smaller tasks. What then? Its tempting to start with the trivial things, leaving the more important and difficult tasks for another day. But as the deadline looms, the tension builds. You may find yourself stressed and de-motivated in your scramble against the clock, missing targets and having to ask for an extension of time.

Why not avoid this scenario altogether? It's vital to prioritize tasks and complete the most mission critical ones first. Do them well and you will enjoy a sense of satisfaction which will motivate you to complete more, propelling you ever closer to your vision.

How to distinguish your priorities? Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto’s 80-20 rule comes to mind.

Focus on the few, rather than trivial many.

Prioritize the tasks that will give you the biggest results. In other words, spend 80% of your time focusing on the most important 20% of all your tasks. Once you have completed the top 20%, tackle the next most important tasks and increase your results from 80~100%.

Focus 80% of your time and energy on the 20% of your work that truly matters.

Consequently,20% of your activities may account for 80% of your results.

To drive this principle home, let’s discuss the total constructive loss of the container ship Rena at Tauranga in 2011 - the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand in recent years.

The Captain arrived on the bridge in the very early hours of the morning. Rather than checking the position of the vessel first as he should have done, he and his 2nd Officer proceeded to start the trivial task of going through port papers in readiness for arrival at Tauranga. At last, after completing the paperwork, he checked the radar and realized at once that something was amiss. They were not where they were meant to be. While plotting their position, the vessel unfortunately ran aground on the Astrolabe reef at 17 Knots, spilling oil into the sea and amounting to a total constructive loss.

Had he known the Pareto theory, he would have steered that ship to safe waters as soon as he arrived on the bridge. He started on the trivial task on the bridge, which he should have never attempted on the bridge and focused on important matters – safe navigation of his vessel. Take a cue from the Captain and prioritize what matters first.

In other words, focus on the few, rather than the trivial many.

After all, do we want our surgeon to be filling out post-surgery forms while we're lying on the operating table? Wouldn't we rather he tackles his paperwork once he has ensured we are still alive and kicking?

Maritime New Zealand