First Things First: How to Focus On What Matters

Managing to make progress on those new year’s plans? Or just managing?

The start of a new year can be as chaotic as the close of the previous one. Everyday issues crowd in and suddenly, all those awesome resolutions you had at the ready get relegated to the back of the queue. If your year has started with a bang and a whimper, don’t lose hope. We’re going to provide a little positive reinforcement in the form of two key criteria you should keep front of mind as projects pile up and demands increase. Now take a breath and read on:

  • Are you clear on the meaning of “priority”?

  • We all know how to prioritise, right? But just think about that for a second. Do we really? Or are we confusing our priorities with our to-do list? The Oxford Dictionary defines a priority as “A thing that is regarded as more important than others.” Note that it’s “more important”, people! The professional and personal plans you’ve made for the year ahead must remain a priority – don’t allow others’ demands to erode your good intentions. Schedule the time to tackle your own essential tasks and resist all attempts to renegotiate. This is where the “resolute” part of your resolutions really kicks in.

  • Apply the 80-20 rule.

  • Otherwise known as the “Pareto principle” (and feel free to drop this into conversations for added intellectual brownie points), this term was coined by economist Vilfredo Pareto. It states that 20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. Which is great in theory, says PEPworldwide.co.nz managing director Kathryn Anda, “But what regularly happens is that people spend eighty percent of their time on work that only delivers twenty percent of the result. We’re so busy ‘being busy’ that we lose sight of what’s important.” It’s essential to keep this principle in mind, she says, and work to maintain the right balance: “You should be spending most of your time on the work that delivers the greatest returns. Force yourself to focus instead on what really matters.”

Once you set your sights on the essentials, you’ll free up your ability to focus. Park any tasks which are only masquerading as priorities – you’ll be surprised how many fall into this category – and fight your corner. Real life will only railroad your resolutions if you let it. So don’t.