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Prioritize Your Time With The Power of 80 / 20

As a Professional Organizer, I work under the presumption that each client and each client’s issues are unique. Thus, every project I undertake is basically a “start from scratch” process. And just like the best cooking, starting from scratch always yields the best results. Nonetheless, there are some STANDARD rules, diagnostics and processes that I use and/or suggest to almost all of my clients. One of my favorites is based on the theme of 80/20. There are three variations on the theme of 80/20.

First, it is said that “eighty percent of SUCCESS is just showing up.” This leads to the conclusion that the other twenty percent of success is knowing what to do when you get there. This is a pleasant thought. You need only be one-fifth prepared and as long as you catch the right bus, you’ll be successful.

The second variation on 80/20 is that “twenty percent of your EFFORTS will produce eighty percent of your results.” Thus, if a person could review the remaining eighty percent of their efforts and determine which of those efforts produced the other twenty percent of results they could ELIMINATE a great amount of wasted work. This would significantly increase free-time and ultimately increase the quality of the person’s life.

Inspired by these two variations, I created the third variation. I call it the “80/20 List.” Simply, the “80/20 List” helps you determine what you REALLY should be doing with your time. This is a highly effective tool, especially when combined with weekly schedule planning. To create an “80/20 List,” either grab some paper and a pen or open up a spreadsheet program on your computer. First, write down EVERYTHING you want to do. It can be something as simple as emailing a friend, buying some new clothes, or reading a book, all the way up to learning photography, buying a new home or starting a new business venture. Whatever you want to do, need to do, or dream to do, write it down.

Now, with the understanding that “twenty percent of your efforts will produce eighty percent of your results” begin to SEPARATE your list. Create two columns, one entitled “20” and the other entitled “80.” In the “20” column, first put everything you MUST do. If you have commitments that must be met or responsibilities that cannot be put off, put those items in this column. After that is done, take a good long look at the rest of your list. Ask yourself: “What on this list is truly and immediately IMPORTANT to me?” This is not to say that anything else isn’t important, it’s just not as immediately important. Once you’ve determined these items, place them in the 20 column. If you really have a problem focusing in on what is immediately important, don’t be afraid to ask family, friends or coworkers.

Now that you’ve chosen your items for the 20 column, everything else goes into the 80 column. Remember, you’re 20 column should have significantly less items in it than your 80 column. Next, take your 20 column and PRIORITIZE it. Give everything in the column a value of 1 (most important) through 10 (least important). Obviously, you can have multiple items with the same value, especially if you have more than ten items in the column. Put the items in order of priority and Voila! you have a to-do list that is customized and prioritized to you and your life. Repeat this process for the 80 column. As you accomplish things from your 20 column, cross them off and move the top item from the 80 column over to the bottom of the 20 column. Now you will never have to QUESTION how to use your time or feel that you’re puttering around unfocused.

An additional benefit of the “80/20 List” is time to decide how SERIOUS you really are. If items sit in the 80 column and never seem to make it over to the 20 side, you’re probably not very serious about pursuing them. Make sure you periodically review your list and ask yourself if there are any items that really don’t mean much to you anymore. After all, life is change.

This list is your focus. This list is your DESIRES prioritized by you for you. Live by this list. Combine it into your weekly schedule and watch the quality of your work time, family time and play time grow faster than you ever imagined. Do it for yourself and the ones you love. Do it for your dreams. Do it now! And remember: Live each day with the PASSION of it being your last and the wonderment of it being your first.


Erik Luhrs is a Professional Organizer, business consultant, public speaker, author, and founder of Progressive Organizing™ Systems. You may visit his wesbite at

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