Here's the most important question we can ask ourselves.
"Am I focused on meaning or am I focused on minutiae."
In 1906, and Italian economist named Pareto observed a startling reality. He observed that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the land, i.e. wealth. This became an economic principle observed throughout history. Over the years it's meaning became more pervasive. We began calling it the 80/20 principle and often it is applied to the effort exerted to accomplish a task, build a business or reach a goal. We now state it this way, only 20% of the efforts you put out have 80% of the impact toward success.
In other words, 80% of our time is focused on minutiae (the meaningless) while 20% is focused on meaning.
If this is the case we have to ask ourselves 3 critical follow-up questions:
- Am I tracking the right metrics so I can identify where my efforts are going, meaning or minutiae (the meaningless?) I think there's not better illustration of this frustration than the scene in Office Space where Lumbergh confronts Peter Gibbons about his TPS report cover. Gibbons' frustration over the ossession with the meaningless rather than what could have real effect sets up the entire cascade of events that follow.
- Is the minutiae necessary? Sometimes, it's true that the 80% is a requirement of running our business. Yes, you have to decide where employees sit. Yes, you have to call the conference rooms something. Yes, you must occasionally clean your desk. However, as I have been working on my first book, I've been amazed by how often I embrace a meaningless task because spending hours with my headphones on, struggling with a concept or researching a topic is hard work and often feels like slogging through mud. I rationalize the meaningless task by saying it will ultimately facilitate the 20% that will have the impact I desire. Sadly, that's just not true.
- Why? Seems simple, but it's not. The full question is, "Why am I doing this, instead of what matters? Is it possible I've misinterpreted my place in the organization in which I work?" This applies most directly to those in a leadership position. We often feel as though we have to touch everything that goes on. Not realizing we are inserting ourselves in areas where we are weak and ineffective rather than focusing on our area of natural skill and talent. I've seen the disorganized leader seek to organize and run a project and I'm sure you have too. The weakest leaders are the ones that believe they could do every person's job better than they can. Imagine if Winston Churchill had decided he had to actually be in the field with the soldiers during WWII. This man who ate too much, drank too much and weighed too much would have made a terrible infantry man. However, as a motivator and strategist he changed the course of history. So, we have to ask, "What is motivating me at this moment to do this task?"
If we can just eek up the percentage of meaning in our daily schedule, who knows how your brand, non-profit, church or company might change.