Productivity and GTD
How to Use the 50-30-20 Rule to Get More Done
During your average workday, how much time do you spend on emails and other routine activities? It’s easy to fritter away time on tasks that are necessary but not goal-driven.
If you have bigger dreams, you need time to pursue them. But how can you make that happen with so much other stuff on your plate?
The answer is the 50-30-20 rule.
Don’t worry, it’s not an obscure math proof and you don’t even have to be good at math to follow it. The 50-30-20 formula means designating 50% of your workday to activities that advance your life goals; 30% to tasks that advance mid-term goals; and 20% to working toward more immediate goals.
Below are some tips for making the 50-30-20 rule work for you.
Categorize Your Activities
Break down your activities into three levels:
Top-tier, 50-percent of all activities that must be related to long-term goals. There might be a reward in the near future, but generally these goals won’t come to fruition quickly. However, their larger rewards are likely to last well beyond the next 3-5 years of your life. Examples of top-tier activities include starting a business, investing in real estate, completing a graduate degree or finishing a creative project such as a book or film.
Mid-tier activities should deliver results within the next 1-2 years. However, once they’re finished there are little or no lasting rewards. These are projects you’ll get something out of and then move on to another project. Examples of mid-tier activities include training for an athletic competition, planning a series of classes or launching a seasonal product such as hand-painted Christmas ornaments.
Bottom-tier activities make an immediate difference in your life, but there are no lasting rewards and they don’t impact your larger goals. Think of this category as maintenance tasks: processing email, organizing files, returning phone calls. If you neglect them completely, you’ll run into problems but you don’t want to focus on them at the expense of more important work.
Of course, these categories can be revised to reflect your unique situation. For example, a life coach who does some of her work remotely might consider communication tasks like email and phone calls a mid-tier activity.
The point is to set yourself up for optimal success in your professional life by categorizing your tasks according to the best use of your time.
Stick to Time Limits
The benefit to categorizing activities and setting time limits in advance is that you don’t have to think about it during the day. The only thing you have to do is stick to your pre-imposed limits.
For some people, a workday is the traditional 9-5 shift. Others work in shorter time slots, early in the morning or at night, pursuing dreams that are different from their daily responsibilities. If you have an 8-hour workday, your time would consist of 4 hours on top-tier activities, 2.5 hours on mid-tier, and 1.5 hours on maintenance tasks. A 4-hour work slot would be divided into 2 hours on top-tier tasks, 72 minutes on mid-tier, and 48 minutes on maintenance.
What happens if you fall short of your time limit in maintenance tasks or want to keep working on a top-tier activity beyond 50%? The key is never to spend more than 20% on maintenance tasks. Anything you don’t finish in time should be completed the next day. On the other hand, it’s fine to work longer on top-tier tasks. Your mid-tier time limit can contract or expand based on fluctuations in the other tiers.
Don’t Let the Small Stuff Obstruct Your Dreams
A book is written one sentence at a time, but we often avoid working on long-term projects because we crave the satisfaction of completing easier tasks. Thus, emails get written but your great idea for a screenplay grows dusty in your mind.
When you begin to follow the 50-30-20 formula, you may notice your impulse to go to email, to filing, to anything you can check off your to-do list with ease and speed. It will probably feel uncomfortable to make yourself work on bigger projects instead. But the automatic nature of allotting your time in advance is a good check against procrastination. Eventually the division of your work time will become routine and you’ll notice how your work on top-tier tasks is bringing you closer to realizing your dreams.
If you ever wonder why you’re not making more progress on top-tier and even mid-tier activities, track the time you spend on maintenance tasks. Just being honest with yourself about how you use your time can be a revelation.
Following a pre-planned formula like the 50-30-20 rule will make even more of a difference. You wouldn’t go into a new business without a strategy, so why start your work day without one? Working without a plan often results in reactive behavior, tackling only what comes up. The problem with that is your big goals will never just come up. You have to do the showing up.