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80:20 Prioritizing: How to Handle What Matters Most and Least

written by: John P. Reiling • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 6/19/2017

It’s easy to imagine how you can use 80:20 thinking to prioritize. How can you leverage 80:20 thinking to manage not only what matters most, but also what matters least (yet still matters)? This article looks at how to handle what matters most and how to best handle what matters least.

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    What Matters Most

    Handle What Matters Handling what matters most and least starts with strategy…and ends with tactics.

    Our objectives point to the priorities that we must set. For example, on a project, our objectives point the way to the priorities. The priorities change at every phase of the project. For example, at the beginning of the project, it is most important to define the objectives and the plan, and then we begin to put the pieces in place to build the team and supporting infrastructure to implement the project, then we implement, then we close.

    This type of prioritization plays out repeatedly on projects. The priorities, or the 20 percent that matters most, are the things that the leader concentrates on the most. They represent the critical path, whether we have identified it as such or not. They are pivot points that we must work through in order to get to the next stage of the project.

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    What Matters Least

    When I think of what matters least, or the 80 percent that gives us only 20 percent of the results, is that these are low priority items. However, just because something is a low priority item does not mean that it does not need attention. Most often, these things need to be done, but they are simply not on the critical path. As such, they represent an opportunity for us. The driver can be that we rarely live in a world where ONLY the current project matters. Usually there are ‘corollary’ objectives at play.

    One example is training. As a project leader, you need to focus most on the critical 20 percent, and you will typically spend less time on the less important 80 percent, but ensure it is getting accomplished by delegating. A corollary objective of most projects is to give people experience – to set up the organization for success on future projects and operations. Therefore, it may not necessarily be the primary objective of the project to get people trained, but you know it’s a corollary objective and so use that to still take care of the 80 percent that matters least.

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    Your Personal Strategy and Tactics Matter Most

    What matters most to you on your current projects? What matters least, and do you still need to complete these things? Do you have some corollary objectives - outside the scope of the immediate project - that can help you to determine how to handle the lower priorities?

80:20 Rule in Project Management

This series on the practice of leveraging 80:20 thinking for tremendous benefits looks at how you can apply 80:20 thinking to virtually any and every human situation or experience and using it to become a more effective project manager.
  1. The Amazing Effectiveness of 80:20 Thinking
  2. 80:20 Prioritizing: How to Handle What Matters Most and Least
  3. Put Your 80:20 Practices into Overdrive
  4. Here’s a New Way to Use 80:20 Thinking to Strike a Balance