Through the work I do, I see the experiences and learn from many different kinds of businesses.

It’s fascinating how common themes keep showing up. They occur not just in one business, but in many businesses at the same time.

One recurring theme is the sense of being overwhelmed with too much to do.

I’ve seen it time and time again (and each time it’s a surprise to the client) how possible it is to become much less ‘busy’ and much less overwhelmed, but yet just as productive!

When people find out you’re running your own business, they’ll ask “how’s it going? Are you busy?”

Most people will say “yes, great, I’m really busy.” Yet we know being busy is not the purpose of having a business.

Well… how do you become more productive? How do you become ‘less busy’ and yet get more done?

The secret to getting more done and being less overwhelmed is actually to do less.

I know … this sounds wrong. It sounds impossible, or at least impractical. At the very least it’s counter-intuitive.

Chances are you’ll dismiss this, believing “I can’t, I’ve got too much to do, I can’t possibly do less”.

But you CAN….

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle (or the 80/20 rule) is the discovery that something like 80% of the benefit you get out, is from only 20% of what you put in. It’s very common to find out 80% of the profits in your business come from only 20% of the customers.

Often called “leverage”, it’s the idea that a small proportion of activity creates the biggest proportion of gain or benefit.

Yet, when we’re trying to do everything, we’re trying to put in 100% and get 100% out. That’s a game you can’t win. It’s much easier when you no longer play that game.

Instead, prioritise the 20% of activities that create the largest impact. This is where your gold lies.

The One Thing

There are many ways you can prioritise. One of the best approaches I’ve found is set out in the book ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller.

The book takes the 80/20 principle to the extreme. Rather than focusing on the the 20% it drills down and down into the 20%, until you can find the one thing that really matters.

There is a brilliant question that comes from the book that you can ask yourself … Gary refers to it as the “focusing question”.

What is the one thing that I could do [to get to my goal e.g. increasing sales,  improving relationships at home] such that if I do, it makes everything else easier or unnecessary?”

You know what happens when you repeatedly ask yourself that question? The sense of overwhelm disappears.

Applying this in Practice
A client of mine recently started a business and they’re finding it difficult to attract enough people to get the clients and the financial security they want. They are not alone in this … it’s a classic situation.

Here’s how they’re approaching this problem:

“Maybe we’re not marketing ourselves properly? We should send more emails.

And surely the website isn’t good enough – we need to design a new one.

Flyers! We need to get flyers printed and get them distributed.

We should go to local networking groups! (But which ones?!)

And we could be doing more on Facebook.

And Twitter!

What about Instagram? Or LinkedIn?”

The whirling vortex of the busy brain sends them into tailspins.

Of course, they don’t stop there …

Maybe our product isn’t good enuough? Maybe we need to develop it, put more coding into it?

Such busy brains! Such overwhelm!

So much to do?

Too much to do.

Actually, the diagnosis is they don’t understand their market well enough. Their positioning and messages are not yet connecting with their target audience. They’re not yet explaining well enough their market’s problem, and how they solve it.

The client was hugely stressed and overwhelmed by all of this… which, of course, was entirely to be expected !

Instead, let’s ask “what is the one thing that we could do, such that if we did it, everythinig else becomes either easier or unnecessary?” It leads to the decision, ‘this is where I need to be, this is where I need to focus’.

It leads to doing less … yet getting more done.

The client was looking at far too many areas and what came out of the question, was to understand the market better. When they identify the specific problem their market is experiencing, they can create a story to sell from. They will have the reason as to why someone would be interested in the product they have to offer.

What they discovered is marketing activity isn’t the priority problem right now. They need a much clearer picture on the problem their audience is experiencing.

That’s their One Thing.

What actions are they now taking?

They’re connecting with potential prospects on LinkedIn to conduct research. From this they’ll know how their market describes their problem and how they’re experiencing it.

Focused. Clear.

Now all of that overwhelm, all of that busyness, that they would never have worked their way through, can be honed down into one thing.

Using this principle can and does transform activity priorities, which in turn transform results, and then transform the business.

When you see the truth and practicality in this approach, I encourage you to think about the 80/20 rule.

Do less, but get more done. Get done what matters.

What is your one thing, such that if you did it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.

Start playing the game you can win.