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using the 80/20 rule to set priorities when you have ADHD

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

I've always been intrigued by the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who discovered in the late 19th century that roughly 80% of Italy's land belonged to a mere 20% of the population. Noting that this power distribution ratio applied to many areas in life, Richard Koch wrote "The 80/20 Principle," which explained how 80% of our desired outcomes are due to 20% of our efforts. The trick, of course, is to figure out WHICH of our actions make up that high-yielding 20%, and prioritize those!

Assuming the Pareto Principle is true (by the way, it needn't be exactly 80/20; ratios of say, 90/10 or 70/30, are close enough), it makes sense why people with ADHD have trouble managing time efficiently. Because people with ADHD have trouble distinguishing between important and irrelevant stimuli, when faced with multiple options while creating an agenda, it seems , urgent and/or familiar tasks always get done first, even if their completion has no bearing on one's overall goals.

For example, prioritizing a task based on the following criteria may or may not help you in the long run:

A) How time-sensitive it is (the store closes in twenty minutes)

B) How "loudly" someone insists you do it (your brother needs a favor ASAP)

C) How simple or familiar the task is (the devil you already know)

D) How complicated or unfamiliar the task is (what you're avoiding MUST be important)

But, what if...that last-minute rush to the store, the guilt-inducing request from a family member, the dreaded, multi-step project you've been avoiding, and that task that's so-easy-you-can-do-it-in-your-sleep-but-always-takes-three-hours are...THINGS YOU SHOULDN'T BE DOING AT ALL!

What if you could spend your time on things that yield the "best bang for the buck," and drop the rest of your to-do list?? I'd sign up for that in a millisecond. Is there a formula to figure out one's 20% "sweet spot"?

Let's attempt to answer this monster question by working backwards:

1. Start with your desired result. Write it down.

2. Clarify the most important element(s) of that result (your 20%). Write it down.

3. Determine a reasonable time frame for your task's completion.

4. Make a guess at what the likely 80% might be (the timewasting "fluff"). Write that down.

5. NOW you've separated the meat from the potatoes, so to speak, and you're set for success!

Truth: It took me longer than 20 minutes to finish this blog article, but I came pretty close!

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