The "20/80" Rule

When I first started designing 6 years ago I spent so much time making sure every detail of a project was perfect. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this amazing idea and had to power on my computer to implement it. After doing this a number of years I realized something, only a few pieces of the project determined the success of the campaign. I wasted to much time combing over the important stuff that I neglected to acknowledge the elephant in the room - the end goal.

Being perfect might sound like a great thing, but after finishing a project and doing a post-mortem you realize you spent equal time doing everything. When it comes to success that is a huge mistake, because not all tasks are created equal.

About 3 years ago I began to implement a new rule "20/80" - now most of you are wondering, "what the heck it that?" Basically it means focus on the 20 percent of the work that relates to 80% of the results. No matter what project you are working on there will be key items that determine if the project is a success or a failure. Focus on those.

To describe what I'm talking about in more clarity I'll use an example from a previous project. I was working on a healthcare website for a client. They wanted all the usual bells and whistles but every time I spoke with them they wanted to push their social networks onto their website. It started with a twitter feed in the footer which then grew into an entire page of twitter, facebook and instagram posts. I described to them how this was taking away from the main points ( 20% ) and applying too much time to the other 80% that wasn't relevant to the success of the project.

After much back and forth I finally convinced them that if we spent a majority of time on onboarding new users we would see a major increase in new patients. In comparison, social feeds would only cause users to leave the website and be lost to the internet because let's face it we have short attention spans.

Key lesson here, focus on the real goals, the 20%, not the other 80% fluff.

So how can this be applied to all projects? Well it depends on the project, but every project has a goal. Start by looking at the goal and determine the tasks that fit that goal. Be very concise here, you don't want to waste too much time on unimportant work. For example, if you are working on a banking application and your main goal is to get new people to sign up for a bank account then you would want to focus on creating the best experience for that user. This can be applied to any project you can think of.

Now, this doesn't mean you should let all the other aspects of the project go to the dump. After your prioritize your main tasks, sort through your other tasks and focus your full attention into that. This is really helpful too when staying organized.

Action steps:

  1. Figure out your main goal
  2. Prioritize the tasks that are directly related to your goal
  3. Repeat with the rest of your project.