The 20% Rule: Reclaim your time and energy

The 20% Rule: Reclaim your time and energy

I recently took on a PA (Hello brilliant JJ!). Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken about her involvement going forward with my clients and other people in my life. The reaction has been interesting. Many have made little comments (partly in jest) around it being a luxury or an unnecessary expense; a, ‘too good to do your own organising are you?’ here or ‘must be nice’ there.

It feels to me that they are missing the point. I was spending at least 5 hours a week on my diary, organising and moving calls – finding times that work for different parties, following up etc etc.

I talk at length about the knots we tie ourselves into as leaders when we think we must do everything ourselves. The real value lies in freeing up their time to focus on what truly matters, and one of the most effective ways to achieve this is by applying the 20% rule.

Imagine if, like me, you are spending five hours a week just sorting your diary. This is a reality for many leaders, and it’s a prime example of how time can be wasted on tasks that don’t require your unique skills or expertise. In my book, The Emotional Overdraft, I discuss various strategies to reduce the emotional burden that comes with leadership. One of the most impactful strategies is the 20% rule.

The 20% Rule Explained

Most people spend their time across five categories:

  1. 20% on work that only they can do in the organisation
  2. 20% on tasks that are skilled but could be done by others with the right experience
  3. 20% on work that’s complex but doesn’t require specialist expertise
  4. 20% on tasks that take some ability but could be handled by many colleagues
  5. 20% on stuff that anyone could do but that, for some reason, they end up doing anyway

Now, imagine you could unload that final 20%. This could be the mundane, repetitive tasks that anyone could handle. By doing so, you could double the amount of time spent on the tasks that only you can do. That’s 40% of your precious time and energy now devoted to core responsibilities, achieved simply by eliminating tasks that you shouldn’t be involved with in the first place.

Overcoming the Drivers of Emotional Overdraft

What’s stopping you from delegating these tasks and reclaiming your time? Through my work, I’ve identified ten drivers that contribute to an emotional overdraft. These represent ways of thinking and behaving that, while not inherently negative, can either support or diminish your effectiveness. These drivers can keep you stuck in a cycle of overwork and inefficiency. Recognizing and addressing them is crucial to becoming a more effective leader.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

By applying the 20% rule, you can start working smarter, not harder. Consider this exercise:

  1. Identify the tasks that fall into the 20% that anyone could do.
  2. Delegate these tasks to someone else. This could be a PA, another team member, or an external service.
  3. Focus the time you’ve freed up on the work that truly requires your unique skills and expertise.

By doing this, you’re not just reclaiming your time; you’re also reducing your emotional overdraft. You’re giving yourself the space to think strategically, to lead more effectively, and to maintain your well-being.

Leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of thinking they need to do everything themselves. This mindset not only drains your time but also contributes to an emotional overdraft that can hinder your performance and overall happiness. By embracing the 20% rule, you can start to change this. Delegate the tasks that don’t require your unique skills, and focus on what only you can do. This simple shift can have a profound impact on your productivity and well-being.

So, next time you find yourself bogged down by mundane tasks, ask yourself: what’s really stopping me from delegating this? And remember, working smarter is the key to sustainable success.



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