Kaizen and Pareto working together with GTD

by oneafrikan on February 3, 2006

There’s an interesting thread over at the GTD headquarters / David Allen site forum:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the web application I’m working on (well, getting to prototype / private Alpha) and two concepts which have become incredibly useful for me are “80/20 – or Pareto’s Principle” and “Kaizen“.

The 80/20 principle has taught me to ask “what features (the 20%) are most important to the majority (80%) of users?“; whilst the concept of Kaizen has taught me to look at what I’m doing, and eliminate waste whilst continually refining things, almost to the point of having nothing except for the most important.

They’re both difficult to come to terms with as they’re not things we learn naturally from parents or at school. Certainly while doing a science degree at university we erred on the side of to much rather than too little, for fear of not covering enough / everything.

However, something that has become a theme for me in busines to date is the importance of focus, and so in a sense, these ideas or concepts are giving names to stuff that has seemed inherently sensible to me, yet seldom practiced by many or most of the people I’ve come accross.

And so we come back to Pareto and Kaizen, both of which underscore the importance of continually asking the hard questions and re-iterating the machine until everything is well oiled and working smoothly. Yesterday I did my version of a GTD monthly review, and at the end I had completely thrown out everything not important to me over the next two months (I have some pretty tough goals for end March) and refined down my focus to three core outcomes.

In the past I would have ended up with too many tasks in Outlook, complex flow diagrams and Gantt charts telling me that I had waaaaay to much on my plate and not enough time to do them in, resulting in a weighed down mind not much use to anyone and simply a continual frustrating feeling of taking two steps forward and three steps back.

Yesterday evening I felt different – I had asked myself what was completely and utterly necessary for me to feel like I had made a success of the first three months of this year, and had answered after much wrangling and mental team picking with three core things; and so after I felt bouyant, light and completely different to similiar days in the past. So much so, that I couldn’t sleep for my mind racing (and that’s another story for another time) with positivity.

I’m at my best when I know what I have to achieve and it’s easy to define and remember – much more so than when I have 250 tasks floating around in my head. I’ve made peace with those 250 tasks, telling myself that in early April I’ll re-assess all of them to see where they fit in. For now, they don’t matter and I’m ok with that.

Take home message: Continually ask yourself what the most important 20% is, and always seek to eliminate waste. Regular reviews make all the difference.

I’m going to leave you with something my friend Steve said to me last night in a Skype conversation:
… if you want to eat an elephant, then you need to bite it off in small chunks…
Here’s to chewing on elephants! ;-)

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