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Prioritize Your 20%


According to the Pareto principle, only about 20% of your activities contribute to 80% of your productivity. What makes up your 20%?


I have a special gift for checking boxes. Although it comes somewhat naturally to me, my box-checking career really took off during intern year. I was that intern who mastered the checklist. If it was on the list, it got done. It didn't matter how many items were on the list or how challenging the tasks were, if it was on the list, I nailed it. And at the end of each day, I would look at my neat row of checked boxes and smile.


Unfortunately, like many valuable skills learned during my training, checking boxes did not translate well into my academic career: There were simply too many boxes to check. And the more I checked boxes, the more I fell behind. Even when I tried to check more boxes by adding extra hours to my work day, I found that I was accomplishing less and less. I was like a hamster on a wheel: I was wearing myself out with hard work; but I had nothing to show for it. It took me years to understand that it's not about the number of boxes you check, it's about checking the right boxes. In fact, the fewer boxes you check, the more you accomplish.


The Pareto principle is really not about the numbers, it's about living in the space of your highest value. Although you can do many things, the value you create from each activity is variable. For example, while you may be super efficient at calling prior authorizations; thousands of people can replace you at a moment's notice. On the other hand, if you don't move your research forward, it will languish in the place you left it forever. Therefore, your best focus is on the things that 1) only you can do and 2) create value for you, your employer, and the world.


Here's how you can explore the transformative power of the 20% principle as it applies to research productivity:


  1. The significance of the 20% principle  in enhancing research productivity.

  2. Applying the principle for effective scientific writing.

  3. Strategizing your interactions to maximize your energy.

  4. Getting the most out of your proposal and manuscript submissions.

  5. Recognizing your peak periods for high-priority tasks. 


This week, I want you think strategically about investing in your research career. If for example, you are looking to increase your visibility, write a list of 10 institutions at which you want to give a talk. Then reach out to at least one person at each institution and ask them for an invitation. Say you had a 30% success rate and gave 3 talks this year, how might that enhance your scientific reputation?


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