How to apply the 80-20 rule to your workday

How to apply the 80-20 rule to your workday

You’ve probably heard of the 80-20 rule. In the workplace, it can be applied to everything from time management to sales. It’s actually based on something called the Pareto principle, which states that 80% of results come from 20% of the tasks complete or efforts made, so it’s a way to audit what you do and really focus on the things that are most effective.

With a little bit of tweaking, it’s a rule — no, a philosophy — you can apply to healthy living to make it more sustainable and enjoyable!

80% of the time make smart choices, and the remaining 20% of the time, enjoy a little more flexibility. It’s those small concessions that make the bigger decisions easier to stick to. So let’s talk about how to put this into practice when you’re working a full-time job.

Treats and special occasions

If you work in an office, you’re probably inundated by birthday celebrations, work anniversaries and retirement parties and more. Maybe you have pizza Fridays or your colleague brings in baked goods for the Monday morning meetings.

These moments are as much about socialization and networking than about the foods, so don’t skip them. Just follow a few tips to make it less overwhelming:

  • Ask yourself: Is this treat special? Or is it something I could buy at the store anytime I wanted? If it’s the latter, it doesn’t mean you should pass it up, but it is a reminder that if you don’t have it now, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever have it again. (These cookies, however… Well, I wouldn’t be able to say no to at least one!)
  • Try having a small piece or bite first. You can always go back for more. But I often find that just a taste of something rich or indulgent gets the job done!
  • Wait until the first rush ends. Whenever food makes it into a break room or office, people swarm! If you can hold off for a few minutes, you’ll be able to take more time and not feel pressured into loading your plate quickly or grabbing something before you decide if you actually really want it.

And if you decide not to grab the treat or food item, don’t make a big deal of it. If someone asks you why, you can always say that you’re full or that you have an event later that evening and don’t want to spoil your appetite. I think we often worry more than we need to about what people will think about our actions.

bird's eye view of a sprinkle donut and coffee

Activity during the day

I know it can be incredibly difficult to get a workout in (although the ones I’ve listed here can be knocked out during a lunch break!).

But fitness and activity is cumulative. That means that if you walk for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon and 10 minutes in the evening, it’s essentially the same as if you walked 30 minutes straight. So don’t miss any opportunity to get your heart racing.

If you sit most of the day, try to at least get up during a break and do a few jumping jacks or yoga stretches. If you lead a lot of group meetings, encourage everyone in the room to stand up once an hour or stand up when it’s his or her turn to speak.

And ideally, commit to spending some time every day doing a vigorous workout. That could be right before or after work or even during the work day (keep these items in your office and it’s much easier).

Personal time

Your boss gives you time off — don’t be afraid to use it! Of course most of us save our vacation and personal days for family trips or adventures, but I am a big believer in scheduling half-days or full days off at random times during the year and using it to really improve my health.

For example, there’s a yoga workshop about three hours away from my house every year, and it’s an amazing experience. I leave the workshop feeling more energized, more engaged in everything in my life, more confident about my skills and more at peace with the world. (Seriously, great things are achieved in only a few minutes on the yoga mat.)

However, it’s very difficult to attend unless I take a day off of work, so that I can travel there and back. So, I schedule that into my personal time because I know that taking that single day off will enable me to be a better employee (and person!) the other 364 days of the year.

We’re all under pressure to come to work and only take sick days when we’re close to needing the emergency room, but preventative care is crucial and more and more bosses and HR departments are understanding and supporting that.

Take a hooky day and keep the kids home for a special day with you. Or take a personal day and volunteer with an organization that is close to your heart. It really makes a difference.

Office relationships and friendships

two women at work having coffee

I love to talk with my colleagues, and not just about work projects. We discuss current events, new movies, family updates and much more. On the face of it, you might think that’s wasted time, but as long as there’s an understanding that these friendships should be kept appropriate and not take away from overall productivity, it can be a really important part of building community.

Go ahead and bring up the latest episode of your favorite TV show, or ask for a restaurant recommendation. Just make sure that those water cooler conversations make up 20% or less of your day (not 80%).

Most of all, have fun (well, 20% fun, anyway) and embrace one of my favorite phrases: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”

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