This is the dream if you’re a social worker, right?
You just finished your progress notes, treatment plans, and appointments for the day.
You look at the clock and have three hours left in the workday to as you please.
And then you feel it . . . that glorious and elusive feeling of being “caught up” on work.
I love that feeling!
Here’s the problem:
The feeling is all too elusive.
The majority of the social workers I know (and I know many) feel overwhelmed with things to do and not enough time to get everything done.
In fact, last summer Social Worker Success surveyed hundreds of social workers, and one of the biggest social worker challenges is. . . time:
To be an effective social worker, you have to use ninja skills with your time and effort.
In today’s article, I’m going to show you how to use your time more efficiently by using the 80/20 rule.
What is the 80/20 rule?
In 1846 Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto strolled through his garden and noticed that only a “vital few” peapods were producing the majority of peas. By Pareto’s estimation, 20% of pea pods produced 80% of the peas. He later published an influential economic paper in 1849 showing that 80% of Italian land was owned by 20% of the population.
Similar observations from business to healthcare to natural disasters have been made where 80% of results come from 20% of the actions. Some call it the Pareto Principle. I like to call it the 80/20 Rule.
Here’s a way to visualize this:
Your 80 vs. Your 20
If you are like me, you may need some help identifying your 80% tasks vs. 20% tasks.
You may be in your 80% (trivial) if:
- The projects are labeled “urgent.”
- You’re spending time working on tasks that you are weakest in.
- You’re working on tasks you have no personal investment in.
You may be in your 20% (vital) if:
- You’re smiling while doing the work.
- You identify that you excel at what you are doing.
- You’ve lost track of time while doing a project.
- You understand how the task fits into your bigger life goals.
Now let’s look at specific areas to analyze and apply your 80/20.
How Social Workers Can Apply 80/20
Daily Time Log:
Make a time log of your entire daily to-dos. Track where and how you spend your time. Review these activities and assess whether or not they are vital.
Vital = they contribute to productivity, entertainment or bringing you joy in life.
Trivial = they make you unproductive, cause you stress and rob you of happiness.
Ruthlessly chisel away the trivial activities.
My tracking log looks like this:
“The goal is to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and to find your strengths so you can multiply them.” – Tim Ferriss
Categorize all of the broad categories of work tasks you do as a social worker. Make a table that shows the amount of hours spent in each activity category (Ex: client time, email, documentation, etc.) In another column rank a value estimate for what you believe the tasks contributes to your effectiveness and productivity.
How can you eliminate, simplify or delegate low value and focus and invest in high value?
Record your screen time for a few days. Write down the websites you visited or apps you used the most (Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, Kindle, etc.) Determine where you spent the most time and which added the least value (I’m looking at you Facebook News Feed😎). You’d be surprised how often these two intersect.
Habits & Routines:
Determine which behaviors (conscious or unconscious) or lack thereof add the most value to your life:
- Waking early
- Daily prayer and meditation
- Lunch away from your desk
- Family meals together
Double down on the habits and routines that are the highest contributors to your quality of life.
Have you ever heard, “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with”? Observe your close relationships at work and your personal life. Estimate the approximate amount of time and energy you invest in each relationship. Now compare that investment with the amount of stress or satisfaction you have in your life. Which relationships are toxic? Which add value? Invest in the valuable ones. Keep your therapist on speed dial.
Reading: Consider the last five books you’ve read. Rate them according to the amount of entertainment or utility each one provided. Look for trends and use that info to skim or skip future books to save time. I know social workers that don’t read books. Don’t be that social worker.
Objections to 80/20
You may say, “Yeah Nate, but there are still things that have to get done even if I don’t think they are as valuable.” This may be true. If you don’t think staff meetings are important, then your aim should be to reduce your time in the meetings.
When you are aware of time and effort wasted, you should find that you have more control over adjusting your where time and effort gets spent. Resist the urge to fixate on the percentages. Focus on the overall concept: pick the top tasks that create the most results and double down your efforts.
Your success as a social worker is determined by your output of value, not your input of effort. People appreciate effort, but they expect results. Once you start looking at your personal and work life through 80/20 lenses, your inefficiencies and busyness become easier to recognize.
When you learn to identify actions or demands that take you away from the more important tasks and reduce your productivity, you are on your way to social worker awesomeness. It is easy to be active. It can be difficult to be productive.
Activity does not equal accomplishment, and busyness does not equal productivity.