The Coffee Shuffle Principle of Time Management

By JUSTIN WILKINS on MARCH 24, 2015

Why More Is Not Always More

How many times have you found yourself in this situation? You arrive at the office, stumble into the break room, and fill your coffee cup to the brim. You shuffle slowly back to your desk so as not to spill any of this valuable liquid energy we call caffeine.

This is the coffee shuffle and it is a common ritual. You tell yourself that next time you’ll be more careful. You’ll remember to leave a little spare room at the top of the mug. That one extra sip is not worth the chuckles you overhear as you shuffle back to your desk leaving a trail of coffee along the way.

Is this your morning routine? Even though you know that overfilling your cup has negative consequences, you rarely listen to your own advice. Is there a life lesson to be learned here?

Pareto Principle

Pareto Principle

In today’s business environment, we approach our jobs much like the coffee shuffle. Standard management philosophy tells us to maximize each and every second of the day. Workers who appear busy, are perceived as being more productive and may even be promoted based on this perception. Multitasking is the norm. Doing more is expected and producing less is unacceptable. But in reality, “more” is not always more.

Consider your normal work day. Are you “filling your cup to the brim” without any thought as to the negative effects of this practice? You have probably heard of the Pareto Principle. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle is a mathematical theory which proposes that in most situations 80% of actual results are obtained from 20% of actual effort.

In the coffee shuffle example, you overfill your cup to maximize the quantity of coffee you can carry in one trip to the break room. This should save time because you can wait longer between fill-ups. However, when you consider that the coffee shuffle forces you to walk slower, your advantage is diminished. Factor in the fact that many times your coffee spills requiring you to take time to clean up the mess, and your supposed advantage disappears entirely.

Pareto Principle for Individuals

Coffee Shuffle - Pareto Principle for Individuals

Could the Pareto Principle help you in your career? What is it that top producers do that less productive workers ignore? Do they work longer hours and thus get more done in a day? While to a certain extent this may true, I know plenty of very successful people who outperform others while working the exact same hours per week. So what differentiates top producers?

If you apply the Pareto Principle you might surmise that 80% of your difficulty comes from 20% of causes. Your goal now would be to locate that negative 20%. These are the issues that eat up your productivity. Causes could be dealing with difficult clients, checking social media accounts, office gossip, or even scheduled meetings. Top producers eliminate or drastically minimize the NEGATIVE 20%.

What if you ate lunch early or late to avoid 15-30 minutes of office gossip? What if you checked email only twice a day instead of every time a new email came in? What if you left your house 30-60 minutes earlier in the morning to avoid traffic, also giving you uninterrupted work time before the office rush begins? How would your individual compensation, company revenue, sanity, work/life balance, and overall happiness be benefitted by these small changes?

Are you Crazy?

To Do List

An oft-quoted adage says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Think about your daily work habits. Are they making you more productive or are they sucking up time with little potential for positive results?

Consider your “to-do” list. Do you write down each task as though it has equal impact on your productivity? The Pareto Principle would have you prioritize each item according to the effort or time it takes as compared to the potential result or reward it represents. Some things just aren’t worth the effort! Don’t waste time on things that require too much time and have a small payoff. Excellent examples of this are provided in an Inc. magazine article.

So, rethink your activities. Correctly ranking your “to-do” list will give you more work-life balance. By using this system of prioritizing you are applying the 80/20 Principle to spend your time where it is most productive. This will automatically make you more efficient and more effective.

Pareto Principle for Executives

Pareto Principle for Executives

Are business owners and executives guilty of the coffee shuffle, as well? You bet! Executives often have a grueling schedule. If you are a busy executive it is imperative that you apply the Pareto Principle to your work day. Focus on tasks that have the highest reward. Say “No” to requests that require too much time with too little payoff.

Remember to delegate. You may have years of experience and you may have all the answers. But trying to do everything yourself is not only a time-waster for you, it cheats your employees out of valuable experience. Pick good people and then step back and let them do the job you hired them for. Don’t micro-manage.

Finally, as an executive you need to concentrate on the big picture. Don’t be a perfectionist. Demanding perfection on mundane responsibilities is a time waster that pulls you away from more productive tasks. Sometimes good enough is just that. So don’t sweat the small stuff!

Pareto Principle for Companies

Pareto Principle for Companies

The Pareto Principle can also be applied to businesses. Does your company have archaic and bureaucratic hoops in place that slow down productivity? Be sure to re-examine their purpose and intent. Many times you will find practices that make results harder to attain without providing the safeguard or benefit they were originally designed to achieve.

What about meetings? Meetings are like any other tool. When used properly they can make work easier. When used incorrectly they can really hurt you. Because of their potential to fall into that useless 80% of efforts, meetings should really be a last resort. Use technology! Try Dropbox to share documents. Use GoToMeeting or a similar service to share presentations. You may be able to accomplish your goal without the wasted travel time and other costs associated with an in-person event.

Is your company well-organized? Sure, you think it is. But do you find yourself having to re-invent the wheel over and over again? Time is money. Be sure your company has set achievable goals and that the tasks you assign are actually oriented towards achieving those goals. Don’t burn your employees out by requiring tasks that are time consuming and non-productive.

Maintain Peak Performance

Maintain Peak Performance

Individuals and executives can both benefit from the Pareto Principle. This 80/20 concept helps keep top producers ahead of the pack. It’s not working longer or even harder that matters. You’ll produce more if you concentrate on prioritizing tasks so that you spend more time on the 20% of things you do that have the most potential for reward. Practice the Pareto Principle. It will mean less stress and more balance in your life.

Companies also need to be results-orientated. Review policies and procedures to ensure they are still applicable. Don’t waste time with pointless meetings. Have clear goals and be sure employee tasks are oriented towards achieving them.

Remember you can still get coffee, but do leave a little room to spare at the top of the cup. More is not always more.

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Justin Wilkins

Justin Wilkins

Market Leader

Justin Wilkins began his career as an associate with Kimmel & Associates in 2008 and is currently a market leader in the Industrial & Power and Mechanical Divisions, with a focus in the South-Central United States.