Pareto’s Principle – The 80/20 Rule

One habit that people with high productivity have is the ability to focus on the tasks that will give them the greatest benefits. By being able to do the right tasks, you will avoid wasting time on things that don’t matter. As common sense as that may seem, the majority of us are not consciously aware of this.

Pareto’s Principle, more popularly known as the 80/20 rule, will make you more conscious about how you should spend your time.

Pareto, an Italian scientist, discovered that 80% of the wealth at the time he was living was generated by 20% of the people. In what later became known as Pareto’s principle, he discovered something profound: it is the little things that account for the majority of results.

The 80/20 ratio is just to signify the idea, but it is not uncommon to be skewed towards 90/10 or 95/5. In other words, 90% -95% of the results come from 10% – 5% of the actions.

I’m sure you all know managers who are always burning the midnight oil, late with reports and struggling to get minor tasks done on time. Their workload seems interminable and their desks groan under paperwork. Quite often this situation will have started because of a big and time-consuming job which they have thrown themselves into with enthusiasm forsaking everything else until that big job is finally done and dusted.

Whilst this may sound very creditable, in carrying out that major piece of work they most probably overlooked making a number of simple decisions which, though small in themselves, delayed the rest of the business, left colleagues twiddling their thumbs and brought inefficiencies to the company.

How do you apply Pareto’s principle?

  • Ideally, you should start with a clear desk if at all possible.
  • Most days you will be faced with a number of jobs to do. 20% of them will most likely account for 80% of your time.
  • Identify those 20% big or time-consuming jobs and schedule them for later in the day.
  • If you aren’t sure about the complexity of any particular task always assume it to be in the difficult category and, if it’s a meeting, always try and schedule it for the afternoon when the time available is finite (morning meetings tend to stretch interminably).
  • Get the other 80% of jobs out of the way as quickly as you can. It sounds almost patronisingly simple but you would be surprised how many tiny jobs get pushed to the bottom of the work pile because managers are too busy with other more important things.
  • The difficulty here is that, whilst those tiny things appear to be trivial, there are lots of them!, and it is highly likely that their delay will impact on the rest of the staff and the business. It’s a very small and extremely simple tip but I can’t over-emphasise how important it is.
  • If you get into the habit of always applying this very simple principle, your workload will be much easier to cope with and that big report that you need to prepare will have a better chance of being completed without interruption, and the worry that everything else is falling behind.

But how do you decide what’s important? How do you know the best order to make the best use of your time? For that, you need the Urgent vs Important Time Matrix (also known as Covey’s Time Matrix).