Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, born in 1848, noticed that 20% of his pea plants produced 80% of his pea pods. He continued to notice this ratio in life and found that 20% of families in Italy owned 80% of the land. Eventually he wrote a paper on the "universal truth" of the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule is simply that 80% of the output often comes from 20% of the input. This principle has been observed in all kinds of areas. Here are some examples:
- 80% of revenue comes from only 20% of the customers
- 80% of user issues come from 20% of the bugs
- 80% of workplace injuries are caused by 20% of the hazards
- 80% of income tax is collected from 20% of citizens
- 80% of the work is done by 20% of your team
The obvious implication is this: everything is not equal. It is generally true that 80% of your results are coming from only 20% of your effort. In other words you could be wasting 80% of your time to only achieve 20% of your results. Therefore, you should be focusing on that key 20% of your work that is so important and delegating, minimizing or entirely quitting the 80% that is so much less productive.
Here are 5 ways you can start applying the Pareto Principle today:
1. When you create your task list in the morning prioritize each task based on how important it is, and do those important tasks first. Our most important tasks are too often procrastinated on. This technique ensures that if nothing else gets done, your time was spent on the "vital few" things that make you most productive.
2. Throughout your day, keep track of your time, noting how long you spend on each task. At the end of the day look at where you spent your time and notice which tasks were most productive and which less. Consider skipping the less productive tasks next time, or batching them somewhere near the end of the week. At the very least this exercise will help you see more clearly how much time you've wasted on email and social media. Those two tasks are dangerous and should be strictly scheduled to keep them from taking over.
3. Analyze the different tasks you do in your work and identify the 20% of tasks that lead to 80% of the results. Maybe you find, for example, that direct sales calls (that you personally dislike and procrastinate on) actually produce the most sales. Or maybe you find that the weekly TPS reports you've spent hours generating are not actually that helpful in making decisions. Re-prioritize your work to focus on those more productive tasks.
4. The 80/20 rule applies to perfectionism. You should not waste a lot of time making your project perfect. For perfectionists like me, this is really hard. I want everything to be just so. We should always strive for excellence, but, perfectionism has led me to wasting hours on small details that are ultimately unimportant. To be more productive I've had to discipline myself to ignore my natural tendency to focus too much on the details when 80% is good enough.
5. What are the 20% of tasks that are wasting the most of your time? An example in the design world is spending too much time on initial designs for clients. Many firms have wasted days of work producing a first draft that entirely missed the mark for the client. This can be solved by producing a more rough draft. Maybe it's just a sketch on paper, or a story board instead of a full video. For me, I kept getting the same question over an over, wasting time answering it, until I adjusted my website to answer that question. Find the little things that are wasting your time and either simplify or adjust what you're doing to solve them.