What is the 80/20 Rule and could it actually make 80 percent of your work disappear?
If you’ve studied business or economics, you’re well familiar with the power of the Pareto Principle.
The Man Behind the Concept
Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was born in Italy in 1848. He would go on to become an important philosopher and economist. Legend has it that one day he noticed that 20 percent of the pea plants in his garden generated 80 percent of the healthy peapods. This observation caused him to think about uneven distribution. He thought about wealth and discovered that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by just 20 percent of the population. He investigated different industries and found that 80 percent of production typically came from just 20 percent of the companies. The generalization became:
80 percent of results will come from just 20 percent of the action.
Pareto’s 80/20 Rule
This “universal truth” about the imbalance of inputs and outputs is what became known as the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule. While it doesn’t always come to be an exact 80/20 ratio, this imbalance is often seen in various business cases:
- 20 percent of the sales reps generate 80 percent of total sales.
- 20 percent of customers account for 80 percent of total profits.
- 20 percent of the most reported software bugs cause 80 percent of software crashes.
- 20 percent of patients account for 80 percent of healthcare spending (and 5 percent of patients account for a full 50 percent of all expenditures!)
On a more personal note, you might be able to relate to my unintentional 80/20 habits.
I own at least five amazing suits, but 80 percent of the time or more I grab my black, well-tailored, single-breasted Armani with a powder blue shirt. (Ladies, how many shoes do you own, and how often do you grab the same 20 percent?)
I have 15 rooms in my house, but I spend about 80 percent of my time in just my bedroom, family room, and office (exactly 20 percent).
I’m not sure how many miles of roads are in the small town where I live, but I bet I only drive on 20 percent or less of them, as I make daily trips to my kids’ schools, the grocery store, the bank and gas station.
On my smartphone, I have 48 different mobile apps pinned to the tiles, but 80 percent of the time I’m only using the eight on my home screen.
When I go grocery shopping, I definitely spend the most time in the aisles that are around the edges of the store: produce, the fish market, dairy, breads—and generally skip the aisles in the middle of the store (except for health and beauty).
As a massive introvert, I don’t actually socialize too much, but when I do, 80 percent of my time is spent with the same 20 percent of my friends and family members.
In my research into the productivity habits of high achievers, I interviewed hundreds of self-made millionaires, straight-A students and even Olympic athletes. For them, handling every task that gets thrown their way—or even every task that they would like to handle—is impossible. They use Pareto to help them determine what is of vital importance. Then, they delegate the rest, or simply let it go.
How You Can Use It
So how can you apply Pareto’s principle to gain more time in your life?
Are you an executive? You’re surely faced with the constant challenge of limited resources. It’s not just your time you need to maximize, but your entire team’s. Instead of trying to do the impossible, a Pareto approach is to truly understand which projects are most important. What are the most important goals of your organization, or boss, and which specific tasks do you need to focus on to align with those goals. Delegate or drop the rest.
Are you a freelancer? It’s important to identify your best (and highest-paying) clients. Of course, you don’t want all your eggs in one basket. But too much diversification will quickly lead to burnout. Focus on the money makers and strengthening those long-term relationships.
Are you an entrepreneur? The temptation always exists to try the new and exciting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it boils down to your goals. Are you trying to grow your current business? Would an 80/20 mindset help you to stay focused on your strategic plan and spend less time chasing endless new opportunities?
No matter what your situation, it’s important to remember that there are only so many minutes in an hour, hours in a day, and days in a week. Pareto can help you to see this is a good thing; otherwise, you’d be a slave to a never-ending list of things to do.
So, what 20 percent of your work drives 80 percent of your outcomes?