The Pareto Principle Can Save You Time And Help You Achieve Your Goals

Not many things are as frustrating as wasting time. What's even more infuriating is not knowing where and when you're spinning your wheels, whether that be at work or at home. Trying to up your productivity (honestly, who isn't)? The Pareto Principle can help you get — and keep — the ball rolling.


The Numbers Don't Lie

You've probably heard of the 80/20 rule, right? This concept states that, in general, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the actions. Philosopher and economist Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, born in Italy in 1848, coined this idea.

Legend has it, Pareto peeked at his pea plants one day and noticed that only 20 percent of the plants in the garden generated 80 percent of the healthy pea pods. Then he looked at all of Italy, and, what do you know, 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the country's land. This magic little ratio kept popping up, and voilà, Pareto's namesake principle was born. The underlying lesson of this principle (also known as "law of the vital few") is that input does not always equal output.

How does the 80/20 rule manifest itself in your everyday life (besides your beloved pea plant garden, of course)? Here are some relatable examples of where Pareto's findings may ring familiar:

  • 20% of your home is where you spend 80% of your time
  • 20% of customers create 80% of a business's revenue
  • 20% of technological bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of your apps account for 80% of your smartphone time
  • 20% of your wardrobe is worn 80% of the time

Trim The Fat

The secret to actually using the Pareto Principle to your benefit lies in how well you can identify the 20 percent and 80 percent in the things you're doing. Before we get into that, it's important to realize that it isn't always 80/20 right on the nose. It doesn't even have to add up to 100! For instance, if 80 percent of your coworkers do literally nothing all day, that means 20 percent of your office staff is doing 100 percent of the work. The key thing to remember is that most things in life are not distributed equally. No need to get too attached to particular numbers; 80/20 is just a rough guideline based on typical distribution.

Now, let's put this puppy to work. Let's look at some of the examples laid out above, and decipher what an actionable item might be with each: If you're an executive and you see that 20 percent of your workers contribute 80 percent of results, make a point to reward those employees. If you're a tech geek and you see that 20 percent of the bugs in your app contribute 80 percent of crashes, prioritize fixing those bugs first. If you're a small business owner and see that only 20 percent of your customers contribute 80 percent of revenue, focus on satisfying those customers.

The examples go on and on. The take-home point is that you should focus your effort on the 20 percent that makes a difference, instead of the 80 percent that doesn't add much. If it makes sense, you can delegate non-critical stuff to someone else, or just drop it altogether. Here are some more helpful examples, as reported by Better Explained:

  • Instead of spending 1 hour drafting a paper/blog post you're not sure is needed, spend 10 minutes thinking of ideas. Then spend 50 minutes writing about the best one.
  • Instead of agonizing 3 hours on a single design, make 6 layouts (30 minutes each) and pick your favorite.
  • Rather than spending 3 hours to read 3 articles in depth, spend 5 minutes glancing through 12 articles (1 hour) and then spend an hour each on the two best ones (2 hours).

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The 80-20 Rule Explained (Pareto Principle)