How to Use the Pareto Principle to be More Productive
15 Jan 2021 • 5 min read
Are you wondering how to manage your time better? Or perhaps you’d like to be more productive?
In a digital era where communication and social interactions are often at the center of our lives, we tend to get flooded with information and exposed to a rising level of demands and expectations regarding work and our personal lives. As a result, it can become increasingly challenging to keep your goals in mind and stay focused. That’s where the Pareto principle comes in!
Are you wondering what this principle is all about and how it can help you improve your productivity?
To assist you, we’ve defined below the Pareto principle. We’ve also suggested some steps to get started using this famous principle before highlighting how to set goals based on the 80/20 rule.
What is the Pareto Principle?
The Pareto principle (also referred to as the 80/20 rule) states that 20% of your input, actions, or activities are responsible for 80% of your output or results in any situation. And the opposite is also true; 20% of your outputs or results come from 80% of your inputs, actions, or activities.
The Pareto principle was named after an Italian economist called Vilfredo Pareto. Vilfredo first observed this principle in his own garden. Indeed, he noticed that 20% of the pea pods were producing 80% of the healthy peas. Pursuing his research, he later discovered that 80% of the Italian land was owned by 20% of the population.
This principle is surprisingly applicable to every aspect of our daily lives. Indeed, on average, we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time and 20% of a book contains 80% of the most important information. Not only does this principle apply to our personal lives, but it can also be applied to the work environment. For instance, 80% of a company’s revenue is generated by 20% of its customers.
Note that the Pareto principle is a proven concept, but this is not a universal law, meaning the distribution rule is not always exactly 80/20. It could be 90/10 or 70/30. The idea behind the concept is that a minimum amount of effort will produce the highest level of results.
As a result, the Pareto principle is based on the precept that working less can produce better results. Therefore, the key to productivity and better time management would be to "do more by doing less".
How to Get Started Using the Pareto Principle
In order to better manage your time and improve your productivity, you should start by following the steps below, all based on the Pareto principle:
Find your 20%
To improve your productivity and better manage your time using the Pareto principle, you first need to ‘’find your 20%’’. This means identifying the 20% of input or tasks that will generate 80% of your output or results. To find your 20%, you’ll need to start by answering the questions below;
- Which tasks or activities make up most of your day?
- Which tasks or activities take up a lot of your time?
- Which tasks or activities are you spending too much time on?
- What are the main tasks in your job description?
- Which tasks have the highest positive outcome or the best return?
- Are there important tasks with a high positive outcome that you’re postponing for urgent work with a lower positive outcome?
Work on your To-Do Lists
Drawing on what we’ve just said and still using the Pareto principle, you’ll need to re-prioritize your tasks based on the level of effort involved.
First, you should identify the tasks you need to achieve today or this week and attribute them a score based on the level of effort they require (1 being the least amount of work or effort and ten the highest level of work or effort).
Then, you should list the benefits and positive outcomes associated with each of these tasks. Score your list of positive outcomes (1 being the lowest positive impact and ten the highest positive outcome).
You’ll then be able to cross-reference your findings and identify the tasks that require the least amount of work for the highest positive impact. You should always complete these tasks first. On the other hand, the tasks that require a high level of work and effort for a minimum positive impact can be postponed to later or even removed from your to-list all together.
Stay Clear from Distractions
Interestingly, the Pareto rule can also be applied to distractions. Indeed, 80% of your distractions come from 20% of sources. As a result, you should write down your most frequent distractions, such as phone notifications, emails, or colleagues. This will allow you to draft a plan to remove these distractions during your productive time. If your phone notifications are the biggest source of distraction for you, you could turn off all notifications (only allowing for phone calls) while working on important tasks. If loud conversations are the culprit, then purchasing noise canceling headphones might be extremely useful to help you stay focused during your productive time.
Outsource some of Your Tasks
If you want to be more productive, you’ll need to cut your workload by 80% and focus on 20% of your daily tasks and activities. This means your focus should be on important tasks only you can carry out or tasks you excel at. Any menial tasks that don't add value to your day and don't contribute to your goals should be outsourced. Think things such as picking up the mail from downstairs, cleaning your inbox or your home, organizing a farewell party, and anything else someone else could do. Instead, hire an assistant or a cleaner to help you out. Sure, this will cost you some money, but it will allow you to focus on the most important tasks, the ones that will help you reach your ultimate goal and progress. Besides, not only will this will free up some space in your day, allowing you to work on important things, but it will also help declutter your mind and create a clear path to success.
How to Set Goals Based on the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule can be used to help you set your main goals and increase your productivity in order to achieve them. The following steps highlight what you should do to effectively apply the 80/20 rule to goal setting and increase your overall productivity:
Write down the ten most important goals you want to reach in your life.
Answer the question: if you could only achieve one goal today, which goal would have the greatest positive impact on your life right now? Note that this step is particularly important as knowing your most important goal right now is paramount to your success.
Continue answering the question with your second most important goal until you’ve listed ten goals by order of importance based on the positive impact each goal will have on your life.
Once your list is completed, you will be able to visualize the 20% most important goals that have the greatest positive impact on your life (the two goals you’ve listed on the top of your list).
Work at these goals on a regular and consistent basis. They should become your number one priority.
To reach your goals, you’ll need to break them down into tasks. And to avoid busying yourself with low-value tasks, you’ll have to identify the most important tasks that will help you achieve these 20% goals.
As discussed above, make sure you prioritize your to-do list using the 80/20 rule. Sure, the most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex but keep in mind that the reward for completing them can genuinely change your whole future. As a result, whenever you start working on a task, you should always ask yourself whether this task is part of your 20% activity.
Another tip consists of never clearing up small things first. Low value, small tasks can end up being time-consuming and clutter your mind, distracting you from your 20%. As a result, make sure you develop a habit of always starting to work on high-value tasks. This will help you tremendously improve your productivity and, ultimately, reach your goal.
We hope this post has helped clarify what the 80/20 rule is and how you can harness this principle to become more productive and more successful. You should always keep in mind that successful leaders all have a few things in common, and one of them is that they apply the Pareto principle to their personal and professional lives. Have you used the Pareto principle to be more productive in your work or at home? If that’s the case, we’d love to read about it in the comment section below!