But today, we’re doing a deep dive on the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Let’s take a look at how it works, and why it’s a game changer for productivity.
What is the Pareto principle?
Who the heck is Pareto, and why should I care about his principles? Let us explain.
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who lived during the turn of the twentieth century. He noted that there was an unequal distribution of wealth in his country, and so he set out to create a formula to describe it.
This formula turned out to be the Pareto principle, and it described how 80 percent of the country’s wealth was held by 20 percent of the people. Pareto dubbed these the “vital few,” and the other 80 percent as the “trivial many.”
Examples of the Pareto principle
Today, the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule, is more broadly applied to describe how 80 percent of outcomes come from 20 percent of causes.
Tossing the theoretical aside, here are some real-world examples of the Pareto principle:
80 percent of a company’s revenue comes from 20 percent of its customers
80 percent of complaints come from 20 percent of customers
80 percent of a website’s traffic comes from 20 percent of its pages
80 percent of funding comes from 20 percent of investors
80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of sales reps
80 percent of leads come from 20 percent of marketing campaigns
In productivity terms, the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts.
In other words, you’re spending 80 percent of your time on things that don’t mean as much. If you want to get more done, you need to make sure that you’re prioritizing the most important things first.
The easiest way to understand the power of the 80/20 rule is with a to-do list. The typical to-do list runs much longer than is reasonably possible. If you have a ton of items on there, you may be tempted to cross off the easier items first. What’s more satisfying than checking things off?
But, if you were to focus instead on the one or two most important items, you’d actually be more productive overall. That’s the Pareto principle in action. It’s all about prioritizing the most impactful tasks.
TL;DR: In a way, the Pareto principle helps you get more done, while actually doing less.
If you’re thinking “Sign me up!”, read on.
Putting principle into practice
The easiest way to instantly start being more productive is by applying the Pareto principle to your daily to-do list. Each morning, review your to-do list and identify the one to three tasks that will generate the biggest impact. Work on those first. Once those are done, anything else is extra credit!
Here are four more ways the 80/20 rule can make you and your colleagues more productive.
1. Focus on your best customers
If 20 percent of your customers generate 80 percent of your company’s revenues, that’s a group worth paying special attention to. Do your best to understand them.
Use surveys to identify their pain points, their motivations, and what they love or hate about your products or services. Focus on fixing the complaints these customers have, rather than running around trying to solve the issues of the bottom 80 percent.
2. Streamline your workload
To give your productivity an extra boost, take a look at those tasks that were taking up 80 percent of your time, but only contributing to 20 percent of your results. Can any of those be outsourced? If you manage a team, consider which tasks can be offloaded via software or automation, or pushed to another department or resource. This frees up precious time and energy that can be reinvested back into your “vital few.”
Productivity Tip: Block your time. Chances are you can’t completely ignore everything on your to-do list. So, block out 80 percent of the time on your calendar for the top 20 percent of tasks, and reserve 20 percent of your time for the less important stuff.
3. Give extra love to your top performers
Identify the 20 percent of your staff who generate 80 percent of your department’s performance. How can you give these team members some TLC to keep them motivated and contributing to that top 80 percent?
Find ways to provide extra coaching or mentorship, run a sales contest, or offer additional perks.
4. Resolve productivity problems
What are the productivity issues plaguing your team? Create a list. Then, categorize each issue, and prioritize them in terms of biggest impact. Chances are, many of those problems will fall into the same category.
Find productivity software or a new work method to help address those — thereby knocking out 80 percent of your issues with 20 percent of the effort.
Productivity Tip: Track your work. At the end of the workday or week, take a look at how your Pareto principle paid off. Did you get the most important stuff done? Do you feel more productive? Hopefully the answer to both is yes!
A caveat on the 80/20 rule
As with anything, there are some caveats to consider with the Pareto principle. Just because your top 20 percent of customers generate 80 percent of your revenue, that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore your other 80 percent of customers.
The same goes for items on your personal to-do list. Doing the laundry may not be as important as finding a new baby-sitter, but it’s something you will need to prioritize eventually.
So, be smart about the Pareto principle. Don’t get reckless with it.
Used correctly, it’s a powerful tool that can make you more productive, less stressed, and a whole lot happier in both your work and personal life. And while it doesn’t apply to everything, in the places where it does, it can be extremely effective.
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