What is 80/20 rule in time management? A complete guide to Pareto Law

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What is 80/20 rule in time management? A complete guide to Pareto Law

September 16, 2021

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law

Knowledge of Pareto Law can help us prioritize duties and focus on activities that will change our professional and personal life for the better. According to the Pareto rule, you should pay attention to things and tasks that matter most to you to achieve the set goals. The 80/20 rule in time management says that 80% of the results will come from 20% of our effort.

What is the Pareto principle?

The 80/20 rule states that a minority of input or effort tends to lead to most results, outputs, or rewards. More specifically, about 80% of the effects are due to 20% of all causes for that event. 

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 1. Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden yield 80% peas

How did it start? In 1897, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden yield 80% of peas. Then, he applied the same logic to the land distribution in Italy and found that 80% of the land belongs to 20% of the population. Thus, this principle – now known as Pareto Law – was first used in macroeconomics and led to the belief that all economic activity could fall under this principle. 

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 2. Product defects

In the 1940s, Dr Joseph Juran, the specialist in operational management, came across the work of Pareto and began to propagate the Pareto law in quality issues widely. It showed that 80% of product defects were caused by 20% of problems in production methods. Juran described this phenomenon as a “vital few and trivial many.” 

The Pareto principle is now often used in economics. However, the 80-20 concept can be applied to many fields – such as personal finance, personal development, self-management, time management, and even personal relationships. 

The key to the Pareto law is that 80% of the effects (outputs) come from 20% of the causes (inputs). Therefore, you should prioritize the 20% of factors that will produce the best results. 

Infographic: What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law

The 80/20 rule according to science

While not many scientific studies prove or disprove the 80-20 rule, there is ample evidence that the 80-20 rule is essentially correct – even if it does not always numerically match this proportion. The actual percentage values may be 99/1 or 50/50 in some situations. They may not even add up to 100. For example, only 2% of search engines account for 96% of the web market. In this article we will give you more examples of this rule and explain how to best use it to increase your productivity.

If you have a list of ten things to do, two of them will prove to be equally beneficial or more than the other eight things combined (Brian Tracy) 

Pareto principle examples in various areas of our lives

As is already known, about 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of the causes for many events. But, we must remember that in most situations, these numbers are not exactly 80 and 20. It is a generalization that allows us to organize many dependencies in our lives. The law can be observed in everyday life and business situations. Some Pareto principle examples are:

In general:

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 3. General
  • 80% of innovations are created by 20% of the population 
  • 80% of the property belongs to 20% of the population
  • 20% of words in the language account for 80% of usage 
  • 20% of patients are responsible for 80% of healthcare costs 

At work and in business:

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 4. At work and in business
  • 80% of profits come from 20% of products or services
  • 20% of completed tasks is responsible for 80% of the effects
  • 80% of software glitches are caused by 20% of error
  • 80% of the market is supplied by 20% of delivers

In self-development and personal life:

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 5. In personal development
  • 80% of your success comes from 20% of your ideas
  • 80% of wins appear to be produced by 20% of the players
  • 20% of your wardrobe is worn 80% of the time 
  • 80% of sleep quality occurs in 20% of your sleep time

How to use the 80/20 rule in practice?

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 6. how to use the 80/20 rule in practice?

Before you start using the Pareto principle in your daily life, do the following

  1. Choose an area of ​​your life where you feel imbalance and ineffectiveness.
  2. Identify the key 10, 20 or 40% of the inputs that make up the majority of your results – it may be the 40% of the relationships that make you the happiest.
  3. Look for ways to highlight a critical percentage.
  4. Put them in as a first on your schedule; spend more time on these activities, e.g. meet your best friends, invest more money in things that give you the most comfort or joy.
  5. Find methods of downplaying or eliminating the rest that does not give you satisfaction.
  6. Stop spending time in relationships that don’t create enough value; refrain from wasting money on investments that do not improve quality of life. 

The Pareto principle plays an important role in time management 

The 80/20 rule in time management

Pareto law can be successfully applied in time management. How? By observing the relationship between the time spent on a given activity and the effects it brings.

The 80/20 rule in time management works both at work and in private life. In order to properly use the rule, you should identify activities that take a long time, and their effects are negligible. These can be, for example: 

  • urgent tasks that are not important (based on the Eisenhower matrix); 
  • activities that you are not good at; 
  • tasks that you can easily delegate to your team;
  • activities outside your comfort zone; 
  • typical time-wasters – meetings, social media, phones, etc. 

5 tactics to use the 80/20 rule in time management

1. Identify your priorities

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 7. Identify your priorities

Sometimes it is difficult to prioritize because meaningful tasks are usually much more challenging to complete than jobs with less value. They require creativity, diligence, concentration, and profound work.

To get the most out of the Pareto principle, start by prioritizing what you need to do based on the amount of effort you put in. To do that, identify 20% of the tasks that will produce 80% of the results.

Ask yourself the following questions: 
  • Do I consider all my tasks and functions urgent? 
  • Am I wasting too much time on specific tasks? 
  • Does this assignment help me achieve my goals?
  • Am I the most qualified person for the job? Or should someone else do it instead? 
After answering these questions:
  • Note the 20% of your actions that will help you achieve your goal.
  • Spend at least 80% of your time solely on activities that influence those activities.
  • Be proactive in that matter, which means being absolutely committed to the tasks you put on your priority list. 

2. Identify your productive time and start work with the most difficult tasks

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 8. Set your time to be productive

Each of us has a time frame when is the most effective, focused, and energetic. Some of us are productive in the morning, others in the afternoon or even at night. Knowing that allows you to use the time when you have the highest efficiency to complete the most important tasks.

“Eat that frog”

In time management, Brian Tracy’s saying “eat that frog” is popular. Its main idea is to start the day with the most important tasks, no matter how difficult they are.

If you get the most complicated job done first, everything else will seem easier. That is why it is worth setting time for the most challenging tasks to continue working in peace. 

3. Eliminate the issues that distract you the most

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 9. Eliminate the issues

Irrelevant and insignificant tasks tend to interfere with implementing important ones that may have a real impact on our career or business.

Therefore, make a disturbance diary to note down the most frequent distractions, e.g. over the week. Then make a list of them and see which elements bother you the most.

These can be e-mails, phone calls, social media notifications, unplanned visitors or distracting surroundings. Finally, find ways to get rid of them. 

4. Delegate things that aren’t your strong side

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 10. Delegate things

The purpose of understanding the Pareto law is to focus on the tasks that have the most significant impact and not let ‘others’ get in the way.

You already know which 20% of your tasks produces 80% of the results? And you are working on activities that improve your life or are related to the bigger picture?

Now, it is time to deal with tasks having a lower impact on your life or work. If you are sure they bring no effects, you can leave them unfinished. However, if they have to be done, you can consider:

  • delegating,
  • outsourcing,
  • automating,
  • hiring somebody to do them (e.g. personal assistant or cleaning service). 

It certainly costs some money, but it helps you avoid tasks with low return on your investment. Instead, you will have time for more important activities or simply for a rest. And time spent resting and relaxing helps to clear your mind and be more effective at work.

5. Track and analyze your time

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 11. Track and analyze your time

Many people are skeptical about the Pareto principle until they analyze how in fact they spend their time. Measuring working time they realize how much they work on the most crucial activities.

What you measure you can indeed manage. The key is to use the right tolls. One of them is TimesheetKiller – AI-Based free time tracking software. The program helps you define tasks and analyze the time spent on them.

How to use TimesheetKiller? For a few weeks, TRACK your time during your work. Then, ANALYZE how much time you spent on important and meaningful tasks and how much time you waste doing low-value activities. Usually, people are surprised at how much time they waste.

Implementing time tracking is the possibility to use the Pareto principle in practice. It helps to set the priorities straight. You can also set performance indicators to better measure the effects of your work.

Whether you are using a time tracker or not, you should regularly perform periodic reviews of your tasks to redefine your 20%. Keep in mind that applying the Pareto principle in time management is not a one-time job but a never-ending process.

People, after analyzing time-tracking reports, are usually suprised how much time they waste every day

Pareto principle criticism – disadvantages vs advantages

What is the 80/20 rule in time management? A guide to using Pareto Law - 12. Pareto principle - disadvantages vs advantages

The most often criticised thing about the 80-20 rule is that any data can fit the rule if you adjust the variables accordingly. However, organizational data is very complex and consists of many variables, so you can selectively exclude data that does not come close to the neat 80-20 pattern. 

However, despite some weaknesses, the principle has much more advantages. Its greatest strength is simplicity and ease of remembering.

Leaders, teams, and individuals can use Pareto law to identify things that have the most significant impact on sales, productivity, and performance. In theory, the 80/20 rule can contribute to smarter strategic decisions and save you time, stress, and money. 

80/20 rule in time management – summary

Don’t forget that the Pareto principle also works the other way around. So ask yourself: which 20% of things (tasks, people, activities) cause 80% of problems and misfortunes in your life? Then go back to the text above and find some good ways to improve your situation.

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