Get a Productivity Boost with the Pareto Principle
Saturday, April 15, 2023

Get a Productivity Boost with the Pareto Principle

When it comes to success, it's the little things that matter most....

The Pareto principle can be seen in all walks of life. This simple observation of input vs. results is reflected in everything around you, from land ownership to relationships and everything in between. So, what does the Pareto principle have to do with your working life?

Whether you’re a business owner, manager, or freelancer, you’re juggling deadlines, admin chores, and urgent tasks on a daily basis. It can be overwhelming and stressful as you try to prioritize your ever-increasing to-do list. But, what if you introduced the Pareto principle into your workday?

Using this technique may help you to achieve more using less effort by helping prioritize tasks and ensuring you use your day as wisely as possible, thereby increasing your productivity.

Here, we take a look at what the Pareto principle is and how it can be applied to your workday to help you work smarter and boost your productivity.

What is the Pareto Principle?

Pareto Principle Graph

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of outcomes are driven by 20% of inputs. It was developed by Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto back in 1906 who observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth and land was owned and controlled by around 20% of the country’s population.

Today, the 80/20 distribution can be seen in various situations and circumstances, including the business world. Financial planners, marketers, business owners, and economists popularized the Pareto principle as they began seeing the 80/20 split across their industries, which led to a more general definition being coined: 80% of results are achieved by 20% of efforts.

Examples of the Pareto Principle

Pareto Principle Concept Orange broken into 80/20 split

It’s much easier to understand the Pareto principle when looking at examples of where it’s seen in everyday life.

  • 20% of your home is used 80% of the time
  • 20% of criminals commit 80% of crimes
  • 20% of a plant contains 80% of the fruit
  • 20% of patients require 80% of healthcare resources. 
  • People wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time

Now, let’s apply the 80/20 split to what you could expect to observe in a business:

  • 20% of clients contribute to 80% of sales
  • 80% of complaints come from just 20% of clients
  • 20% of the sales force generates 80% of the sales
  • 20% of products represent 80% of profits
  • 20% of IT bugs cause 80% of all computer crashes

80/20 is Not Set In Stone

The Pareto principle is an observation rather than a law, so It’s important to realize that the 80/20 split is not an exact science. Distributions could be 70/30, 90/10, or even 75/10 — the numbers don’t have to add up to 100. What’s important to realize is that the majority of outcomes are the result of a small amount of input.

How the Pareto Principle Affects Productivity

Pareto Principle Graphic

Understanding the Pareto principle tells us that 80% of your results are driven by 20% of your effort. In productivity terms, this means that the vast majority of your output is the culmination of a small percentage of your efforts.

So, how can you use this knowledge to ramp up productivity? 

It’s about pinpointing what on your to-do list will have the most impact for you and/or your team. What tasks you should focus your efforts on to achieve the most during your workday.

Let’s say your portfolio list consists of 25 clients. When studying the bottom line, you identify that 80% of your revenue is actually generated by just five of those customers. To increase revenue, it makes more sense to focus your valuable time and energy on growing your relationship or increasing the output for those five clients, instead of running around in circles trying to service all 25.

Applying the Pareto principle to your business lets you put the most effort into the tasks that will help you achieve the maximum results.

The Benefits of Using the 80/20 Rule

Employing the Pareto principle in your working day can create positive changes and help transform your working practices and bring many benefits to both your business and your life.

Reduce Stress

Spending time working on tasks that produce very little can often be overwhelming and even lead to burn out or stress. Using the 80/20 rule lets you plan your day around the tasks that have the most impact on your business. Channeling your energy into those jobs allows you to achieve more with less effort.

Increased Enthusiasm

Expelling tons of energy and time on tasks that don’t seem to make much difference to your business can cause feelings of frustration, boredom, and disinterest in your work. Using the Pareto Principle allows you to spend more time on the tasks that really matter to you, your business, and your clients. Hopefully, this shift in focus will help motivate and re-energize you to engage with work once again.

Another way to think of this point is if you’re a freelancer and 80% per of your income comes from a client who you really don’t enjoy working for.  

More Free Time

In theory, the Pareto principle lets you get more done while using less effort. Achieving what you need to do in less time and with less effort combined with reduced stress levels and greater job satisfaction means you will have more energy for pursuits and activities outside of work.

Whether that’s spending time with family and friends, taking up a new hobby, or spending time exercising, your extra time can be used for doing whatever you enjoy.

Making the Pareto Principle Work For You

Nice guy with glases on looking at the reader

So, now you know how the Pareto principle can help boost productivity, how do you use it in your workday? From tracking time and managing priorities to planning your day and embracing automation, we take a look at ways to implement the 80/20 rule.

Monitor Your Time

Before you can fully utilize the Pareto principle for productivity, you need to find the 80/20 split in your work by taking an in-depth look at how you spend your workday. Analyzing your time will identify which 20% of your efforts are producing 80% of your results. On the flip side, it also helps identify the 80% of your effort that ultimately contributes very little to your results.

A time inventory is a great place to start. Logging all your daily tasks during working hours will give you a clear picture of how you spend your time and where every minute goes. 

  • Check your email as soon as you switch on the computer — log it.
  • Scroll through Facebook or Instagram after your 10 a.m. meeting — log it.
  • Take 15 minutes to plan your day — log it.
  • Spend 45 minutes on a client call — log it.

For one week, make a note of everything you do until you have an accurate overview of exactly what you’re doing with your time. Once you have an overview, you can begin to analyze the data, identifying the 20% of time well spent and the wasted 80%.

Many productivity apps, including kōno , have an analytic feature that generates graphs and visual representations of your weekly activities. These are useful tools to help you see how you use your time and identify the Pareto principle in your day.

Manage Priorities

Once you know which tasks are contributing to the greatest amount of output, you can begin to identify where your priorities should be.

Ask yourself which tasks on your to-do list will have the highest impact and generate 80% of your day’s results. Do you have work to do for any of the 20% of clients that contribute to 80% of your profits? Identifying the important tasks helps you prioritize your time and where your maximum effort should be focused to benefit both you and your business.

Plan Effectively

Use the Pareto principle and your newly identified priorities to schedule your day. The important tasks that generate the greatest output become the ones you focus on during your most productive times and deep work sessions.

Give yourself specific sessions to do less important and more menial tasks, but only during times when your energy levels are at their lowest. An effective plan incorporates everything you have to do throughout the day but utilizes your most productive times for the 20% of work that achieves 80% of your results.

Embrace Technology and Automation

Use technology to your advantage. Pomodoro timers and productivity apps will help you stay on schedule with your daily plan. The latter also automates notification blocking during deep work sessions to minimize interruptions when you should be focusing on the job at hand.

Doing accounts and generating invoices is a necessity for any business. But, they’re not tasks that contribute to your productivity to generate an end product. If you’re manually carrying out these admin tasks, maybe it’s time to invest in accounting software. These handy tools, such as QuickBooks or Xero, are genuine time-savers that automate paperwork, freeing up valuable time to spend on more important tasks.

Put the Pareto Principle to Work

You may not realize it yet, but the Pareto principle exists in all walks of life and in all businesses — you simply have to look for it.

We all have a finite amount of time in which to achieve our goals. By identifying the 80/20 split in your work, you can stop wasting time on unproductive tasks and focus your effort and time on the jobs that achieve the greatest results. Used correctly, the Pareto principle can be a true productivity game-changer.

Jackie Smart
LinkedIn Profile

Get a Productivity Boost with the Pareto Principle FAQs

What is the Pareto Principle?

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a concept developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. In productivity terms, this often translates to the idea that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.

How can the Pareto Principle improve productivity?

By identifying and focusing on the tasks that yield the greatest results (the top 20%), you can use your time and energy more effectively, leading to higher productivity. It encourages the prioritization of tasks that have a higher payoff.

Can the Pareto Principle be applied to any type of work?

While not every task or project will strictly adhere to the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle is a general guideline that can be applied to various work situations. It's about identifying what's most effective and focusing your effort there.

How can I identify the 20% of tasks that yield 80% of my results?

Start by listing all of your tasks and activities. Then, identify which tasks lead to the most significant results, impact, or progress. Those are likely your top 20%. Metrics for "results" can vary - it might be revenue in a sales job, impactful tasks in a project, or other indicators relevant to your work.

What should I do with the remaining 80% of tasks that are less impactful?

You can choose to delegate these tasks, automate them, or schedule them for completion at a time when they won't interfere with your top 20% tasks. Some less impactful tasks might even be unnecessary and can be eliminated entirely.

Can I use the Pareto Principle in combination with other productivity techniques?

Yes, the Pareto Principle can be combined with other productivity methods such as time blocking, the Eisenhower matrix, or the Pomodoro Technique. For example, you might use the 80/20 rule to identify your most important tasks, then use time blocking to schedule these tasks into your day.

Can the Pareto Principle be applied to team productivity?

Absolutely. Teams can identify the 20% of tasks that yield 80% of their results. By focusing team efforts on these tasks, productivity can be significantly improved.

Is the Pareto Principle only applicable to professional tasks?

No, the Pareto Principle can be applied to various areas of life beyond work. For example, you might find that 20% of your household chores take up 80% of your cleaning time, or that 20% of your hobbies provide 80% of your relaxation.

Can the Pareto Principle help reduce work-related stress?

By focusing on the most impactful tasks, you can make better use of your time and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by a long to-do list. This targeted approach can help manage workloads and decrease stress.

What if my tasks don't seem to follow the Pareto Principle?

The Pareto Principle is a general guideline, not a strict rule. If your tasks don't seem to fit the 80/20 distribution, that's okay. The key takeaway is to identify your most impactful tasks and focus your efforts there to increase productivity.

Latest posts.