One of the most helpful concepts of all time is the 80/20 Rule, also known as “The Pareto Principle.” Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, first wrote about the 80/20 Rule in 1895. He noticed that the people in his society seemed to divide naturally into two groups with regard to money and influence: The top 20 percent (the “vital few”) and the bottom 80 percent (the “trivial many.)
As he continued to study this phenomena, Pareto found that virtually all economic activity followed his findings: 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of the wealth, 20 percent of your products will account for 80 percent of your sales; 20 percent of your products will account for 80 percent of your profits, 20 percent of your customers will account for 80 percent of your sales, 20 percent of your team will generate 80 percent of your business, 20 percent of your complaints come from 80 percent of your customers, etc.
Using The Pareto Principle, it follows then, that if you have a “to do” list, 20 percent of your list will be things that matter, and 80 percent will be things that don’t; 20 percent of the items on your list will turn out to be worth more than the remaining 80 percent combined. It also follows that 20 percent of the people reading this post will tackle that “vital” 20 percent of their list with gusto, focusing on those activities first, while the “trivial many” will focus on the less important 80 percent of their tasks.
The value of The Pareto Principle to time management is that it reminds you to focus on the “vital” items on your list. You must make a conscious decision to focus 80 percent of your efforts on the most important 20 percent of your tasks; if something has to slip in the course of your day, make sure that it’s not one of your “20 percent” activities. Before you begin to work on any task, ask yourself whether the task is in the top 20 percent of your activities for the day, or in the bottom 80 percent. Refuse to work on the bottom 80 percent until you’ve completed the top 20 percent.
Many folks are tempted to work on the trivial 80 percent of their list first because they believe that those items are easier and will take less time. Believe it or not, the amount of time that it takes to complete a “trivial” task is the same as the amount of time that it takes to complete a “vital” task. The difference is that in addition to accomplishing something vital to the success of your project, completing something significant will give you a tremendous feeling of pride and satisfaction. “Trivial” tasks use the same amount of time and energy but will usually give you little or no satisfaction.
Effective time management means choosing what’s important and what’s unimportant to your success in life and work, and staying on task until the important things are done. By disciplining yourself to start on the most important task that is in front of you, and sticking with it through completion, you’ll accomplish much more than the average person and you’ll have greater satisfaction as well.
For more information on time management and a great free program to keep you on track, check out Mark Joyner’s Simpleology. I’ve been a member of Simpleology for years and have recommended it to many of my coaching clients with great success! You can check it out here.