The 80/20 Rule and Time Management

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We all have the same amount of time. What you do with that time will dictate how efficiently you can perform various tasks and get through your day. Vilfredo Pareto discovered the 80/20 law of economics, which can easily be applied to time management.

80/20 Economics

Vilfredo Pareto was an economist and sociologist who worked in Italy for most of his life. He lived between 1848 and 1923 in Europe and is well known for his mathematical approach to economic analysis.

He studied to be an engineer and became a director of an Italian railway. While residing in Florence he studied philosophy and politics and he developed a mathematical formulation that attempted to prove that the distribution of incomes was predetermined and not random. He believed that income inequality was due to a mathematical pattern that repeated itself throughout history and all societies.

Through his studies Pareto determined that 80% of the land in Italy was owned about by about 20% of the population. Later Dr. Joseph Juran further investigated the efficacy of the 80/20 rule and titled it the Law of The Vital Few and The Principle of Factor Sparsity. In this rule Dr. Juran developed the hypothesis that 80% of results arise from 20% of the activities.

How Does This Relate to Time Management?

In Dr. Juran’s analysis he looks carefully at the causes of problems and found that problems are easily attributed to the 80/20 rule. When it comes to problems or systems breaking down, 20% of activities can contribute to 80% of the failures in any given activity. So, what this means for someone who is concerned about managing time is that only a small number of the things you do in a day have any major effect. If you have 20 items to complete on your list only 4 of those items are likely to make a huge impact on your time management progress where 16 of those items will do little to contribute to those efforts.

If the Pareto principle holds true, we can surmise that a small amount of what we do can impact our daily activities in a very positive, or very negative way.

The To-Do List

Careful planning is sometimes as simple as making a to-do list. Putting that list in a spreadsheet can allow you to assign a simple number or score to sort your list by priority. This simple exercise can provide very impactful insight into the potential success of your day.

The to-do list items that are ranked to be most important to you may surprise you, but more importantly, you may find after a review of your day that one or two of the items that you did not expect to have a significant actually did, and actually made a negative impact on your day if you mis-identified their priority.

In almost any daily planning routine, the activity of actually planning out your daily activities will do absolute wonders for productivity. Be sure to have “plan my day” as one of your daily activities and it will surely be part of the most productive 20% of your activities every day.


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