The Pareto Principle: Maximizing Your Impact

Do you ever get to the end of the day, wonder where it went and struggle to name your successes or impact?  Too often, the day seems to develop a momentum of its own, and by the end of 8 (or 9 or 10) hours, it’s hard to name the points of productivity.

Let’s narrow it down, and just think about five hours of an average day. Turns out, if you take a random block of five hours of time, only ONE of the FIVE hours of work will have generated 80 PERCENT of your results. In other words, 80% of the results flow from 20% of the work. It also is a general rule of thumb that 20% of a supervisor’s employees will demand 80% of the supervisor’s time, and 20% of the employees (not necessarily the same ones) will produce 80% of the value.  Oh, and only 20% of the meeting you dread each week generally provides 80% of the value.

This time management phenomenon has a name: the Pareto Principle, or, the “80/20 Rule.”

Turns out, the Pareto Principle is a mathematical law that assesses the relationships between causes and effects (20% of the causes generate 80% of the effect). Mr. Pareto, an Italian engineer, sociologist and economist, established the law more than 100 years ago, and it still holds true in today’s workplaces.

Luckily, when it comes to time management and project management, this law was meant to be broken.

Awareness creates the opportunity for control. Once you know about the “80/20 Rule,” you start to notice it playing out each day. You will be able to name the activities that lead to the most significant outcomes, and you will start to notice the 80% of time that slips away without maximum impact. Once you notice these trends, you can start to control your day and break the rule.

So, how do you use this knowledge?

  1. Set up checkpoints in your day or project to stop and reflect on where the most value has been realized. Identify ways to adapt your approach to replicate that success.
  2. Identify the truly most important tasks that you are confident will have the greatest impact, and schedule time for them. This means blocking time to focus on the 20% elements – forcing the ratio to change.
  3. Identify the “time suckers” that are making up 80% of the time, and devise strategies for mitigating that loss. For example, find shortcuts for tasks that do not directly advance the organization’s mission, invest in performance counseling to “up the game” of employees that aren’t contributing as much; or revise meeting agendas to focus the important points into time-blocked segments and shorten the meeting.

And, when you pause to realize how much better that meeting was? Give a shout-out to Mr. Pareto!