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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

The 80 20 Rule or Pareto Principle, named after the nineteenth-century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who discovered that approximately 80% of Italian land in 1896 was owned by 20% of the population, has become a common axiom in business and life.

The principle was highlighted in 1992 by a United Nations Development Program report that showed that roughly 80% of the world’s wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population.[1] Businesses have reported that 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers and, Microsoft discovered that if they fix the top 20%, most reported bugs they eliminate 80% of the problems in their software.

It seems the Pareto Principle is all around us.

When it comes to our own productivity, the principle can be applied in that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. The trick is to discover what that 20% is so we can apply our most effort to that 20% and eliminate as much of the 80% that does not produce the results we want.

So how do we do that?

Be Absolutely Clear on What It Is You Want to Achieve

The easiest and most effective way to do this is to be absolutely clear about what it is you are trying to achieve.

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What is the outcome you want to achieve? Most people do not get clarity on what it is they want to achieve, and so get sucked into working on things that will not deliver a big contribution to the overall objective.

For example, if you have a project to move house, spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the colour you want to have the walls, what furniture you would like and what plants you will have in the garden will not move you very far towards moving house.

Instead, deciding how many rooms and in what location you would like the house would give you far more important data on which to be able to go to a real estate agent. You are going to find the right house much more quickly than by discussing colours, furniture and items in your garden.

Before you begin any project, make a list of all the tasks involved to take the project to completion and then flag or highlight the tasks that will give you the biggest contribution towards the completion of the project. Those tasks will be the 20% of tasks that will take you 80% of the way towards completing the project. Focus on those.

What Are Your Majors and Minors?

Jim Rohn coined this question and it essentially means there are parts of the work you do each day that have a direct contribution to the overall objective you are trying to achieve.[2] Other parts of your work do not have a direct contribution to that objective but could be described as housekeeping tasks. The trick is to know what they are.

Brian Tracy often talks about this with the sales process.[3] Major time is when you are in front of the customer talking with them. Minor time is traveling to the customer or being in meetings with your sales manager in the office. Of course, traveling to see your customer or meeting with your sales manager is important, but they do not contribute directly to your sales performance so that would be classed as minor time.

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When I was in sales many years ago, I learned that while you might be popular with your sales admin team, if you meticulously write out your sales reports every day, doing so did not improve sales performance. I observed that the best salespeople in our company were the ones who had terrible admin reputations and were not the more popular people in the office. The thing is, they were the best salespeople because they understood that being in front of the customer led to higher sales which ultimately led to higher salaries.

Take a look at your calendar for last week and identify what tasks you did that had the biggest positive impact on your objectives. Then, plan to do more of those next week so you are working on the 20% of tasks you know will take towards achieving 80% of the results you desire.

Stop Thinking, Start Doing

I come across this with a lot of my clients when I am coaching them in developing their own businesses. Far too much time is spent on planning and thinking.

Now, planning and developing ideas do have their place when you are creating your own business, but there is a line. If you spend 80% of your time thinking and planning, your business is not going to launch.

Take a simple example. When I began my YouTube channel just over three years ago, I spent a week planning what type of videos I would produce and then I began recording. My first video was terrible, but the process of putting out the videos week after week led to my learning better ways of producing videos which fuelled my channel’s growth.

I see far too many people planning and thinking about what they want to do and not producing the content. If you spend 80% of your time producing content and 20% of your time planning out your content, no matter what medium you are producing for, you will see positive results. If you turn that ratio around, you are not going to see much by way of results.

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Stop for a moment right now and ask yourself:

“What could I do today that will give me 80% of the results I most desire?”

Use Your Calendar to Review How You Spent Your Time

Your calendar is your most powerful analytical tool when it comes to seeing how you spend your time each week. If you see you are spending a lot of your daily time in meetings and dealing with co-worker issues, you will find you are not focused on the 20% where the real results are.

If you have taken the time to write down the activities that give you 80% of your results, then review your calendar at the end of the week to see where you are spending your time you will be able to make adjustments; so you are more focused on the activities that give you the biggest positive results. Block time each day to work on those tasks.

Try to eliminate those tasks that do not bring in much by way of results. If you can do so, delegate them to other people better able to complete those tasks for you so you can spend more of your time each week on tasks. This will give you a much better return on your time investment.

To really take advantage of the 80:20 principle, you need to be aware of where you are spending your time each day.

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If you are a content producer, then you need to be producing content, not wasting time analyzing analytics. Of course, analytics is important if you want to see growth, but without content, you will not have any analytics on which to base your future content. So 80% of your time needs to be spent on producing content.

If you are in sales, if you spend 80% of your time planning out your sales calls and only 20% of your time in front of your customers, your sales performance is not going to be very good. Turn that ration around. Spend 20% of your time planning out your calls and 80% in front of your customers.

Key Takeaways

So to make the 80 20 rule work for you, remember these:

  • Be very clear about what it is you want to achieve. What will a successful outcome look like? Then identify the 20% of action steps that will get you 80% of the way there.
  • What are your majors and minors? What daily activities could you do that will create constant motion towards achieving whatever it is you want to achieve? Do those every day.
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend thinking about doing something and just start doing it. If you are spending 80% of the time thinking and just 20% of your time doing you have the ratio back to front.
  • Identify which action steps you have taken over the last week that had the biggest positive impact on your goals. Do more of them next week. Prioritise them and schedule the time in your calendar.

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Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

6. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

8. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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9. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

10. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Who Else Wants More Success?

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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