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The Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule

The Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule
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    Eighty percent of the output comes from twenty percent of the input. That is basically a summary of the Pareto Principle, or as it is more commonly known, the 80/20 Rule. The rule comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population.

    The 80/20 Rule points out the imbalance of effects. Just as one person might have several times the wealth as another, one hour spent on a critical project might be worth $10,000 while another might only be worth $20. The goal when using the 80/20 Rule is to maximize the small and powerful twenty percent and reduce the wasteful eighty percent.

    Despite the popularity of the rule, few people seem to understand it. I’ve seen hundreds of misapplications and confusions spouted throughout the web and in print. Some of these errors are due to not understanding what the rule means. Others are just my opinion of unfair attacks on an otherwise useful principle.

    Here are the worst attempts at using the 80/20 Rule:

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    1) 80 + 20 = 100

    I’ve seen a few times where people try to create a diagram explaining the 80/20 rule with a pie chart. One fifth of the pie chart is labeled 20% and the rest is labeled 80%. While those of us with basic math skills can see how this adds up to 100%, the calculation undermines what the rule is about.

    The 80/20 rule argues that 20% of the input creates 80% of the output. Inputs and outputs aren’t the same thing, and therefore can’t be made into the same pie chart. The 80/20 Rule could just as easily been called The 55/3 Rule, if 55% of the results were created by 3% of the inputs.

    Don’t get caught up on the numbers. Both 80 and 20 are just examples of one type of uneven balances. The fact that they add up to 100 is a coincidence.

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    2) 80/20 Applied Recursively

    One argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule goes like this, “If you keep applying the 80/20 rule, eliminating the wasteful 80%, eventually you’ll end up with nothing.” I suppose the people who argued this point felt they were being clever by using a literal, mathematical interpretation of the rule.

    Once again, the numbers here aren’t that important. The actual applications are less mathematical. When you have a limited amount of time, you won’t be able to perform every task possible. The 80/20 Rule suggests you look through all the tasks you normally could perform. Pick the top 20% that create the most results and focus on them. Whatever time you have left can be spent on the less productive 80%.

    3) 80/20 to Perfection

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    Another way I’ve seen the rule misapplied is when building skills. It might take 2 years to become 80% proficient. But in order to get that last 20% of skill you need to invest another 8 years. While this is a fair use of the rule, the advice with skills often goes against the 80/20 Rule. Instead of eliminating the need for that last 20%, you invest most your time to master the last 20%.

    The point of the 80/20 Rule is that you should downplay or minimize the inefficient 80% of inputs. There are times, of course, when this rule doesn’t apply. Mastering a skill can be one of those areas where the 80/20 advice is faulty.

    However, by recommending the opposite of the 80/20 rule, you can’t really claim the 80/20 rule is in practice here. That would be like saying, “haste makes waste,” is the same advice as, “he who hesitates is lost.”

    4) “But I still have to do it…”

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    An argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule frequently goes like this, “Sure some tasks are less valuable than others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to get done.” Answering e-mails, making phone calls or having meetings may appear wasteful, but they still need to get finished, right?

    This argument has an element of truth, but it conceals a bigger lie. The truth is that, yes, there are things that need to get done even though they aren’t wildly important. If I stopped answering e-mails I might miss opportunities, have my network degrade or lose important messages.

    The bigger lie is that you have no control in adjusting where time gets spent. If e-mail isn’t that important, your goal should be to reduce the time you spend on it. If meetings aren’t contributing, you should have shorter meetings. If your hands are really tied an you have no control over how your time is spent, what’s the point of reading productivity blogs like this anyways?

    How to Really Use the 80/20 Rule

    1. Pick an area of your life where you feel there is an imbalance of effects. This won’t be true of all areas, but many situations are out of balance (money, time, health and possibly even relationships).
    2. Try to identify the key 10, 20 or 40 percent of inputs that are creating most your results. This could be the 10% of time that creates the most returns. It could be the 40% of relationships that create the most happiness for you.
    3. Find ways to emphasize the key percentage. Spend more time in those activities. Place them first in your schedule. Meet up with your key friends more often. Invest more of your money in the best expenses.
    4. Find ways to downplay or eliminate the rest. Get rid of activities that don’t have a high payoff. Stop spending time in relationships that don’t create enough value. Stop wasting money on investments that aren’t giving you a greater quality of life.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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