I first came across the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle) when I was studying at UCL. I was so keen to do well that I would study almost the entire textbook in the hope that I would get better marks. That was until one of my professors told me about the 80/20 rule and how 20% of my study would account for 80% of my exam results.
I can still picture myself standing there in shock, could this be true? I started to feel much lighter – I naively thought that I only had to put in 20% of the work to get 80% of the results. Even someone as allergic to numbers as me understood that this was a great deal.
What I discovered later was finding the right 20% was the hard part of the 80/20 rule. Knowing this helped to keep me focused on finding the key lessons that would get me higher marks.
The 80/20 rule can be useful in many areas of your life, not just when you are studying. I have always been obsessed with stationery and love nothing more than writing a to-do list. These lists would sometimes cover multiple pages or be written on various sticky notes scattered all over my desk.
The trouble with this system was that I would often feel a lot of pressure before starting my day. I knew that even if I didn’t eat or leave my desk it wasn’t humanly possible to complete all my daily tasks and they would have to roll over to the following day. Together with all the new tasks I was picking up each day, my to-do list quickly became unmanageable.
I thanked God for my dear professor in those moments. I would remember the 80/20 rule and spend some time figuring out what my top 20% tasks were and prioritise them over the admin tasks.
The 80/20 rule has also been very useful when running a business. I have spent many hours reading interviews with sales experts and many agree that most of your sales will come from a relatively small group of customers. It is therefore essential that you keep them as happy as possible and don't get stuck dealing with the other 80% for too long.
Brian Tracy put it very clearly in his book Eat That Frog!:
“…If you have a list of ten items to do, two of those items will turn out to be worth much more than the other eight items put together...”
In other words, you need to use the 80/20 rule to divide your long to-do list into priorities and admin. If you do not do this then you could spend your day being very busy completing chores and wondering why you never seem to get any real work done. For example, today I had to:
- buy some packaging items for the business
- go to the supermarket
- clear my emails
- follow up leads with stockists
- do the washing
- tidy the house
I could easily keep myself busy all day with a few things on the list but only one task is essential for me to grow my business – following up leads with stockists.
Here are my top tips for implementing the 80/20 rule by focusing on your priorities:
- Dissect your tasks and ask yourself: “Is this a task that will get me closer to my goal?” For instance, if your goal is to change career, then cleaning your living room instead of writing your cover letter will not get you closer to that dream job.
- See the finish line. Visualise how great it will feel when you complete that job application or have studied a section of your syllabus. I don’t know about you but I have never heard anyone bragging about completing trivial tasks or watching Netflix all day. The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from completing challenging tasks will never been matched by chores. Don’t get me wrong, admin tasks do need to get done, but don’t let them take priority over the completion of your priorities.
- Be tough with yourself. I always feel that there is a little war going on inside my head. One part of me wants to take things easy, put off hard tasks and spend time procrastinating. For instance, I have caught myself making excuses for not working because my apartment was too messy and I had to clean. I could have easily gone to the library or a coffee shop but I was letting the lazy part of my brain call the shots. Remember: it is your decision how you spend your time. I force myself to start the day tackling the big tasks that I know will improve my career and business.
Our Daily Review Planner can help you implement the 80/20 rule by keeping you focused on your goals.
The planner uses the SMART goal-setting method to give your goal clarity. If you have never used this technique before, here is a high-level overview of how to break down a goal such as: Run a Marathon
Specific – What marathon are you going to run and when is it being held?
Measurable – How will you know when you have achieved the goal? In this example, the answer is easy – when you successfully complete the marathon but sometimes it isn’t this clear.
Ambitious – How will this goal be a challenge to achieve? Unless you run marathons regularly then this goal will be a challenge as it requires a significant amount of dedication to training. Studies have shown that ambitious goals are more likely to be achieved, even when compared to easier goals.
Rewarding – Describe what motivates you to achieve this goal. You could be running the marathon to raise money for charity or simply as a personal challenge. This step is vital as the reward is what will keep you committed when things inevitably get tough.
Timebound – All good goals have a deadline – in this case it will be the date the marathon is being held. You will also have smaller deadlines to ensure you are on track to achieve your goal i.e. your marathon training schedule.
Once you have clarified your SMART goals and completed your plans for achieving them, the planner’s daily layout will keep you focused on them every day. This focus on priorities is the 80/20 rule in action and you will soon start seeing the results.
Check out our Daily Review Planner here.