Chapter 9: Efficient Time Management

# The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, as published in his first paper, “Cours d’économie politique“. Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.”

Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.

he 80/20 Rule is one of the most helpful of all concepts of time and life management. It is also called the Pareto Principle after its founder, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who first wrote about it in 1895. Pareto noticed that people in his society seemed to divide naturally into what he called the “vital few,” the top 20% in terms of money and influence, and the “trivial many,” the bottom 80%.

The Great Discovery
He later discovered that virtually all economic activity was subject to this Pareto Principle as well.

For example, this rule says that 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results. 20% of your customers will account for 80% of your sales. 20% of your products or services will account for 80% of your profits. 20% of your tasks will account for 80% of the value of what you do, and so on.

This means that if you have a list of ten items to do, two of those items will turn out to be worth as much or more than the other eight items put together.

The Greatest Payoff
Here is an interesting discovery. Each of these tasks may take the same amount of time to accomplish. But one or two of those tasks will contribute five or ten times the value as any of the others.

Often, one item on a list of ten things that you have to do can be worth more than all the other nine items put together. This task is invariably the one that you should do first.

The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous. For this reason, you must adamantly refuse to work on tasks in the bottom 80% while you still have tasks in the top 20% left to be done.

Before you begin work, always ask yourself, “Is this task in the top 20% of my activities or in the bottom 80%?”

Getting Started
The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue. There is a part of your mind that loves to be busy working on significant tasks that can really make a difference. Your job is to feed this part of your mind continually.

Time management is really life management, personal management. It is really taking control over the sequence of events. Time management is control over what you do next. And you are always free to choose the task that you will do next. Your ability to choose between the important and the unimportant is the key determinant of your success in life and work.

Effective, productive people discipline themselves to start on the most important task that is before them. They force themselves to eat that frog, whatever it is. As a result, they accomplish vastly more than the average person and are much happier as a result. This should be your way of working as well.

Action Exercises
Make a list of all the key goals, activities, projects and responsibilities in your life today. Which of them are, or could be, in the top 10% or 20% of tasks that represent, or could represent, 80% or 90% of your results?

Resolve today that you are going to spend more and more of your time working in those few areas that can really make a difference in you life and career, and less and less time on lower value activities.