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The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of actions – and for many thought leaders, this is becoming a way to prioritize tasks and enhance productivity. 

What is the Pareto Principle?

The Pareto Principle, named for economist Vilfredo Pareto, is an observational theory that 80 percent of his Italian homeland’s property was owned by just 20 percent of the population. After testing the idea in other countries, Pareto observed the same thing – distribution is not always equal.

Pareto’s discovery in the 1800s was then applied to modern business by management consultant Joseph M. Juran, who utilized the Pareto Principle in quality control. He posited that 80 percent of a product’s problems are caused by 20 percent of the same recurring issues. For instance, 80 percent of car breakdowns are caused by 20 percent of car parts, or 80 percent of a program’s crashes are caused by 20 percent of the bugs.

These comparisons also extend to other areas of management. The Pareto principle has been applied to marketing, products, public relations, and more. It could be that 80 percent of your webpage’s traffic is due to 20 percent of your social media posts or that 80 percent of your company’s profits is due to 20 percent of your clients.

How does it impact me?

Though the Pareto principle does not apply in every situation, as it’s just a hypothesis based on observation, you can still take the foundational message and use it in your life in fruitful ways. Referred to as “brutal” and “crucial” by Forbes Council Member Anthony Bahr, the Pareto principle isn’t just for business operations. The 80/20 rule is toted among thought leaders as a life-changing tool for enhancing skills, especially for productivity and time management.

A key thing to remember about the Pareto principle is that just because something isn’t part of the vital 20 percent doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. The other 80 percent of your inputs are valuable when tackling your action items, but they may be lower on the priority list or require less attention to complete.

This view is that an egalitarian approach to business, treating all clients, action items, coworkers, and networking opportunities the same can ultimately hold you back. In life, some things are more important than others – and it’s up to you to determine what will take you further, even if it means leaving some things behind.

Using the principle

The key to innovation is by starting to change manageable portions of your surroundings. That’s why the Pareto principle is so important to implement on a daily basis: 80 percent of work, 20 percent of your day.

A common use of the Pareto principle involves budgeting time for your day. According to the rule, 80 percent of your daily work is accomplished in 20 percent of your day. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re prioritizing well. In your most productive hours, you could get a burst of inspiration to do things that ultimately have a minuscule impact on your workload or company at large.

During that 20 percent of the day, when you’re feeling the most inspired, make a note of all the things you’re accomplishing. Are these tasks important, or are they easy pieces of busywork? And are you using the rest of your day effectively, or do you just like to make it seem like you’re busy?

When using the Pareto principle with your own schedule, be cutthroat, like you’re pruning your garden. If you’re productive at the same time every day, pencil in your hardest work for those couple of hours.

80 percent of tasks, 20 percent of resources

Another problem, according to the Pareto principle, is when you don’t realize that 80 percent of your tasks only require 20 percent of your resources. In this example, you’re only using 20 percent of your brainpower when engaging in most of your work, whether it’s a meeting, an email, or entering data into software. The remaining 20 percent of your tasks might require quite a bit of mental calisthenics, and because of that, you might be putting them off.

If you’re beginning to find that a large chunk of your work doesn’t require a tremendous amount of brainpower to accomplish, don’t be afraid to delegate or streamline. There are plenty of ways to get tasks done that allow you to focus on more important things, and the least productive part of your day might end up being the most productive part of someone else’s if you just share the labor.

80 percent of communications, 20 percent of colleagues

Another use for the Pareto principle is to remember that 80 percent of the communicating you do in a given day could be with the same 20 percent of people. You have coworkers, clients, and teammates that you talk to regularly, and other contacts like your bosses or subordinates might take up less of your time. So how do you optimize those connections without forsaking any relationships?

Invest in your close relationships, and make sure those you work with on a daily basis are happy with your connection. You can bring them bagels, send them flowers on their birthdays, or send an extra emoji in an email when you can see that they’re having a frustrating day. You don’t need to cut lesser contacts out of your purview entirely, but you shouldn’t bank on those relationships uplifting you in a professional environment as your team will.

The takeaway

The Pareto principle isn’t just a fun mental exercise; it’s a way of life that can change how your day looks and, ultimately, how your tasks get done. It allows you to focus on the essential things and let go of the extraneous facets of your workday that hold you back. Pairing down might feel a bit aggressive at times, and delegating your duties or being more careful about time spent on your relationships might seem a little harsh. But it can streamline and improve your workday, making you a better employee and a better coworker.

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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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