How the 80/20 Can Cut Your Workload – in Half

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.”
– Lin Yutang

What is the 80-20 Rule?

In 1906 the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, constructed a mathematical formula to describe the distribution of wealth in his country – that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. In the late 1940’s, Dr Joseph M Juran incorrectly attributed the whole 80-20 rule to Pareto, and it became widely known as the Pareto Principle.

The 80-20 rule is a lot further reaching than merely describing the uneven distribution of wealth, and is applied to many different fields, from management science to the physical world. The rule follows the belief that 80% of outputs result from 20% of the inputs. Other ways to state this depending on the context, include:

* 80% of profits come from 20% of the products
* 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes
* 80% of our results come from 20% of our time and effort

Two men laboriously cut wood throughout a long and hot day. One of the laborers worked straight through, without once stopping to rest. At the end of the day his endeavor had created a sizable pile of logs.

The other man chopped wood steadily for 50 minutes and then took a ten-minute break. At the end of the day he had amassed a much larger and more impressive pile of wood. ‘How could you chop more?’ asked the man who had worked continuously, disbelieving the evidence of his own eyes.

His friend replied, ‘When I stopped for rest, I also sharpened my ax!’
– Author Unknown

Applying the 80-20 Rule to your work

We have all seen good managers in action, who manage to achieve results without appearing to break into a sweat. Often, we wonder how they manage to breeze through the day with the greatest of ease. These people have learned to focus their effort on the most important 20% of their tasks instead of futilely attacking the 80%.

If you never seem to have enough hours in the day, and an inbox that fills up quicker than the outbox empties, then you need to analyze your work practices. 80% of our efforts account for only 20% of the results achieved. Most of us are spending 80% of our time in activities that give us just 20% of our results. And 80% of our results come from just 20% of our effort and time. This approach lengthens the work day and is a great contributor to the level of stress we feel.

The first step in applying the 80-20 Rule requires you to make an honest appraisal of yourself and how you approach your work.

At the end of a particularly busy day, ask yourself the following few questions to establish whether you are floundering in the 80% zone of hard and fruitless labor.

* Do I spend more time on urgent tasks, rather than completing the most important tasks?
* Does my work always seem to take longer than I expected or hoped?
* At the end of the day, am I unhappy about how I spent my time?

Answering ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions means that there is room for improvement and a streamlining of your workflow practices. The truth is that we all have default activities – those tasks we engage in that help us postpone making an important decisions. Some of us answer email 30 times a day, or create elaborate systems for tracking our incoming email. Others allow frequent interruptions throughout the day, making it difficult to concentrate on one task to bring it to completion. Are you inventing work in order to avoid the important?

* What 20% of your activities and effort produce the 80% of your results? (Focus on these.)
* What 20% is causing 80% of your problems? (Eliminate these.)

Calculate how much time you spend upon each task and then assess the final outcome, honestly. Ask yourself which tasks are necessary and bring the best results. You will find that you are expending far too much effort on the minutiae and not enough on the easy gains.

The tasks which do not bring results should be scaled down or delegated to others. However talented you are, there will always be people on your team who enjoy certain tasks and will achieve better results than you. Apart from saving you the bother of performing a task you don’t enjoy, you will be allowing someone else to achieve results using their skills.

In summary – Do you want to work less and achieve more? Just concentrate on the 20% that matters. You can adopt this philosophy by assessing your workflow practices on a daily, weekly, monthly and even annual basis. To practice applying the 80-20 rule to your work, ask yourself these questions throughout your day:

* Am I spending time on activities that fulfill my goals and purpose?
* Am I being productive (or am I doing busy work?)
* Am I creating busy work in order to avoid the truly important?

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