The Pareto Principle, better known as the 80/20 rule, is a nearly miraculous tool for managing your time well and getting more work done. Applying this principle has made an absolutely extraordinary impact in the life of great business men.

It is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who first wrote about his discovery in 1895, after he noticed certain naturally occurring divisions in society, such as 20 percent of the population wielding 80 percent of the wealth and power, while the bottom 80 percent of the people struggled over the remaining 20 percent of the resources.

Since then, the 80/20 principle has stood the test of time, still reiterated today through the business rule of thumb that 80 percent of your sales comes from 20 percent of your clients, for example. This also applies to a variety of more mundane matters.

Make some quick estimates and see if these examples hold true for you:

  • You wear 20 percent of your favorite clothes about 80 percent of the time.
  • You spend 80 percent of your social time with about 20 percent of your friends.
  • You use 20 percent of all your kitchen appliances 80 percent of the time.
  • 20 percent of your customers or clients create 80 percent of all complaints.
  • You spend 80 percent of your time working on 20 percent of your to-do list.

Likewise, 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results; 80 percent of the value of what you do comes from 20 percent of the tasks you perform.

This means that if you have ten items on your to-do list, just two of those item will turn out to be worth as much, or more, than all the other eight tasks put together!

Here is how to put the Pareto Rule into practice to save time, do less, and accomplish more.

Focus on the greatest payoff

Many of the tasks on your list may actually take the same or similar 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.

Oftentimes you may even discover that one of the items is worth more than all the other items put together. This is invariably the task you should do first, before you move on to any of the others.

Identify the most valuable task

So how do you decide which tasks have the most value, or the greatest payoff?

As a rule of thumb, it might be helpful to remember that the most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. The payoff, however, for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous.

Therefore, develop the habit of refusing to work on tasks in the bottom 80 percent while you still have tasks in the top 20 percent left to be done. Before you begin your work, always ask yourself, “Is this task in the top 20 percent of my activities, or in the bottom 80 percent?”

Another important aspect to keep in mind is that you can’t expect to find the time to do more of what you want to do, if you continue to give your time away, doing work that accomplishes other people’s goals.

When someone asks you to help out, ask yourself these four questions:

“Will this task/project/job advance my goal?”
If not: “What specific benefit could I get from doing it?”
If none: “Who could I delegate it to?”
If no one: “What is the best way to say ‘no’?”

Action exercises

1. Make a list of all the key goals, activities, projects and responsibilities in your life today

2. Decide which of them are, or could be, in the top 10 to 20 percent of the tasks that represent 80 to 90 percent of your results. Whittle this list down to ten or less

3. Resolve to spend most of your time working in the few areas that can really make a difference in your life and career, and spend less and less time on your lower value activities

How to maximize your productivity

As mentioned before, when you’re overloaded with information and tasks, trying to get everything done usually ends up being an exercise in futility. Learning to focus only on the essential things, using the 80/20 rule, and breaking through your mental blocks that lead to procrastination will put you well ahead of the game.

But there are even more ways you can increase your efficiency and save time, so you can spend it on the things you really want to do. Here are eight simple ways to be more productive with less effort:

1. First things first. Eliminate everything else: Once you’ve decided which 20 percent of your tasks are most likely to bring you the most value, your job is to focus your attention on these tasks FIRST, every day.

Getting in the habit of crossing off your most essential tasks first thing in the morning, before other “emergencies” have time to consume your time, will make your productivity soar.

Step two: eliminate everything else. Sound scary? Not to worry. Take a look at your list of tasks again. What items on there are not essential? Could you drop it from your schedule completely? Can you delegate it to someone else?

If you can’t get rid of it right now, put it on a “less essential” list, and after you’ve completed your most important tasks, go back and do some of these when you have the time. After a while, you might come to realize that things you thought were necessary weren’t really necessities at all.

2. Eliminate distractions: Constant interruptions are productivity’s enemy number one. This includes email notifications, IM’s, your cell phone, RSS reader, gadgets and widgets and social networking forums. Turn everything off, disconnect yourself from the internet, clear your work space of non-essential papers to increase your concentration and focus on your chosen task.

3. Work in 90 Minute Intervals: Now here is the key. Arrange your day to have 90 minutes of absolutely uninterrupted time, no phone calls, no email, absolutely no interruptions. Then work on one of these goals for the entire 90 minutes.

Stop at 90 minutes. Don’t do more without taking a break. You can continue these 90-minute cycles of uninterrupted work on your top goals as long as your schedule of other responsibilities will allow.

4. Keep it simple: Find, and use, the simplest tools to get the job done. Fidgeting with ultra-cool applications that you’re not fully familiar with, using complicated, multi-layered calendars and other fancy gadgets can actually eat up more time than they save you. By selecting simple, no-frills tools, you can stop thinking about the tool and focus only on the task at hand.

5. Do one thing at a time: How efficient are you really when you’re trying to divide your focus between ten different things? Let’s face it. Multi-tasking is usually a waste of time.

You’re guaranteed to finish a task faster, and with less effort, if you concentrate on doing that one thing, without letting yourself be pulled in multiple directions. This is one of the key Tony Schwartz principles. You need to stop multi-tasking, as it radically decreases your productivity.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Lumping together similar tasks that are in your bottom 80 percent, or that don’t require your full attention can save you time.

You could open and sort your mail while talking on the phone, exercise while catching up on your favorite TV show, or listen to an audio book while commuting to work, for example.

6. Find quiet time: Not everyone has the luxury of a quiet working environment, but you need some quiet time each day that you can call your own, where you don’t have to work. Reading your RSS feeds or going through your email does not count!

The trick is to get away from the information overload; to unplug and unwind in a place where you can gain daily perspective to see what’s important to you. This could be through reading, taking a bath, walking in nature, exercising or meditating.

Watching TV might be relaxing to some, but I’d recommend you at least avoid the news programs. Information comes at you from all angles, all day long.
Learning to be selective in what information you let in can boost your productivity immensely.

And, to hear your own inner voice, complete disconnect from all information media might at times be necessary.

7. Maximize the impact of your work: Do you finish a great project, or create something fantastic and then move on to the next thing? Then you’re shortchanging your full potential.

Taking the extra time to maximize the impact of the work you just did; promoting it to get attention and the recognition you deserve, is what will lead to more business and new job opportunities.

Once you’ve created “the next big thing,” promote it, show it off; find ways to make it carry you as far as it can take you. This task could be that 20 percent that gives you 80 percent of the payoff for all the work you just put in.

8. Simplify, simplify, simplify: Once you’ve simplified your work down to your most important tasks, eliminated everything non-essential, including time draining distractions, you should now be quite productive with what’s left.

However, the minutiae of distractions and the unnecessary have a natural tendency to creep back in if you’re not taking the time to pay attention. So, every now and then, review what you’re doing and the information you allow in. Then, simplify some more.

You can also simplify your work load and save lots of time by standardizing tasks that you have to do more than once, such as shopping lists, certain business letters, spread sheets and project outlines, for example.

The power of the 80/20 rule in social media marketing

It is one thing to socialize and another to self-promote on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. But the biggest turn-off is over the top self-promotion of your product or service.

The audience can smell it from a mile away if you keep selling and promoting on social media, you could lose your followings and ultimately hurt your business.

So what can you do to continue promoting and at the same time retain your followings or keep your business alive? It’s simple! By using the 80/20 Principle. Focus on the 20 percent that gives you 80 percent of the result.

In social media, use the 80/20 principle for the following;

1. 80% should be about your audience: In essence, 80 percent should be about helping your audience, sharing tips and posting about them.

2. 20% should be about self-promotion: Your remaining 20 percent which is a very conservative percentage should focus on your product, service or brand. That is self-promotion.

So in reality, you could have a six-day schedule say from Monday – Saturday where you are posting from Monday to Friday about your audience, helping them, sharing valuable content, finding solution to their problems, engaging with them. Whilst on Saturday, you focus on your brand by doing self-promotion.

In that way, you’ve got a good balance and have happy fans at the end of the day. If you can stick by this guideline then you’re going to achieve success on social media.

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