Therefore Strategic Technology Services

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Using the 80 / 20 Rule to your advantage

The Pareto principle, often referred to as the “80 / 20 Rule”, states that roughly 80% of your results will be the consequence of 20% of your efforts. Likewise, in business it’s pretty safe to assume that about 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients.

Management consultant Joseph Juran suggested the principle and named it after an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto had noticed the principle in play when he discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

The Pareto principle has been found to be a useful tool in a broad range of disciplines such as economics, computing, sport and business.

My interest in the Pareto principle is perhaps a little less academic and a little more practical than that of Joseph Juran. Over the course of my career, I have noticed that I achieve the vast bulk of my results (the 80%) from a relatively small portion of my efforts (the 20%) and I have learned to use the principle to my advantage.

Using the 80 / 20 principle to your advantage is actually surprisingly simple. Here’s how I do it, presented on a step by step basis! The starting point for my methodology is the humble paper-based “to do list”. Everything that I need to do, irrespective of how trivial, gets recorded on my to do list. You can download a to do list template at the footer of this article.

My 80 / 20 recipe follows:
  1. Every morning I redraft my to do list, omitting the items that I closed the day before. 
  2. After having redrafted my to do list, I skip through with a green highlighter and mark the items that I believe will get me 80% of my results. It stands to reason that, given that we are following the 80 / 20 Rule, in the region of 20% of your tasks should be highlighted green. By way of example, if you have 20 items on your to do list, you would expect that approximately 4 of them would have been highlighted green.
  3. Next, I step through my to do list looking for “zero value” items. During the course of popping things onto my to do list, I often find items that “seemed like a good idea at the time” but actually hold no value when I look at them later. In short, if you find an item on your list that on further evaluation doesn’t add value, and hasn’t been promised to a colleague or a client, it may be a good idea to close them off as “no longer required”.
  4. I then use a blue highlighter to mark trivial items that I can close out quickly, to de-clutter my list.
  5. I then skip through my to do list and mark the items that I can pass along to colleagues. Once an item has been handed off, I make sure to jot down the initials of the colleague to whom I have allocated the task. The items that I have retained for my personal attention get marked with a “Me!” As a general rule, I hand off highlighted items as a first priority.
  6. During the course of the day, I tackle the highlighted items as a matter of first priority. Obviously, new items get added to your to do list on an ongoing basis and you may want to highlight some of the new items as you go along. Should I have handled all of my highlighted items prior to close of day, I bring out my trusty highlighters and select the next set of green and blue tasks.
  7. At close of day, I do a roundup with my colleagues to see how they have been fairing with the tasks that I handed off to them, and update my to do list where items have been closed.
  8. The start of the following day sees me start the process from the top.
The above “to do list” process will probably take you 20 or 30 minutes a day, but it is guaranteed to pay dividends. Give it a try … and let me know how it goes. 

[Download To Do List]

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