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How to Apply the 80/20 Rule at Work - 4 Useful Tips

How to Apply the 80/20 Rule at Work - 4 Useful Tips

Did you know that the 80/20 rule can be used to help you work smarter and be more effective? Here are a few simple tips on how to apply the Pareto principle to work less but achieve more.

One of Italy's greatest gifts to the world may just be the wisdom of Vilfredo Pareto - an engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist and philosopher. It was Pareto who developed the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle) – the theory that 80% of output is generated by 20% of what we put in:

pareto rule explained

The premise often rings true when converted into a work context as often the biggest share of what we achieve day to day (the 80%) comes from a relatively small amount of time, actions and resources (the 20%).

The rule suggests that 80% of the work we perform is being wasted, which is a worrying thought for any professional, especially for entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals whose actions have an immediate impact on their financial gains. The good news is that the Pareto rule can be used to your advantage.

Here are four simple steps for how to do so:

1. Step back, relax and evaluate

Often you won't realise where your time is being spent (or misspent) until you create some distance from your work life. Make sure to take some time on a regular basis to take a step back, review your work and identify what actions and activities are generating the results. It helps to see things presented visually, for instance a pie chart of the outcome coming from different suppliers. Having that perspective will help you prioritise based on their potential productiveness.

2. Start small 

A few small steps can make a big difference to eliminating that wasted 80%. Start with identifying the interruptions such as phone calls, emails, notifications or impromptu meetings that often get you distracted during the day. Instead of making a big change of removing all the "interruptions" in one go, start reducing them slowly one by one.

3. Practice saying 'no'

Learning how to say 'no' is a big part of maximising your time spend, but it can be extremely challenging at times. This does not only apply to saying 'no' to people, but also to things like choosing to miss out on working on a new, exciting and innovative project because you prioritized other initiatives that you're already managing and that require your full attention. Turning down opportunities can be hard, but prioritising the more profitable clients or ventures will eventually increase your output while reducing your input.

4. 'Batch' your tasks

Some tasks clearly can't be eliminated from your workday, especially if you don't have a large support team around you. 'Batching' is a good way to cut down the time spent on those niggling, yet necessary chores such as: clearing out your inbox, approving expense forms or other admin tasks. Allocate some time each day or week to focus on these types of activities and get through all of them in one sitting and you'll be amazed to see how much time these tasks were eating into your days.

When it comes to increasingly your productivity it's rarely an exact science. Indeed, you might find that, in your case, the 80/20 rule is closer to a 70/30 or 60/40 rule. Whatever your circumstance or field, it's important to find the areas of your work that you can automate, mute, turn down (or turn off), group or simply say 'no' to, in order to maximize your effectiveness while reducing the efforts.

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