The 80/20 Rule

Only a few things do have a significant impact on our overall objective.

This concept is often referred to as the "Pareto Principle" or "80/20 Rule".

Applying this simple principle in everyday situations often proves difficult.

Dive in and learn how you can do it effortlessly.

You've heard this  countless times: "work smarter - not harder." 

And if you're anything like me, you will often have thought: "sure, but how?"

Now you're up for a treat. A good friend of mine came up with an excellent framework for us to work as smart as possible.

Enter Vilfredo. Vilfredo Pareto was an engineer and economist who did iconic work on money and power distribution.

In the late 19th century, he found out that 20% of Italians owned 80% of land property. Since then, there have been many different examples where 20% of causes drive 80% of results.

This phenomenon holds true in surprising areas of everyday life. In your closet, for example, 20% of one's wardrobe is worn 80% of the time.  In your favorite pub: "20% of guests drink 80% of the beer sold."

Why may this be surprising or even counterintuitive to us? Because we as humans tend to think in balances. We are raised with a sense of equality and fairness.  Human behavior, or nature in general, tends to be imbalanced though. 

What holds true in nature surely can be found in the workplace as well. Studies show that only 20% of features get used 80% of the time. Also, the first 20% of project efforts create 80% of the overall value produced. 

Another excellent example of this is the meeting culture. 80% of the results are produced in 20% of the meeting time. 

Of course, the ratios don't always have to be 80/20. In some cases, it may be 70/30, 95 5, or similar. 

Also, the numbers don't always have to add up to 100. It could be that 50% of clients make up 95% of all revenues. In this case, it would be 95/50. 

But the exact numbers aren't too significant. It's the thinking behind it. Think, "What input is driving the most output?" or "What efforts bring the most results" and focus on those activities that have the best return for your time or money spent.

In some cases, work is only complete when 100% of all the tasks are complete. This is often the case in high-risk environments like medical or pharmaceutical projects. 

Yet, for most environments, this is not the case. In many cases, 80% of the optimum result is already enough to stop. Because at this point, it is more valuable to do a new task than completing the old one. 

This is another reason why it makes sense to check with supervisors or experienced colleagues to see when your results are "good enough."

Because chances are that you've invested only a small portion of the overall effort by then. Then you can add significant value somewhere else. 

And this can make a tremendous difference. Compare how Mike and Emily approach their tasks.

Meet Mike. Mike is a business analyst in a large bank and primarily does IT projects. His colleagues value his project contributions because he is diligent and highly resourceful. When he gets assigned a task, Mike works on it without distractions from beginning to finish. If he encounters a problem, he googles for solutions and in the end, always delivers flawless results. 

Emily is a colleague of Mike. She has the same role but delivers three times more results than Mike. How does she do it?

When Emily receives an assignment, she always does an 80/20 analysis. By doing this, she identifies the few todos that have the highest results. Then she starts working on these tasks and regularly checks in with her supervisor. Often, her boss tells her that her results are good enough and gives her a new assignment. 

So guess who has the better approach? 

Drumroll... Emily!

Mike delivers 100% of the results in 100% of the time. Emily can complete 5 times a cycle of 20%, giving her 5x80% = 400% of output for the same time-span.

While this is a hypothetical example, it still shows the power of the 80/20 rule and why getting into the 80/20 mindset is essential for your career development.

Here comes your challenge for today.

First, take 5 minutes today and assess your last assignments. Think about where you spent your time and what were the relevant success factors. What were your 20% of your efforts that drove 80% of the output? In hindsight: What tasks could you have dropped and still get to the same result?

Then, look at your current assignment. Think about the aspects that probably will have the most significant impact on the outcome.  

Verify your thinking with your supervisor or a more experienced co-worker. This will help you complete your tasks more efficiently. Furthermore, it shows your colleagues that you are on your way to developing a high-performance attitude.

Good luck.