80-20 Rule

Paretophoto © 2009 Olle Jonsson | more info (via: Wylio)

Some people may already know about it. It is also known as ‘The Pareto Principle’.

It simply says that 80 percent of influence comes from 20 percent of the cause.

When I first read about it, it was in relation to a person’s productivity at work. I read that 80% of our work is done by 20% of our effort. Probably, it also said that 80% work is done in 20% of our time.

My experience comes close to this statement. During any given activity, I usually experience bursts of enthusiasm, ideas and clarity at times. This is the time when most of the work gets done. And then there are times when my productivity, in spite of sincere efforts, is very low. In fact, when I began observing my day to day activities, I saw some disparity and the results were not the same for different things I did. For some activities, the rule held. But there were some other activities for which I would be doing good work for either lesser time or I would be productive way longer than 20% of my daily time. On closer look, however, there were other factors I found important.

First, there were certain tasks in which I had low to medium interest. Usually, the rule held on a day to day basis for these jobs. The only difference being, I would keep the low interest jobs for the end of the day and would do them in a hurry, under pressure. If I tried them during any other part of the day, with little to no pressure, I would take longer and find them boring. In fact they were boring in the evenings too, it’s just that doing them under a tight dead line added some excitement to the whole thing :). In general, in the beginning, I would start out doing a lot of work or closer to the rule. But I tend to go bad at it over time and productivity gradually goes down. At best, I can keep up with the rule and be mediocre at the job. This, to me, is not good enough.

Second, there were certain things I loved doing. For these, I tended to disregard setting aside any time. I would just keep doing them as long as they were interesting. I think the productivity was not always at it’s peak, sometimes far from it, but, in general, I could do a good job for a longer period. But if I look at my results taken over a longer period of time, over months and years, my productivity for tasks I love tends closer to the rule. In the beginning, I work very enthusiastically. Over time, a slower rhythm sets in. I start returning to it at regular intervals. Sometimes, these intervals are day long but sometimes, I return after weeks or months even after years. These writings are an example here. I have loved writing since when I was 14-16 years old. I keep getting away from it for years together and then come back to it. Once the rhythm sets in, the productivity levels become more constant and there is a feeling of calmness, peace and happiness while doing such tasks.

It makes a lot of sense for us to find out our 20% areas in different fields of our lives and focus on enhancing these. For example, if I look at my daily productivity levels, I know I do the things I love best in the morning. For the things that I don’t like too much, I give my best results in the evening, before leaving from work. So I try to take up my work accordingly, depending on how much I want to do it.

I have used this approach for some 3 years now. In the beginning, I found it difficult to let go of some task even if I did not like it. I would have a feeling of guilt at not giving my hundred percent, or the fear of getting left behind. At such times, I had tried to keep doing certain activities in spite of not feeling excited about them. As I said before, I was, at best, mediocre at such things over a period. In fact, I was bad at a lot of them. And, irrespective of the result, they never give me a feeling of aliveness, happiness. But now I don’t believe in having fear and guilt as my motivators and I don’t feel that I missed anything in life because of this approach. In the long run, I have felt my decisions were right and I feel much more alive and happy now than what I felt at that time. I am aligning more and more with the principle and, so far, the results have not been bad. In fact, I am doing quite well.

One comment

  • Jyoti
    June 7, 2010 - 12:17 am | Permalink

    Finally since you are back to writing and this time more consistent with it…I believe that you will come up with more such good stuff

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