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21 Nov

What should we do about Mr. Pareto and his principle?

Date: 2012-11-21 11:00 Comments: 0 st

Not all tasks we perform in our work are of equal importance. Some are the type of things we just need to get done and other tasks are of the kind that makes the business take quantum-leaps forward in the right direction.

Those of us with a lot on our plates and who easily fill our days to the brim (well, come to think of it, who doesn’t) want to spend as much time as possible doing what has the greatest effect on our business.

It would be easy for me to just give you truisms such as “Just do the right things!”, but that is not how I work.

”But how?”

Being a struktör is about being systematic and concrete. I therefore ask “how?” quite a number of times in a day; perhaps sometimes even more than my clients are comfortable with.

So, the first time I heard of Vilfredo Pareto’s principle (popularly referred to as the 80/20-rule) and that it could be applied to personal efficiency, I naturally asked myself “but how?”.

A few years of working with structure later, I have at least one answer to this question. But first a little more on Pareto’s principle.

Few contribute to most of the effects

The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who was active in the end of the 19th century found that 80% of all the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He gradually discovered similar proportions of distribution in other areas and coined the principle which states that for many events, 20% of the causes produce 80% of the effects.

Since it became known, Pareto’s principle has been applied to numerous areas (such as by Joseph Juran in his work on quality and quality management), and is today used within many different areas such as economics, organizational theory and sociology to mention a few. Sometimes it is an 80/20-relation, sometimes 70/30, 80/30 or even 95/10. The consistent fact is that few causes contribute to most of the results. 

Make a small effort, get big results

When Pareto’s principle is applied to personal efficiency, it translates into that a small share of the activities we do causes a large share of the results.
So if we would do less of the things that do not significantly contribute to our progress, we would have more space and time to do more of the things that really matters and make us progress. So, in other words, we would get more and better results without really working more.

The value of applying this principle is hence that we have to work less to get the same effect from our efforts. Or, if you want to, work as much as before but now with better results.

Do this

OK, so if I now want to work less without experiencing a decrease in results, how do I make this happen? Well, here is one way.

  1. During the week to come, starting today, write down everything you do. (I know, it sounds incredibly inconvenient. You have enough to do already, and now that struktör tells you that you have to write down what you do as you do it! But, my friend, if we aren’t to just make a rough estimate and if you are going to actually take advantage of this tip, we need to do this properly. We need data to work with.)
    • You can for instance create a new Excel-sheet or document in Word or Notepad. If you make it digital right away, it will be easier to work with later. You can download a simple Excel-template here:
    • Another option is to get an empty sheet of paper and simply start writing down everything you do. If you go anywhere, simply fold it up and put it in your pocket so that you can have it available as you begin a new activity.
    • Or, purchase a small notebook where you make note of all your activities.

  2. Once you have made it clear what you do in a week, remind yourself of your main priorities or goals in the next year. 

  3. In the list you have created of all your activities, add a column to the right of the list with the heading “Impact”. For each activity you have done, now make note of how much it actually contributes to the attainment of your goals on a scale from one to ten in the Impact-column. Some tasks will be rated 0 and others 10. 

  4. When you are done, make a summary of the impact. 

  5. Sort the list by impact, that is, put the tasks that influence your progress most at the top, and those which contribute least at the bottom. 

  6. To the right of the Impact-column, create another column that shows you how many percent out of the total impact you tasks have on your business, each task contribute with. 

  7. To the right of this column, make another one in which the percentages are accumulated so that it becomes easy to see how much the first 20% of the tasks contribute to impacting the business. Notice what the ratio is this week: Is it 80/20, 60/40 or some other ratio?

  8. Now let us draw some conclusions and take action of the data we have collected. Go through the 80% of the tasks that impact your attainment of this year’s goals the least.

    • Which of these can you simply drop from now on?
    • Which tasks can you delegate to someone else?
    • Which tasks can you simplify so that each task from now on takes less time to do?
    • What tasks do you want to continue doing since they in some way contribute to accomplishing a goal you did not include in this exercise?
    • Which of the 20% of tasks that have the greatest impact on your business do you want to spend more time doing?

  9. If you decide to do something specific, create a concrete to-do-task which implies you taking the first step towards dismantling, delegating, simplifying or expanding an activity.

Make it easier to do the right things

If you make it clear to yourself what tasks that contribute the most to the attainment of your goals, it will be easier to determine if you spend time doing the right things. You will need to work less and still get the most important things done.

How do you do it?

Have you ever applied Pareto’s principle in some way? How? Where? Tell me! Write a comment to let me and other readers know.

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