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What is the 80 20 Rule for Productivity?

Work in most sectors can often feel like a battle. You work through the small, interrupting tasks that get put in front of you and the big stuff takes longer to complete. This is a common problem for many people, and something that fosters the feeling of a lack of productivity. From that comes stress and anxiety, and nothing productive can happen if you’re feeling this way. It’s a vicious cycle.

The 80/20 rule is all about focusing on the most important things and pushing those to the forefront of your workload. Let’s look in more detail at how this is achieved.

The Pareto Principle

This is the actual name of the technique we’re focusing on, but it’s more commonly referred to as ‘The 80/20 Rule’.

Wilfredo Pareto was an Italian and economist and he originally developed this outlook based on his observations of various economies around the world. He studied countries and found that, invariably, 80 percent of wealth is concentrated in the hands of just 20 percent of the population. Conversely, he saw that the remaining 20 percent of wealth is owned by 80 percent of the population.

Whilst this was an economic outlook, businesses and individuals have applied this same rule to creativity. Specifically, 20 percent of workload input is responsible for 80 percent of output.

Diagnosing the 20 Percent

In terms of fostering productivity, the 80/20 rule is all about defining the most important processes in a given task or business and placing emphasis there. You need to find the areas that provide the greatest benefits and ignore the rest. In the 80/20 rule, the 80 is just time-consuming, productivity-sapping tasks that really don’t provide any impact on the final result.

This requires a deconstruction of processes, sifting through all of the parts of a specific task and prioritising them. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a clear idea of the areas that provide the most return and the ones that just divert from productivity and success.


When you know the tasks that are the most worthwhile, you then need to rank them in order of priority. But this isn’t priority based on how important the sender of a particular email thinks it is, it’s about deliverable, productive results.

The 80/20 rule can sometimes feel a little ruthless, but that’s not the aim here. The goal is to create an approach that will guide you through a particular project with the best results in the time available. Sometimes certain things just have to fall by the wayside. But in the end, you’ll have a quantifiable, powerful system for diagnosing the most important tasks at hand and a sure-fire boost to productivity.

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