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The 80/20 Rule

“It is not enough to be busy…the question is…what are we busy about?”
—Henry David Thoreau

The 80/20 rule is one of the most beneficial of all concepts of time management. Also known as the “Pareto Principle,” it was developed in 1895 when Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that, in his country, 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Today the 80/20 principle can be applied to almost anything, including time management. In terms of managing our time we must realize that:

  • The majority of what we do (80%) has little impact;
  • A minority of what we do (20%) has a major impact.

Simply stated, it means that if you have a “to-do” list of ten items, two of those items will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items combined. However, those one or two of the most valuable items are often the hardest and most complex, but the pay off and the rewards for their completion can be tremendous. What we tend to do, though, is begin with the easiest—leaving the most difficult and valuable for last and then never quite getting around to working on them. Effective time managers discipline themselves to select the one or two items from their to-do list that are most valuable, allocate a block of time to work on each of them, and concentrate on getting them done, never feeling guilty about not finishing the list.

Warren Buffett summed it up when he said: “You only have to do a few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong!” In their book, The Tao of Warren Buffett, biographers Mary Buffett and David Clark state, “Warren Buffett decided early in his career that it would be impossible for him to make hundreds of right investment decisions, so he decided that he would invest in the business that he was absolutely sure of, and then bet heavily on them. He owes 90% of his wealth to just ten investments. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

To implement the 80/20 Rule:

  • The night before, write down your top 10 priorities to do for the next day,
  • Determine which two are the most important,
  • Schedule 90 minute “appointments” with yourself, preferably in the morning, to work on each of these priorities.

The effect of this change will be profound; you will get more accomplished and feel a greater sense of pride and satisfaction for completing something valuable and significant.

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