6. PARETO CAN HELP YOU BECOME MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE
Pareto’s law was based on the distribution of personal assets in Italy in the late 1800’s. Pareto concluded that 80% of the wealth was in the hands of only 20% of the people. This may now seem less unbelievable in the current context where, according to Milanovic, 1% of the world has 46% of the total wealth.
Pareto’s law has become known, popularly, as the 80:20 law and has, since its discovery, been applied to various situations with plausible success. This does not mean that we should be looking for exact proportions but something roughly in this neighbourhood.
Just as with logarithms, if we take the 20% then we get the same pattern (20% of 20% has 80% of 20% etc.).
Pareto's law has also been useful in managing any number of daily tasks (business and personal) and in this article you will find a number of examples.
Application of Pareto to your time and your priorities
We can all remember attempting exam papers at school. We would start at the first question and stay with it until we had completed a satisfactory answer. After dealing with the second question in a similar fashion we would suddenly discover that we were running out of time. So we introduced a method improvement, dividing up our time uniformly over all the questions, maybe taking into account the number of marks allocated to each question if the examiner was helpful enough to provide these. However, it took a lot of courage to complete the questions in the order of the ease with which they could be answered. That is, take the easiest question first and the most difficult question last. In an extreme case, 20% of your time will be enough to deal with 80% of the questions (those where you have rehearsed the answers) leaving 80% to deal with the remaining more difficult questions. Taking it a step further, the aim could be to use 20% of the time per question to get an ‘80%’ answer, spending the rest of the time on polishing what you had already produced.
This can apply to your daily work programme, instead of starting with the thorny problem over which you have already devoted many sleepless hours, take the easiest tasks first. Again use about 20% of the time for them, leaving 80% for where we expect that it is going to be necessary. Not only does this prove to be an efficient way to allocate time, there is also a psychological advantage. The first 20% not only serves as a warming up, allowing you to grow gradually into your work, but allows you to feel immediately productive. You will then always have something to show for your efforts!
You should also allow yourself to be 'bothered' by those wishing for your services on the same basis. If you can help others quickly (the request is easy to deal with) you should do so. Not only are you then avoiding creating a pile of small matters to which you will still have to return at a less than optimal time, you are building goodwill, and you are learning to be disturbed (a normal situation in life, which is sometimes necessary for recovery from more exacting tasks) without losing your way. Somebody else is also being helped to divide up their day efficiently, and their dissatisfaction at having to wait for an answer to what appears to be an easy question is circumvented. Your best customers should also be treated on this basis.
But you will still hear the time-honoured advice, tackle the difficult cases first. However, sometimes one or more issues are so important that they prevail, but in my experience this is not all that often.
Some other considerations of how you might divide your time and attention are:
- 80% of turnover normally comes from 20% of your customers. They deserve 80% of your attention;
- ensure that you get your thoughts down on paper or in the computer as quickly as possible, not taking more than 20% of the time which you have available so that 80% remains for improving. This ratio surprises a lot of people but the reward is in the fine-tuning;
- when supervising others use 80% of your time for your stronger people and much less for those who are not going to profit as much from your attention. This can sound unfeeling, but it only means that you should take care when carrying out such a policy;
- spend the majority of your time on things which give you energy rather than things which extract energy from you;
- realise that you can only think (concentrating and paying attention) for a relatively small proportion of your time, 80% of activities need to be (semi-) automatic, which is achieved by training.
Every time you plan your day take some of these, or other similar considerations into account.
A programme to manage your work and time
You should now be ready to make an overall plan to manage your time. This should deal with anything which has to done. This is important because you need to keep your head as free as possible of all thoughts which have to be remembered. Your short-term memory for the things which you wish to retain at the forefront of your mind is namely very limited. The maximum capacity is about seven items.
All thoughts, actions, commitments reminders etc. need to be captured in a personal system. There is no difference here between work and private life, but don’t forget to communicate this correctly! The system has a horizontal axis (breakdown of activities) and a vertical dimension (tasks) and every entry must have both. Sub-divisions may be made in: projects, to diary, to delegate, to do, to file, awaiting information, may be at some time etc. You should review all items (at least weekly, but daily is better so that a selection can be made for action). The system, however, is only as good as the next entry. If things remain outside the system then it tends to lose its value.
Finally, being able to work in an environment (area) which is clean and well-organised is very important. It is essential to return things to where they belong. Your storage system should therefore reduce the effort needed to put things away where they can quickly be found again. The more you can simplify your living space and your working space the better. Don’t confuse ‘I need’ with ‘I want’. Let go . You need less choice than you think.
With very simple ideas and strategies you may be able to revolutionise your approach to work and life. Not only can you become more effective but there will be a positive effect on others as well. You will achieve more, recover more quickly and easily so that motivation is restored for the next day.
I would recommend that you try to record your initial ideas as to how Pareto might be applied to your own daily duties.