The Funny Thing about the Pareto Principle

I was reading a post on Quora this morning that I found interesting.  The overall subject was smart ways in which lazy people behave.  I think we have all heard the quote attributed to Bill Gates: “I’ll always choose the laziest person to do the hardest work because they will find the easiest  way to dit.  The downside, of course, is if you work for Bill Gates and he comes to you with a “special project” is it really a compliment?  Back on track, though, was the fact that the particular post I linked to mentions the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.  Many people have come up with any number of translations of this to fit any number of topics.  For instance, in business you may hear things such as:

  • 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our workforce
  • 80% of our budget is attributed to 20% of our effort this year

Let’s go through a quick learning moment.  The Pareto Principle is named for economist Vilfredo Pareto, and states an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.  It simply states that 20% of your invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained.  Put another way, 80% of what you get comes from 20% of what you give.  Now, understanding this principle is key because it reminds us of the inequalities associated with input and output.  Pareto used this rule to explain income inequality in Italy.  It can, however, be transferred to many cases throughout our personal and professional lives.

Obviously we use up 100% of our time everyday, but is the time being spent most appropriately for us?  The principle cannot be improved by definition.  There are times where the percentages may be slightly off, but the overall idea remains intact.  A large part of the output will always come from a small part of the input.  What can be improved, however, is the actions we take throughout the day that become part of the input.  Improving our quality of life is directly related to the activities we take part in.  We don’t get to choose what 20% will be chosen to dictate our lives.  By spending more time on improving the quality of his work, this individual has less time to spend in other areas.

What I am trying to convey is the Pareto Principle works on a wonderfully macro- level.  However when you begin to look into the individual areas with which we are able to spend time throughout our day, it is enough to drive someone crazy.  How could we feasibly be “on our game” 100% of the time in order to experience success across all areas in our lives?  If you find the answer to this, please share it.  However, I find it more likely that we need to accept that we are never going to be #WINNING in all areas.  Focus your efforts where you want to see the most success, and be much better than you are today.  Want a better family life?  Invest more time there.  Vying for that promotion at work?  Spend extra time on improving your skills and showing you are capable of handling it.

Common sense, but consolidated, takeaway:  Focus on the areas in your life that you want to improve, and as they get better so does your life.  If 80% of your enjoyment comes from 20% of your input, then make sure it is some quality input.


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