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Applying the Pareto Principle Can Improve Your Time Management Pareto's 80-20 rule is the Swiss army knife of business. It's useful for just about everything.

By John Rampton Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Whether you're a seasoned vet or just launching your first business, I'm sure you've at least heard of the 80/20 Rule, aka the Pareto Principle. After all, it's been found; the Pareto Principle can be applied to anything that you measure in both your business life and your personal life.

If you aren't exactly sure what the 80/20 Rule is, or how it can be used to improve your time management -- shortly you will understand this principle better. The Pareto Principle may be the answer.

How does the Pareto Principle apply to time management?

This principle is a concept developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto back in 1895 after he noticed that 80 percent of the land was owned by just 20 percent of the population. This lead Pareto to the conclusion that all economic activity could be subject to this principle.

As Brian Tracy further explains, "This rule says that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results." For example, "20 percent of your customers will account for 80 percent of your sales. Twenty percent of your products or services will account for 80 percent of your profits. Also, 20 percent of your tasks will account for 80 percent of the value of what you do, and so on."

How does this apply to time management? Tracy states, "that if you have a list of ten items to do, two of those items will turn out to be worth as much or more than the other eight items put together."

In other words, 80 percent of your output should come from 20 percent of your time. Don't worry if the figures don't come out to exactly 80 and 20 percent. The idea is that most things are not distributed evenly. Does this mean that you should work any less? Not necessarily. Instead, this concept is encouraging you to focus more on the things that matter most, primarily the tasks that help us reach our goals.

Considering that we entrepreneurs believe that we can do anything on our own, the Pareto Principle is arguably the best time management technique at our disposal. For example, as opposed to spending hours fixing a buggy website, repairing a leaky faucet, or handling customer service inquiries -- we should have outsourced or delegated these tasks and focus on more important jobs that will help the business grow.

Hopefully, that explains what the Pareto Principle is and how it can be used to enhance your time management. But, how can you get started?

Related: 9 Powerful Ways to Use the Pareto Principle in Marketing

Rethink your to-do-lists.

With this principle in mind, this might be the time to change how you make your to-do lists. Typically, these lists consist of simple items that may not be the most important things you should be doing. Instead, your to-do lists should reflect your priorities but also take into account whether the effort necessary is worth doing.

In order to get the most out the Pareto Principle, which will help you better manage time, start by prioritizing what you need to do based on the amount of effort involved. Number these items from one to 10, with one requiring the least amount of effort. Then, consider the potential positive results from doing those things. Label those from one to 10, with 10 having the highest impact.

With these findings, the next step is to create a new ranking of the items on your to-do list. Divide the amount of effort by the potential results. This gives you the priority ranking you need to more effectively manage time and increase results. Those that deliver the greatest results with the least effort are complete first. Others that require more effort with little results can be postponed or removed from your to-do list.

Related: The 80/20 Rule Is True for What's Holding You Back, Too

Evaluate all of your tasks and assess your goals.

Another approach is to identify the 20 percent of your tasks that will produce 80 percent of your results. You can accomplish this by asking questions like:

  • Do I consider all of my tasks and functions urgent?
  • Am I wasting too much time on specific tasks?
  • Does this task help me reach my goals?
  • Am I the most qualified person for the job? Or, should it be completed by someone else?

After evaluating your tasks, you'll also want to assess your goals. You'll want to pay attention to the 20 percent of your activities that will help you achieve your objective.

For example, you're in the 20 percent if you're working on activities that improve your life or are related to the big picture. Additionally, you're in the 20 percent if you're spending time doing the things that you enjoy and are delegating items that you're not skilled at.

Related: How Busy Entrepreneurs Deal With Mundane Tasks

Know when you're most productive.

We have a timeslot when you're most alert, focused, and energetic. Some of us are ready to get the day rolling bright and early. Others are most productive at night.

For me, I'm a morning person who wakes-ups at 5:15 am. Knowing this, I schedule my priorities during my prime time and not when I'm running out of steam in the afternoon. It's a proven way to get as much done as possible on a daily basis.

Eliminate the distractions that interrupt you most.

We're surrounded by distractions. Whether if it's an email notification, phone call, knock on your door, or the construction that is going on across the street from your office. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, distractions are unavoidable. The good news is that you can minimize them by implementing the 80/20 Rule. It has been said, after all, the 80 percent of your distractions are the result of 20 percent of your sources.

Make an interruptions log to take note of your most frequent distractions. I would do this for a week or so. Then, comprise a list and review which items interrupt you the most. If emails, phone calls, social media notifications, unplanned visitors, and background are the most common culprits that find ways to get rid of them. For example, you could put all notifications on silent, close your office door, and wear noise-canceling headphones. Try a calendar app if this doesn't work.

Related: Interruptions Are Inevitable, but With These Strategies, You Can Quickly Regain Focus

Ditch the $10 jobs.

These aren't literally $10 jobs. There are menial tasks that could be handed-off to someone else. For instance, you could hire a personal assistant to pick-up your dry cleaning or manage your inbox. You could hire a cleaning service for your home and office. Sure. This may cost you some of your hard-earned cash. But, you can use this extra time to concentrate more on what matters most.

Related: Here's How to Know When You Should Outsource

Take time off.

A couple of Saturdays ago I didn't do a thing. When I picked-up lunch at my favorite deli and was asked what I had planned for the day. While I wasn't just watching Netflix all day, I had used the day to relax a bit with my daughter, gone to the park, visited a couple of people, and did a couple of easy work things to be ready for the next week. I'd ridden my bike 10 miles -- but I needed a day to recharge. I also needed the time to catch up on some reading and do some household chores.

But I realized that the downtime had helped to clear my head and create focus. That day did make it so that I could remain attentive to being in the 20 percent. Instead of feeling guilty about this -- I gave myself permissions for this break, and you can give yourself a break occasionally -- and enjoy your time off.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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