The Pareto Principle

ParetoYou’ve probably heard the saying that 80% of the work gets done in 20% of the time. But what does that even mean, especially for the less mathematically inclined? Simply put, this mantra means that 80% of people’s work time is spent on trivial tasks. It is only in 20% of the time that the real work gets done. Why? Just think of all the distractions that compete for your time.

There are 5 workdays in a week. 4 of them are totally wasted on busywork. Think about this in terms of school: Maybe 1 day a week you have classes for your major. The rest of your time might be lectures, worksheets, web post discussions, quizzes, reaction papers about your feelings, dioramas, group projects, and so on, needlessly, sucking at your time like a vampire.

The Pareto Principle was named after Vilfredo Principle. Just kidding, his real name was Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). An early 20th century Italian economist, he observed both that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population and that in his own garden, 80% of the peas were on 20% of the plants (it remains unclear as to whether his garden was located in the 80% or 20% of his own research), he also observed that The principle applies to a great deal of life today, and is at the center of a great deal of management theory, business research, and even psychology. However, you can use it, too, in your everyday life. (Source:

He looks a bit like an Unemployed Professor, which means you should totally listen to his advice about time management. In other words, the Pareto Principle tells us that we need to work smarter, not harder. That might mean turning off your phone when you study, or deleting Facebook. It might mean managing your time ever more effectively: for example, do whatever you can to ensure that you shore up important tasks before they become both important and urgent (use a Covey time management graph, the subject of a forthcoming blog post).

Or it might mean looking at your list of dismal, mediocre assignments designed to fluff the ego of your Employed Professor, and outsourcing the job to an Unemployed Professor while you spend your time focusing on what matters to you.