Work Less And Do More By Applying The Pareto Principle To Your Task List

Work Less And Do More By Applying The Pareto Principle To Your Task List

The Pareto Principle says that in most situations roughly 80 per cent of effects come from only 20 per cent of the causes. We can use the Pareto Principle to better manage our time and focus on the things on our task list that really make a difference.

Image: Kalyan Chakravarthy

Harvard Business Review notes that practically everything is unimportant. The Pareto Principle has been applied to almost every human endeavour, from software development to investing. (Two examples: 90 per cent of Warren Buffet’s wealth is from just 10 investments and in sales, typically 80 per cent of revenue comes from 20 per cent of the sales team.)

Looking at our own productivity from the lens of this “law of the vital few”, we can cut the 80 per cent of our tasks or projects that are unimportant or don’t contribute to our end goals.

You can use the 80/20 rule to cut out or delegate categories of tasks or focus on individual to-dos:

HBR suggests writing down your top six priorities of the day — and then crossing out the bottom five. Work on the top one for 90 minutes first thing in the morning. Every time you’re about to waste time on things like Twitter or checking email, write down what you are about to do (to stop you in your tracks).

If you have trouble prioritising your tasks, the Inc. business blog suggests another strategy:

When you make a “to do” list, prioritise each item by the amount of effort required (one to 10, with one being the least amount of effort) and the potential positive results (one to 10, with 10 being the highest impact.)

Now divide the potential results by the amount of effort to get a “priority” ranking. Do the items with the lowest resulting priority number first. Here’s a simple example:

  • Task 1: Write report on trip meeting.

    Effort=10, Result=2, Priority=5

  • Task 2: Prepare presentation for marketing.

    Effort=4, Result=4, Priority=1

  • Task 3: Call current customer about referral.

    Effort=1, Result=10, Priority=0.1

See your new priority-based order? You do Task 3 first, Task 2 second and Task 1 last — if at all.

This way, you ensure you do those important low-effort tasks that make up 80% of your success.

The Unimportance of Practically Everything [Harvard Business Review]

Surprising Secret to Time Management [Inc.]


  • Their maths appears to be a little off. Their calculations have been done backwards. i.e. Effort/Result rather than Result/Effort. Results in some very different numbers.

    • Yes, but either way you do it, you still end up with tasks in the same order of priority, however, instead of starting at the highest number, you start at the lowest…

      It really just depends whether you think higher priority should be represented by a higher or a lower number…

  • I love this systems. Are there any Mac/iPhone task apps that use this Pareto Principle. I think this is really smart way to organize tasks. Although I agree, it seems dividing IMPORTANCE/EFFORT provides whole numbers that are a bit easier to wrap your mind around. 10 being most important, 1 being the least important.

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