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It’s not every day that you come across a tried-and-tested rule guaranteed to optimize your effort and improve your output such as the 80-20 rule.

A few things are important; most are not  Richard Koch, The 80-20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less

What is the 80-20 rule?

The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle or the Law of the Vital Few and the Trivial Many, states that, for a lot of events, 80% of the results are from 20% of the causes.

Business management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of the Italian land was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto had developed the principle by observing that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

What this means is that, a lot of the time, 20% of the work needs to be your priority, while the other 80% is not worth wasting your energy on at first.

This productivity principle has been applied to many different work practices. We’ll discuss some here along with the takeaways from each. Feel free to jump to the ones most interesting to you.

80-20 rule in software development

If you work in software development, you should know it’s common that 80% of users will use only 20% of your product’s features. The other 20% (who you call your superusers) are the ones who use all the features. So while you’re driving yourself crazy with all the new and exciting features you want to include, the majority of your users will unfortunately not be noticing them.

80-20 rule software development code

Also, in 2002 Microsoft learned that 80% of the problems in Windows and Office were caused by only 20% of all bugs detected. What this means is that you might be incredibly busy fixing each and every bug in your software but your users are still not satisfied. Sound familiar?

Takeaway: The most used 20% of your features should be as close to perfect as possible. So develop, test, and ask your users for feedback. Don’t branch out to more features before these 20% are satisfying to the massive 80%. And instead of spending a lot of time fixing all the bugs in your software, identify the top 20% and work on them.

80-20 rule in sales

The sales industry is undoubtedly interesting. What’s even more interesting is this: The 80-20 rule applies to your customers and clients in that 20% of them result in 80% of your profits. That should tell you from where to expect your next big deal.

20% of your clients result in 80% of your profits. #8020ruleClick To Tweet

Takeaway: Work hard to know everything about the top 20% of your customers: what they need, what they like, and what they hope for. This way you’re able to provide them with the best possible service. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other 80%, but we’ll get into that later.

80-20 rule in project management

Managing a project can be a daunting task, but it shouldn’t. Applying the 80-20 rule here means that, at any time during the project, there’s only 20% worth your attention. If an area is using up your resources and you can’t figure out what’s going wrong with your project, then this probably is the other 80%.

Takeaway: Identify the 20% that matters the most before you start working on any project and delegate the other 80%. Make sure all your actions are directed towards that 20% and you should start seeing a difference.

80-20 rule in social media marketing

80-20 rule social media marketing analytics

Connecting with your audience through social media is not about you. It’s about them. That’s why 80% of your content should inform, educate, and entertain your audience, while the remaining 20% should be about your business.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? Why would someone spend time on your Facebook page if it’s all about what your company achieved in the last quarter? They would care a lot, however, about content that shows them how your product can make their lives easier.

80% of your social media content should inform, educate, and entertain your audience. #8020ruleClick To Tweet

Takeaway: Always carefully consider what you want to put on your social media channels and evaluate it based on its benefit to your audience. This will help you reach more people, which is not bad for business at all.

80-20 rule in team management

Applying the rule to team management means that the top 20% of your team members are the ones who produce 80% of your outcome. This obviously doesn’t mean you’ll ignore 80% of your team members. On the contrary, identifying them will help you understand what they need to develop.

Takeaway: Identify the 20% members to be able to confidently assign and delegate the most important tasks and focus your development efforts on the other 80%.

80-20 rule in time management and productivity

80-20 rule priority time productivity

There are not enough hours in the day to get everything we’d like to complete done. You’ve had this thought before, haven’t you? But the 80-20 rule tells us that as little as 20% of our effort produces 80% of the outcomes we’re looking for. This means that the time we have should be focused on this 20%.

Takeaway: List your tasks, order according to priority, and work on the most important. Don’t put effort where you’re not likely to get results.

You now know how good the 80-20 rule is for you. But wait.

80-20 rule wait limitation

Before running off to apply it to every aspect of your life, you need to understand its limitations.

Focusing on the top 20% can be quite productive, but does that mean you should completely ignore the other 80%? For example, can you afford to ignore 80% of your customers? Or if replying to emails at work is considered a bottom 80% task, should that email asking for updates on a certain project in your inbox just stay there, unread and unreplied to for days?

The answer is no. It’s all about prioritization and optimization. Decide on your priorities and then optimize your resources to achieve them. Then and only then should you move on to the other 80%. Approach the 80% with the same mentality: Prioritize, optimize, perform, and repeat.

Prioritize, optimize, perform, and repeat. #8020ruleClick To Tweet

Are you ready to give the 80-20 rule a try? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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