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The 80/20 Rule: Higher Productivity, Less Work

The 80/20 Rule: Higher Productivity, Less Work

By Chark Jen Wei


Did the title get your attention? 

You can accomplish better results with only a fraction of the effort. Is this simply wishful thinking or a valid approach to handling work?  

Well, this would seem less of a fantasy when one learns about the 80/20 rule. What is the 80/20 rule? 

This concept was created by Italian philosopher and economist Damaso Pareto around the year 1900. He noticed that 80% of healthy peas come from 20% of his plants in his garden. This observation led him to seek out this distribution pattern in the world, and he discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population - 80% of production came from 20% of companies and many more similar phenomena. This then led him to author a book detailing his findings that popularised the idea known as the Pareto principle which is commonly referred to as the 80/20 rule today.  

This 80/20 rule means that 80% of the results comes from 20% of causes. This pattern can be seen in some examples: 

  • 20% of the input creates 80% of the result 
  • 20% of the workers produce 80% of the result 
  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue 
  • 20% of the bugs cause 80% of the crashes 
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage 
  • 20% of customers make up 80% of complaints 

This shows that in our world not everything is made equally which is a concept that most people are aware of. In a perfect world, every employee should contribute the same amount of work towards company productivity, but the reality is, only a small portion of the total workforce is productive. 

This 80/20 principle is not a strange concept if one really thinks about it. For example, if we apply the principle on the wear of the carpet: 20% of the carpet will take 80% of the daily wear damage. This is reasonable because generally, the occupants in the house will take the path of least effort towards point A to point B. Speaking from a personal point of view, 20% of the area on my mobile phone contain 80% of finger smudges and scratches.  

Now that you know about the 80/20 rule, we can use this to our advantage at work. If we have a difficult and overwhelming task, it will give us some solace in knowing that by just inputting 20% of effort we will be able to accomplish 80% of the result.  

For example, when looking for a job, the desired result is finding a company that is suitable for one’s skillset and experience. So, the logical choice is to research and consider jobs that are the most suitable for one’s liking. Therefore, jobs that have undesired aspects such as location, skill compatibility, interest, etc should be given significantly less attention. Do not consider every opening, and waste time poring through vacancies that are not suitable for you. 

The same 80/20 rule applies when writing an impactful resume too. Focus only on important and significant facts to ensure an employer will notice all the positive attributes.  

If you are doing freelancing work, it is important to identify which are your highest paying clients and your highest sought-after skills. Focus on people that are more likely to ask for your services and focus on skillsets that are more likely to be called upon. Of course, you should never put all your eggs in one basket but the 80/20 rule still apply when trying to diversify your work. Spend less time on trying to learn skills that you are weak at and spend more time on honing the skills that you good at. 

If the 80/20 rule holds true, it is highly likely that 20% of what you are good at is making 80% of your income.