How to improve effectiveness? That’s a question corporations have been asking themselves since they came into existence. What else can possibly be said about the subject?
This article is my small contribution to the reams of literature dedicated to effectiveness, in particular, personal effectiveness. How good are you at producing intended results?
The more effective we are, the closer our results reflect our intentions.
The article will show you how you can use a mental tool known as Pareto’s Principle to increase your effectiveness. It will introduce you to the principle, describe how it was developed, how it rose to prominence today and provide examples on how it can be applied in daily life.
Knowing and applying Pareto’s principle is a great way to become more effective. Ever since I learned about it in 2017 I have been applying it and have been happy with the results. It has even been useful to my spiritual development.
If you want to learn about a tool which empowers your effectiveness and frees up time and energy for you to do other things, or simply relax, I highly recommend you read this article through to the end.
What Is Pareto’s Principle And How It Was Discovered
In the early 20th Century, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that land ownership in Italy was unequally distributed (image from Wikipedia). He observed that a minority of landowners owned the majority of the land in Italy. He expanded his observations to include other countries and noticed the same trend.
Pareto’s observation has been distilled into the following maxim: 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. In other words, our results are not directly proportional to our efforts. Some efforts are more effective than others at producing intended results.
Pareto’s Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. Hence the image in the introduction.
Pareto’s principle has been observed in manufacturing, finance, management, quality control and customer service. While the principle is not a law, there are exceptions to its application, it does provide a framework to analyze and prioritize our activities. This type of analysis is known as “Pareto analysis”.
Let’s get into some examples of it’s application.
Dr. Juran Successfully Applied Pareto’s Principle In Japan
Today, Japanese manufacturing and engineering is widely regarded as world-leading. But it wasn’t always like that. At the start of World War II, Japanese craft products like swords, paper and woodblock prints were superior to anything is Europe. But consumer exports were of terrible quality. This led to Japanese products acquiring an international reputation of shoddiness.
Enter Dr. Joseph Duran, an American engineer and management consultant.
In the 1940s, Dr. Juran realized that Pareto’s Principle could be applied to quality control issues. He observed that 80% of the quality control issues were caused by 20% of the product defects. By focusing on fixing 20% of the product defects, a company could get the biggest return for the time and energy it invested. This lead Dr. Juran to coin the term “The vital few and the trivial many”.
In 1954, Dr. Juran traveled to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers. The Japanese had taken note of Dr. Juran’s work in the United States and wanted him to teach his theories on quality control processes to senior and mid-level managers. He went on to visit Japan 9 more times to teach his quality management techniques; his practices became firmly embedded in the country’s engineering and manufacturing industries.
The Japanese integrated Dr. Juran’s teachings into their management practices and developed a schema which is now known as “Total Quality Control”, wherein every member of an organization conrtibutes to the improvement of quality. This organizational focus on quality translates into increased customer satisfaction.
While Dr. Juran is on the record stating that the Japanese would have improved their quality control methods with or without him, this story does lend credence to the utility of Pareto’s principle.
More Examples Of Pareto’s Principle
According to this article on Heflo, other examples of Pareto’s Principle are:
- 20% of a companies products represent 80% of sales
- 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of the results
- 20% of students have grades 80% or higher
- 20% of marketing efforts give 80% of the results
And the most important for me…
- 20% of a blog’s posts generate 80% of the traffic.
There is variability in the ratio of causes to consequences established by Pareto’s Principle. The ratio will not always be 20 to 80; sometimes it can be 28 to 62 or 17 to 83. But you can be sure that some processes will be more important than others; engaging in “Pareto analysis” can help you identify which causes account for the greatest consequences.
How I Employ Pareto’s Principle
A blog’s success can be measured with one metric: quality traffic – the number of people visiting and engaging with the writing. I include the word “quality” because traffic by itself is not a valid measure of a blog’s success. A blog can have hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, but if only a few thousand of those visitors actively engage with the blog’s content, then most of the traffic is not good quality.
In running this blog there is one activity which outshines all the others when it comes to driving quality traffic. Can you guess what it is?
It’s writing quality content. Writing quality content is the 20% of work which drives 80% of this blog’s traffic. It takes me a few hours to write a blog post, depending on the length. However, behind those few hours are more hours of research and creative thinking to come up with relevant articles.
I could research and think till my head exploded, if I didn’t sit down for a few hours to type out and edit an article, none of my mental work would matter.
Therefore, I make time almost every day to sit down and write. I know that writing quality content is the most important driver for this blog’s success. So I have built writing into my daily habits.
Thanks to Pareto analysis I was able to identify the most important activity for my blog’s success. Once identified I could focus on it and invest my time and energy effectively.
Can you see how to employ Pareto’s Principle in your life?
Pareto Analysis And Meditation
I first learned about Pareto’s Principle in Time Feriss’s “The Four-Hour Workweek”. That was in 2017. Since then I have been applying it to as many aspects of my life as I could identify.
You can use Pareto analysis to convince yourself to do things. By identifying the activities most relevant to your success, you can muster the time and energy to follow through with them. You begin to think “What I’m doing now is the highest use of my time and energy.”
For example, in 2017 I learned about a meditation technique which claimed to address the root cause of all suffering. In the Buddhist tradition, suffering is known as “dukkha“. Dukkha is a Sanscrit word with no matching English translation, it can be most closely interpreted as “unsatisfactoriness”.
All suffering; the anxiety, misery, depression and the like, stems from one source: dukkha. Most of the running around humans do; achieving this or that, getting something or other, going here or there, are attempts at ending suffering, at addressing dukkha. But the more we chase the more dukkha we experience, so we chase and chase to end it. It’s a dastardly paradox wherein our seeking to end suffering only perpetuates it. Like endlessly running on a treadmill where the more we run the faster we have to go to stay in the same place.
Much of modern life is much ado about nothing. Until we chill out and address dukkha we’re caught in the suffering cycle with no end. But we can choose to escape from it.
Pareto Analysis Convinced Me To Meditate
According to the meditation teacher, by regularly practicing Vipassana meditation one could cut out suffering at the root. “What could be more important than that?” I asked myself. Dedicating 5% of the hours of a day to address the suffering of the remaining 95% of the hours seemed like a fantastic deal.
Thanks to Pareto analysis I was able to convince myself to dedicate time every day to addressing the root cause of my suffering. And it worked – I now suffer less than I did in 2017 – my life is much more satisfactory.
Talk about effectiveness.
One More Personal Example
Another book I read in 2017 was “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” – The main takeaway from the book was that exercise improves the functioning of every bodily system. It improves brain function, energy levels, focus, mood, bone strength and more. It is one of the most powerful tools we have to improve the quality of our lives. Nothing can replace it.
Again, after reading the book and using Pareto analysis, I was able to identify the importance of exercise. I realized that using 2-5% of the hours of a day to exercise would benefit the remaining 95-98%. Understanding this, I was able to convince myself to work up a sweat regularly. The result has been great health and the power to engage with life in the ways I want to.
But it didn’t stop there. After learning about the power of exercise I then asked myself “What are the most effective exercises I can do to maximize the effectiveness of my energy and time?”. I did another Pareto analysis – I Pareto’d my Pareto.
After some research I learned that some of the most effective exercises are: running, swinging a kettlebell, hiking and doing Six Degree Flow. That last one is an advertisement, just so you know – it’s a challenging and amazing workout; I do it several times a week.
How Can You Employ Pareto’s Principle?
Learning new things is the beginning of positive change, but the most challenging (and rewarding) part of directing personal change is implementing what we learn. To aid you in employing Pareto analysis I will ask you a few questions.
- What activities bring you the most joy? Is there a change you can make in your schedule to ensure that you can regulalry dedicate time to those activities? For example, I love reading, so I’ve arranged my schedule to have time to do it almost every day.
- What relationships challenge/teach/nourish you the most? Have you been dedicating time to these relationships? If no, what can you change to be able to do so? Answering the next questions might be able to help you.
- What work activities produce most of your results? Are there ways by which you can increase your focus on those activities? I guarantee you there are. What would happen if you focused more energy on those activities and got the same amount of work you get done now, in less time? How would you use your freed up time?
Pareto’s principle is a mental tool; it helps us identify and focus on what matters. In order to use it most effectively you need to know yourself – What matters to you? What are your heartfelt desires?
A word of caution – if what matters to you are activities which disempower you (like binge drinking), then applying Pareto’s principle will lead you to making more time for those activities. What will the consequences be? Pareto’s Principle is like any tool, the results of using it depend on the human being who wields it.
Final Thoughts On Pareto’s Principle
I’ve been applying Pareto’s principle since 2017 – it has granted me increased motivation and focus. During my work day I do my best to ask myself “Is this the highest use of my time right now?” Only if the answer is “Yes” do I engage in the activity.
During my free time I ask myself, “What is the activity which would bring me the most joy now?” sometimes it’s reading, other times its going for a walk with my girflriend and other times it’s being with a friend. Of late, reading news has taken up a good chunk of my free time – I’m aware it’s not the highest use of my time, but I do it anyways. Like every human, I remain imperfect.
It’s what we do with our time that forms and shapes our identity. Using Pareto’s principle we can get a clear picture of what activities will craft the identity we want. From there it’s all a matter of consistent repetition with progressive optimization until one day we become who we envisioned.
And what happens from there? I believe the highest human power is self-creation – choosing who we want to become and directing our time and energy to that effect. On the way, God guides us – the more our life honors God, the more God blesses us. The more our life is an ever-evolving, dynamic act of worship to the Divine Creator, the more loving, adventurous and challenging it becomes.
To our wealth and success.