From Where I Sit – Pareto’s Principle

It was the mid 1990s when I first heard about Pareto’s Principle. Motivational speaker and multi-millionaire Jim Rohn was in Alberta speaking to the masses. I glommed onto Rohn’s style of speaking: simple, down-home, common sense. I appreciated his ability to distill complex concepts to their essence.

Subsequent research showed that in 1906 an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, devised a mathematical formula to explain the lopsided distribution of wealth in Italy. Twenty per cent of the people held 80 per cent of the wealth.

Simply put, Pareto’s Principle, also called the 80/20 rule, states that 80 per cent of effects come from 20 per cent of causes. Twenty per cent (more or less) of your sales force will produce 80 per cent (more or less) of your sales. Eighty per cent of problems will come from 20 per cent of defects. In a business environment 80 per cent of your income will come from 20 per cent of your customer base.

From a time-management perspective, at work or personally, it behooves us to analyze those activities or behaviours most beneficial to us. Are we likely to advance our goals by watching TV or attending a lecture? Going for a walk or becoming a regular at happy hour? First we must clearly understand our goals (perhaps a promotion, financial security, quality family life, more vacations); then we can hone our actions to help us achieve them. Or we can do all the peripheral time-wasting, energy-busting stuff that makes us feel busy (and even stressed) but is doing squat to move us ahead. In other words, use Pareto’s thinking to manage our behaviour.

But why do I bring this up now? In my experience, this principle applies across the board. Not just in Italy. Not just in our own lives. The theory applies to families and groups. I can scream in exasperation when people don’t keep their word, carry their weight, do their share. Logic should tell me that It’s just the 80/20 rule at work and you can’t mess with these immutable laws. In more rational moments I thank God I’m one of the 20 per cent. I can’t fathom going through life making promises I don’t intend to keep, telling bold-faced lies about my commitment, and dropping the ball over and over again.

In volunteer-run community groups there is a tacit agreement among members that we all need to step up. For the sake of the cause, for the sake of our fellow volunteers. Is this so hard to understand? If you take on a project or are scheduled to work your shift, do it; be there. don’t yap and posture at meetings. don’t come up with brilliant ideas?for others to implement. don’t brag about your involvement to the world when we know how effective and reliable you really are.

Choose instead to become part of the 20 per cent who deliver more than promised. Honestly evaluate your time and energy before committing. Or just stay the hell away, because You’re ticking off the doers, from where I sit.

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