How to work smarter, not harder, for maximum results

Employee brainstorming new ideas for marketing plan. (Courtesy/Istockphoto)

Last week I wrote about the Law of Wasted Efforts. This week I remembered the second law of nature that has impacted my life. Pareto Principal states that 20 per cent of inputs is responsible for eighty per cent of results.

In the Law of Wasted Efforts, a lion will kill only one out of four preys they attempt to catch. Meanwhile, Pareto Principle also called Pareto Rule or the Law of a Few shows that 20 per cent of lions are responsible for 80 per cent of caught prey. A few years ago I was in a valley, that season of life when nothing seem to work.

In my attempt to remain afloat in the turbulent current, I got into the habit of doing anything I came across that promised to meet my immediate emotional and financial needs.

I was operating like my life was an emergency, it actually was. No sooner had I extinguished a fire than floods would wake me up in the middle of the night.

Then a friend invited me to attend a club meeting and one man caught my attention with his demeanor. This led me to make my way to him after the meeting and we began to chat.

I attended several meetings and every time we got talking about life in general, I marveled at his wisdom. Then one day, I opened up to him that my life was one small pond where everything was stagnant.

He asked me a few questions then brought out the Pareto Principle without quoting it. My youthful energy was coming between me and solving the problems that were pressuring my life. He advised me to pick two things, one that was important and one that I enjoyed doing and concentrate on.

It was difficult to cut through the weeds but I did my best. Later, I bumped into Pareto Principle and everything came into perspective.

The rule developed by Italian engineer and economist Vilfredo Pareto states that 80 per cent of consequences come from 20 per cent of causes. It was derived from the imbalance of land ownership in Italy.

Pareto observed that 20 per cent of the population owned 80 per cent of land. This led him and later many researchers to spot what Pareto observed in many areas of life.

In the universe, 20 per cent of organisms account for 80 percent of biomass. In a study of birds in New York that took 13 years, 125 species of birds were identified. Surprisingly, 80 per cent of the birds that were watched accounted for 20 per cent of species.

A small number of species have a huge impact in any ecosystem. Twenty per cent of tree species account for 80 per cent of a forest. Even in Geology, more often than not, minerals account for 20 per cent of the ore rock. 

It has also been called the Law of the Few. It reveals that there is a small number of large things and a large number of small things to balance things off.

It was even noticed in languages where a small number of words like; and, the and a, are used more than the rest of the words.

In businesses, 20 per cent of customers account for 80 per cent of sales. This also applies in customer complaints where 20 per cent of customers make 80 per cent of complaints.

It goes further that; 80 per cent of revenue are generated from 20 per cent of inputs. It is thus good for leaders to identify what are the 20 per cent of things that need to be done well to guarantee 80 per cent of revenue. In churches and social groups; 80 per cent of contributions come from 20 per cent of members.

This also implies that 80 per cent of the work is often done by only 20 percent of members. However, there is nothing we can do to the majority of what we would call today as “dead weight”. We must live with everyone and everything because they make the 20 per cent worthwhile.

It led me to conclude that only 20 per cent of the things I am involved in are very critical to my success. I am, therefore, to identify these few areas and concentrate 80 per cent of my energy and resources on them.

This does not mean that the 80 per cent of what I am involved in is useless and should be discarded. They are just not as important, however, I need to focus on the few that bring in the numbers.

Where the Law of Wasted Efforts urges us to work hard to increase our chances of success, the Pareto Rule teaches us to work smart by focusing on the very necessary while working hard. The catch is you cannot work smart before working hard.

The catch phrase “work smart” applies to identifying the 20 percent that is most important for a larger percentage of your results.

It is also good to work towards penetrating the 20 percentile of influential products and people who account for 80 per cent of revenue and wealth. That is what focusing on a few things otherwise called working smart should lead to.


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