Time Management Blog Series: The Pareto Principle (a.k.a., the 80/20 Rule)

Do you feel like you’re busy all the time yet still not getting things done? Although you won’t always have control over your workload and assignments, further developing your time management skills can help you better manage your responsibilities and end each day with a feeling of productivity and accomplishment.

We’re highlighting various time management techniques over a series of blog posts to give you different tools to utilize depending on your needs, preferences and work style. The reality is that the best time management technique is the one you’ll actually use and stick with, so give different approaches a try and see what works best for you.

We’ll focus here on leveling up your time management skills with the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 Rule.

Pareto Principle: What It Is

Created by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule proposes that 20% of actions are responsible for 80% of outcomes, a powerful reminder that the relationship between inputs and outputs is typically not balanced. Pareto’s theory of predictable imbalance has been applied to almost every aspect of modern life and can be especially useful when used to prioritize tasks and manage your time effectively.

How It Works

Unimportant and low-impact tasks tend to get in the way of important ones — the ones that could have a real impact on our career and organization — for one simple reason: Impactful tasks are usually much harder to complete in comparison to non-impactful tasks. To avoid what’s sometimes referred to as an “urgency trap,” take the time to step back from your work and look for the 20% of tasks that are the most critical and bring 80% of the results. For example:

  • What 20% of your tasks will truly help you advance in your career?
  • What 20% of your job responsibilities bring you the greatest satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment?
  • What 20% of your tasks contribute most toward your department’s and the university’s strategic goals and objectives?
  • Which one or two or your daily activities are responsible for 80% of your time wasted?

Who Will It Benefit?

While the 80/20 approach can work well for just about anyone, it may be an especially good fit for you if you meet any of these criteria:

  • You’d describe yourself as an analytical thinker or problem solver.
  • You are often working on tasks other people want you to, but you have no investment in them.
  • You’re frequently working on tasks labeled “urgent.”
  • You’re spending time on tasks you are not usually good at doing.
  • Activities are taking much longer than you expected.

Additional Considerations

The 80/20 Rule works well alongside other time management techniques, including Eat the Frog, which we covered in a previous post. To briefly summarize: start every day with the task that seems most complex and challenging. No matter how tempting it might seem to do simple and small things first, always do the difficult tasks first to start your day off with a “win” and build momentum.


Despite the 80/20 name, don’t assume the numbers 20 and 80 add up to 100. Your 20% could create 5% or 30% or even 100% of a result. The main goal with the Pareto Principle is to recognize any input vs. output imbalances and prioritize investing your time in the actions that create the highest-impact outcomes.

Below are additional resources that may help you establish a time management approach that works for you. Keep an eye out for additional posts in the Time Management Blog Series that dive into the Eisenhower Matrix, time blocking and more. Do you have other time management tips? Share in the comments section — your ideas may be just the thing another person needs to succeed with time management.


Determining Your Time Management Style (6-minute elevateU video)

Managing Your Time So It Doesn’t Manage You (19-minute elevateU course)

Time Management Blog Series: Pomodoro Technique (SourceLive blog post)

Time Management Blog Series: Eat the Frog (SourceLive blog post)

The Power of Habit (OPD Instructor-Led Course)

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