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.

TIP

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.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

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)

Time Management Blog Series: Eat the Frog

Time management is an area where most of us could use additional practice and skills. Over a series of posts, we’ll highlight time management techniques to give you different tools to utilize depending on your needs, preferences and work style. The reality is that the best productivity 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 Eat the Frog method.

Eat the Frog: What It Is

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Inspired by a quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, Eat the Frog isn’t just a catchy phrase but also a powerful approach to help you reach high levels of performance and productivity. Deceptively simple, Eat the Frog comes down to one simple activity: identify the Most Important Task (MIT) or “frog” for your day and complete it first.

How It Works

  1. Identify Your Frog/MIT. Just one—pick your most challenging, most important task for the day.
  2. Eat the Frog. Complete this task first thing in the morning.
  3. Repeat Every Day. Observe how consistently “eating a frog” every day adds up to large results over time.

It really is that simple! Eat the Frog can be combined with other productivity methods — for example, the Pomodoro Technique — but is also a powerful tool in and of itself.

Who Will It Benefit?

While the Eat the Frog 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 struggle with procrastination.
  • You have trouble deciding what to work on.
  • You feel overwhelmed by your to-do list.
  • You have a hard time sticking to a productivity/time management system.
  • You complete a lot of work but aren’t making progress on important projects.

Why It’s Effective

Eat the Frog is a powerful time management tool for a number of reasons.

  • It’s simple, straightforward and flexible. Maintaining a complex, multi-step productivity method can feel overwhelming. Eat the Frog is a simple approach you can fall back on at any time with almost zero prep work.
  • It sets you up for an easy “win” at the start of your day. Any day you “eat your frog” is a good day. Tackle a difficult, important task first thing to gain momentum and motivation for the remainder of your day.
  • It allows you to set your own agenda. Rather than beginning your day in a reactive mode — responding to emails and addressing the needs of others — put your highest-priority task first on your daily agenda before other requests take you in other directions.
  • It provides space for deep work. Eat the Frog forces you to push back against external and internal distractions and focus on one task at a time while prioritizing actions that will bring you closer to your goals.

Additional Considerations

Here are tips to help you consistently and successfully apply this simple time management technique.

  • When choosing your frog/MIT, consider that these are typically tasks that are important but not urgent—the type of task that creates mental resistance and leads to procrastination if you don’t intentionally create space for it.
  • Choose a task you’ll be able to complete in 1-4 hours. A frog should be clearly defined and realistic, only requiring a few hours, tops. If the task can’t be completed in 1-4 hours, it needs to be broken down into smaller steps.

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.

Additional Resources

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)

The Power of Habit (OPD Instructor-Led Course)

Sources

Kane, Becky. Eat the Frog. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/eat-the-frog.

Tracy, Bryan. Eat That Frog: Brian Tracy Explains the Truth About Frogs. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/the-truth-about-frogs/.

Time Management Blog Series: Pomodoro Technique

Are you juggling multiple, competing priorities? Do you feel like you’re busy all the time but are still not getting things done? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Time management is an area where most of us could use additional practice and skills.

Over a series of posts, we’ll highlight various time management techniques 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 Pomodoro Technique.

Pomodoro Technique: What It Is

As bizarre as it may seem to think of time management in units of tomatoes (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato), millions of people swear by the Pomodoro Technique. This popular time management method has you alternate pomodoros — focused, 25-minute work sessions — with frequent, short breaks to promote sustained concentration and reduce fatigue and burnout.

Developed in the late 1980s by overwhelmed Italian university student Francesco Cirillo, Cirillo asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time. Encouraged by the challenge, he found a tomato/pomodoro shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.

How It Works

1 pomodoro = 25-minute focused work session + 5-minute break

  1. Pick one project or task you want to focus on.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on that single task until the timer goes off.
  3. Mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed. Use whatever medium you prefer — perhaps an Excel spreadsheet, a physical notebook or an online project management tool.
  4. Take a five-minute break.
  5. Go back to Step 1 and repeat the process until you’ve completed 4 pomodoros.
  6. Then, take a longer, more restorative break in the 15–30-minute range.

Who Will It Benefit?

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

  • Distractions often derail your workday.
  • You tend to work past the point of optimal productivity.
  • You are faced with open-ended work that could take unlimited amounts of time.
  • You enjoy gamified goal setting.
  • You frequently overestimate how much you can get done in a day.

Additional Considerations

The core of the Pomodoro Technique focuses on the alternating “sprints” of productive time and rest periods. Applying the following three rules will help you get the most out of each interval.

  1. Break down complex projects. If you’ll need more than four pomodoros to complete a project, the project needs to be divided into smaller, actionable steps. This will help ensure you make clear progress on your projects.
  2. Group small tasks. Tasks that will take less than one Pomodoro should be combined with other quick tasks within one session.
  3. Do not break up a pomodoro once it begins. Once your pomodoro timer starts, be mindful to not check incoming emails, team chats or text messages. Simply note any ideas, tasks or requests that may come up as something to come back to later. Focus solely on the task set aside for the pomodoro.

What if You’re Interrupted?

Some disruptions just can’t be avoided. If this occurs during your pomodoro, address the urgent matter at hand, then take your five-minute break and start again. Cirillo recommends tracking interruptions as they occur and reflecting on how to avoid them in your next session.

What if Your Task Doesn’t Require a Full Pomodoro?

Planning ahead with Step 2 above — grouping small tasks — will help avoid this, but sometimes you’ll finish your given task before your timer goes off. Use the duration of your pomodoro for related learning, skill improvement or increasing your knowledge around the topic.

Tip

You don’t always need to complete four Pomodoro sessions back to back. Even just one or two Pomodoro sessions a day can set the tone to help you feel more focused and productive.

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, Eat the Frog(!) 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.

Additional Resources

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

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

The Power of Habit (HR Organization and Professional Development Instructor-Led Course)

Sources

Collins, Bryan (2020, March 3). The Pomodoro Technique Explained. Retrieved March 20, 2022 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryancollinseurope/2020/03/03/the-pomodoro-technique/?sh=41f602ca3985

Scroggs, Laura. The Pomodoro Technique. Retrieved March 18, 2022 from https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique.

OPD Course Spotlight – Everything DiSC®: Behavioral Styles at Work

“Eye-opening”

“Inspiring and fun”

“True game changer”

Everything DiSC®, a popular virtual training and personalized learning experience from HR Organization and Professional Development (OPD), has earned rave reviews from participants and is currently open for registration in the EBS Portal for July 20, 2022.

The DiSC® program provides you with a pre-course, individual assessment — a tool powered by more than 40 years of research — which is then analyzed to deliver detailed information regarding your preferences and tendencies. The live, online portion of the course, led by OPD’s knowledgeable and experienced DiSC® facilitators, offers an opportunity to learn more about relating to others and how to utilize actionable strategies to help you improve your interactions and, ultimately, your performance.

In this OPD course, you will:

  • Gain insights into your own behaviors and those of others.
  • Understand and appreciate the work styles of others.
  • Learn how to communicate and persuade more effectively.
  • Create strategies for overcoming challenges when working with people of different DiSC® styles.

“Everything DiSC® can benefit everyone in an organization,” explains Carrie Galdes, MSU HR Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist and DiSC® facilitator. “The program teaches participants to understand themselves and others while learning to appreciate the different priorities and values each person brings to the workplace.”

DiSC® participants have cited everything from decreased stress to increased productivity to an improved work environment as examples of the program’s positive results.

Angela Levack Michael, Associate Director for MSU Recreational Sports and Fitness Services, notes, “DiSC® training helped me see my colleagues from a different point of view. Understanding their personality styles allowed me to assess my communication style and gear interactions towards their strengths.”

DiSC® for Teams

OPD also hosts unit-specific DiSC® sessions, which can improve engagement, collaboration, and overall quality of a team and organization.

Lisa Duffey, Executive Staff Assistant and Graduate Program Assistant in MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, shares, “Our team took advantage of the work-from-home situation to do some professional development and team building by taking the DiSC® assessment and having OPD help us understand the results. We learned about our own behavioral tendencies and those of our coworkers as well as ideas about how to facilitate teamwork and approach each other when things are awkward. It was an excellent opportunity for growth as individuals and as a team.”

Interested in learning more? Register for an upcoming Everything DiSC session in the EBS Portal, or complete an online OPD Work Request Form to schedule a DiSC® program for your department.