Can you really increase productivity using the 80/20 rule?


BY Sam Davies


12 July 2017

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By this definition, I feel like a lot of business owners are stark raving mad, myself included a lot of the time. We get so caught up in the day to day and ‘busyness of business’ that we often lose sight of the bigger picture.

The 80/20 rule is no new theory. It has existed in nature since time itself but was popularised by the Italian economist Pareto. He observed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pea pods. This theory he saw applied (loosely) to most things. 20% of the population owned 80% of the land. 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the people etc etc. (Although often it is more like 95/5). The core principle is that:

80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs

In my business, I know that this is true yet I feel like I ignore it often and am making my life much harder than it needs to be. The last few weeks we have been under constant deadline pressure and at maximum capacity in the studio. The days and weeks fly by and my ‘To Do’ list never seems to be completed and rolls over on a daily basis.  Is there more work than I have the hours to do? Should I work 18 hour days instead of 12?  Do we need more staff or fewer projects?

No. These are not the answers.  

It is cliche to say “work smarter, not harder” but cliches are often spot on, and in my case at least this is exactly what the doctor (of economics) orders. The 80/20 rule makes a lot of sense to me when I apply the lens to my business and also how I personally work. Roughly 80% of my productive work comes from  20% of the day (7am-10am). My brain is sharp and connections flow easily in the morning, a task that might take me 2 hours at 3pm I can smash out in 20 minutes. Yet I force myself to work through the afternoon and into the evening pushing against the tide for the sake of keeping up appearances! If I know intrinsically that I perform high value tasks with minimum productivity after lunch, why bother doing them? Why not spend that time exercising, in meetings or on tasks that require less critical judgement. I started my own business so I could dictate my time, yet I feel as if I am a slave to the clock. Why?

Humans are suckers for routine and we love to get trapped in vicious cycles we think we can’t control.  I want to be in the 20% category that realise we CAN control almost every aspect of our lives. I have put myself in a position where I can dictate my own hours and to a certain extent choose the way I spend my working hours, so I should be maximising my return.

Based on this I am going to set myself a goal for this month – I am going to adhere to the following rules:

  • Map out my week to highlight the 5 most critical tasks that will contribute the most output
  • Set 1 critical task each day and perform it before 11am, giving it priority over everything else
  • Allocate 1 hour per day in the afternoon to exercise (this is more often than not the task I will ignore when I am ‘too busy’ )
  • Impose a social media blackout from 7:30am – 12:00pm
  • Allocate 1 hour each day to lead generation (blocked out and interruption free)

I will check back here on a weekly basis and also via ‘Facebook’ and ‘LinkedIn ‘ to hold myself accountable and to report on the outcomes.

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Sam Davies

Sam has been running a Digital Agency in some form or another for almost a decade. He loves the internet and the positive changes it has brought to the world but still loves time away from the glowing cubes. Surf, Fish, Drink, Cook, Laugh….Drink! You can follow him on Instagram @samdaviesdn and on Snapchat @digitalnoir