How To Apply the Pareto Principle

Also called the 80/20 Rule, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. How does that make you feel?

I’ve seen clients’ reactions go from amazement and excitement (“You mean I can stop doing most of my work?!”) to frustration (“So over half of what I’m working on is pointless?”), but most people end up wondering one thing: How do you choose which 20% to focus on? Or, in other words, what is the “right” 20%?

I recently worked with a mastermind group to apply the ideas in the How To Guide to Taking Action in Your Business: Move From Busy to Results and this was a key question that came up.

What we’re really talking about here is prioritization; prioritization is an important step in the Agile Life System so we practice this everyday and have found two primary methods for identifying the most important 20% of your tasks to focus on.

I didn’t make either of these up (and will give credit below), but I have practiced them myself and with clients, and can say that they work:

Identify your big wins and what enabled them

I got this one from Kate Northrup and her book Do Less. Take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. On one side of the paper, write down your big wins from the past year. On the other side, write down all of the things that you could be doing. Now, draw lines between the big wins and the types of activities that enabled them. If you see a theme in terms of important activities, do more of that.

For example, in my own business, I was putting a lot of time into online marketing (trying to figure out Facebook ads and webinars, for example), but when I looked at my biggest win (a six-figure consulting client), I realized that it had nothing to do with online marketing. That client found me through a former colleague, who recommended me. That pointed me to focusing more on my network and connections I could make through people who already know and trust me. I started showing up for more face-to-face events, reaching out to colleagues, and building relationships.

One of the questions I got when supporting the mastermind group in this method was how we define “big win.” Is it always about money? My answer is an emphatic “no.” A big win can be about impact, whether you’re impacting one person or many. If you truly helped someone with a problem, that is a big win in my book. Growing your email list or starting your podcast may also be considered big wins, although they don’t directly result in immediate revenue.

Identify the ONE thing

This comes from Gary Keller’s book titled, The ONE Thing. Ask yourself a question: What is the ONE thing that will make everything else easier or irrelevant?

To apply this, you have to first make your goals actionable. So, look at your goals; I would start with quarterly goals to simplify. Brainstorm all of the actions you need to take to reach those goals. Now, look over that list. Are there items that make everything else easier or irrelevant?

A woman I was working with was just starting out in her business and had a looong list of action items. Writing weekly content, initiating a social media strategy, and defining her product beta were among the items on her list. She realized that her barrier was that, while she knew her content well, she hadn’t formally taught it before. She realized that by beginning to teach, she would make everything easier...she would have stories for blog posts and social media, she would refine her messaging, and she could quickly iterate on her product.

She decided her ONE thing was to just start teaching and everything else would get easier.

Applying the Pareto Principle is just one way to begin prioritizing, which is essential to using the Agile Life System to move from busy to results.

Download my free How To guide to learn more!

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