There’s a filter I try to use every day to make sure I’m maximizing the effect my work is having on the business. It’s called the 80-20 rule, or the Pareto Principle.

The theory states that

  • 20% of your customers will give you 80% of your revenue
  • You wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time
  • You use 20% of software features to get 80% of the value of that software
  • 20% of the population control 80% of the wealth
  • 20% of the players in a sports team create 80% of the wins
  • You spend 20% of your time to produce 80% of your day’s output
  • And the one we really care about today: 20% of the effort you make produces 80% of the results

It comes down to whether you use your time efficiently or effectively. AKA working smarter, not harder.


You may spend a busy day getting a lot done, ticking off a lot of tasks, having a lot of meetings, and finishing the day thinking, “I used my time efficiently today and got a lot done”. You give yourself a pat on the back and think you did well, but did you actually do anything useful today? Or did you just complete a bunch of stuff that didn’t really matter.


Instead, take some time at the beginning of the day to work out which of the tasks on your plate really matter. Which ones will unblock others and allow them to get more done. Which will have a disproportionate result on the business. Over time you’ll be able to work out a hierarchy of work, allowing you to do it in the right order every time without having to think too hard about it. You may find that you end up getting fewer tasks done in a day, but the ones you did were important, and really made a difference.

Figure: The Pareto Principle