Work Smarter, Not Harder: How to Improve Time Management with the 80/20 Rule

It always seems like there are a million and one things we need to accomplish and not enough hours in the day to do it all. You know why that is? It comes down to inefficient time management.

We busy ourselves, spending too much time on the things that don’t really matter and not enough time on the things that do.

Time management is about prioritizing and setting aside those tasks that are not really important.

I know what you’re probably thinking: But everything seems important. So how do I know what to prioritize?

Ah ha. Everything may seem important—but it’s not. I’ll tell you why.

The Power of the 80/20 Rule

Many years ago, the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to 20% of the population. Pareto’s law has since been found applicable to nearly every situation imaginable, with the main idea being: 80% of output results from 20% of the input. Of course the exact percentage may fluctuate—but the concept remains the same: The majority of output comes from the minority of input.

Effective time management is all about homing in on that 20% and ignoring or setting aside the rest.

To apply this transformative law to your work life, start by asking yourself the following:

  • What 20% of my to-do list is generating 80% of my results?

Then: It might be time to cross some things off that never-ending to-do list of yours. For each task you decide to complete, ask yourself: Is this task really going to be effectual and drive business growth?

  • What 20% of my products or services are bringing in 80% of my profits?

Then: focus your energies on those products or services that are actually generating profit.

  • What 20% of my customer or client base is bringing in 80% of the revenue?

Then: Focus on that 20% and ask yourself: what characteristics do that 20% have? How can I find other customers that are similar?

  • What 20% of customers are delivering 80% of the complaints? 

Then: Get rid of all that unnecessary baggage. If the feedback is not constructive and the majority of your customers are happy, guess what? It’s time to say goodbye to some folks.

  • What 20% of my content is generating 80% of the engagement? 

Then: Try to recreate content that is similar to that 20%.

  • What 20% of my webpages are  getting 80% of the views?

Then: Determine why that might be the case and how you can spruce up those pages that aren’t so popular—or maybe even get rid of them.

Bottom line? Stop wasting time on the ineffective majority and spend more time on the potent minority.

The 80/20 Rule in Action

Steve Jobs once spoke to Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, and this is what he told him: “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

Blunt? Absolutely. But it drove the point home. Why waste even a second of your time on the “crap” that is not significantly improving your bottom line?

Here’s another example: In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss talks about how, “out of more than 120 wholesale customers, a mere 5 were bringing in 95% of the revenue. I was spending 98% of my time chasing the remainder…all, and I mean 100%, of my problems and complaints came from this unproductive majority…”

From there, Ferriss states that, “I then identified the common characteristics of my top-five customers and secured three or so similarly profiled buyers in the following week.” The result? His monthly income jumped from $30k to $60k in four weeks and his weekly hours went from 80 to 15.

Once he implemented the 80/20 rule, Ferriss was able to give his undivided attention to the customers that were really bringing him profit—and ignore the rest.

The lesson learned here is this: If you spread yourself too thin, trying to please everyone or do everything, your results will be suboptimal. If, on the other hand, you stay laser-focused on just a few things; people; or products or services, you will be much more effective. So devote your time and energy to the small, but powerful, minority.

Now, does it come as any surprise that we are pretty big fans of the 80/20 rule here at SUCCESS agency?

In the words of our CEO, Avin, “we [once] took every single thing we were doing and put everything on post-it notes on the wall. We then divided the notes up into three different buckets: what drives incredible results, what drives minimal results and what brings hardly any results. This way, we could instantly get rid of the things that weren’t driving any results; we set aside the things that were driving moderate results; and we then doubled down on the things that were driving the most results.”

As a result, we received a measurable 30% increase in productivity, in terms of meeting our goals with fewer resources (time and money) invested.

Need I say more?


Your time is too precious of a resource not to manage. The problem is that learning how to properly manage time does not always come easy, especially since the society we live in tends to praise busyness and 80-hour weeks, while equating working less with laziness.

The trick is remembering that success is not about the number of hours you put in—it’s about the results. If you can do more in less time, that’s called productivity—not laziness.

Prioritize your to-do list and focus on the things that are going to drive the most results. Take a good hard look at where your revenue is coming from and refocus your energies on that. And ditch that which is not bringing you positive results.

Finally, many of us like to think that we can (or should) handle anything and everything that comes our way. But can and should are not the same thing. Sure, you can spend several hours filing those papers or fixing your television…But is that the best use of your time? (Hint: the correct answer is no here.) Instead, try and focus only on what you can do within your organization, and hire a virtual assistant (or two) to handle the rest.

Effective time management takes discipline. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. But if you manage to free up your valuable time to focus solely on the things that really matter (and now, hopefully, you know what those things are), can you imagine the success you’ll find?

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