In 1906, Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of its population. This Power Law, which later came to bear his name, is now a common rule of thumb in business. Most notably, it’s believed that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers.
But how does this power law apply to us as individuals? The most obvious is that 80% of our productive output comes from 20% of our tasks. That’s right, 80% of the time you spend at work, contributes to just 20% of your value. Thinking of this another way, in a standard 10-hour day starting at 8.00am, by 10.00am, just two hours in, you could already have delivered 80% of your value to the company. If you were to go home then, it wouldn’t make a huge amount of difference.
This might come as a bit of a shock. I mean, we all bust a gut at work, but only 20% of the things we do really make a difference? Two of the ten things on our to-do list, are four times more valuable than all the others put together? Well yes, if Pareto’s Law is correct, that’s exactly what it means.
So what should we do about it? The most important thing is to be aware of this dynamic and to plan properly. Look at your role and daily tasks and get a feel for what the most valuable actions are. Management mogul, Peter Drucker advises us to ‘Do what you and you alone can do.’ That’s where your true value lies. Not in the reporting, the meetings, the team management and all that other daily routine.
If you only did one thing for your company, the thing you do the best and enjoy the most – what would it be? Write it down. Now what’s the next most important thing you bring to the company? Write that down too. And here you have your two things, your twenty percent. You might throw in a third, just to make sure you’ve captured the killer value you bring.
Now focus all your energy on those two or three key things. Do them again and again. Get better and better at them and you will exponentially increase your value to your company, and probably enjoy yourself a lot more at work.
The sad fact is most of us spend 80% of our time doing things we don’t fully enjoy, and those are often the things which also deliver the least value to the companies we work for. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the most valuable and enjoyable tasks and do those all the time?