Way back in 1906 the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto came up with the observation that 80% of Italy’s wealth (in terms of its land) was owned by 20% of the population. And thus was born a maxim to describe any and every uneven distribution of things in life! In projects like buildings it is said 80% of the work is completed in 20% of the time and then the remaining minuscule takes up the largest amount of time. In most offices it’s a common complaint…the fact that 80% of the work is done by just 20% of the people (of which perhaps 20% grumble about it!). Of our smart phones it is said 80% of us only use 20% of the software features on the device. Most big corporate houses generate 80% of their revenues from a few top clients…just 20% of them. Software professionals complain that 80% of their time is consumed fixing 20% of the bugs. All us weight-watchers know that 80% of the weight gain problems are caused by those devilish 20% of desserts and cakes! There is even an eighty-twenty relationship equation—the first part of which says that in any healthy relationship only 80% of your expectations are met. And the second part states that eighty percent of the relationships fail in the futile search for the missing 20%! And with all these examples Pareto’s original observation still holds true…20% of the world’s current population it is said, even now controls 82.7% of the planet’s wealth.
What i have come around to believe from experience is that if most things in life are not distributed evenly, then instead of wasting time on the inconsequential 80%, concentrate on the crucial 20%, and to do that the unimportant has to be swept aside first. Reduce choices to a 1:5 ratio and you will see that life becomes simpler when you make decisions by allocating time, resources and effort based on this. When you sit down to write for a given hour, don’t chew on just one idea…think of five in 10 minutes and then pick the one that appeals most and write on it for the remaining 50 minutes. Females perhaps have an intuitive idea about this applicability. Any one will tell you that when getting ready for an occasion instead of agonising over one dress for one hour, it makes more sense to spend a couple of minutes in picking out five first, and then spend the remaining time in picking one…less stress and better decision!! A similar exercise helps even when you are out shopping…if you have five shoes/dresses/bags etc laid out in front of you, the decision time gets reduced dramatically just by the need to eliminate four! From this to more serious life-issues is a simple step…line up the problems, spend 20% of your time working out their relevance and impact and you know what needs your maximum time and effort.
On a more serious note though, at the end of it all, the Pareto-principle itself is just an observation not a universal law of nature. For somethings in life there is no eighty-twenty allocation…you just need to give a hundred percent.