Time Management : Prioritize Using the Pareto Principle

We always say that time is gold, for its one of the most limited resources that we have. Granted, we always have ‘the next day’ to start over but there are things needed to be done to the deadline, before evening, now – and sometimes all at once.

In any case, our day requires us to juggle priorities, appointing our attention to tasks depending on how important they are. Just like budgeting our money, we can’t really buy all the things that we want all at the same time – we need to determine which item should be purchased first. And that gives us the challenge of giving priorities: how do we know which should go first?

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto might have the answer. In the 1900’s, he noticed a curious thing about the distribution of wealth in Italy. Pareto observed that around 80% of the land around Italy (i.e. the big majority) was owned by only 20% of the population (i.e. the elite). To state it simply, there’s exists an uneven distribution of wealth in Italy, with the select few owning a majority of the wealth.

Now this same observation of Pareto’s can also be observed in other phenomena. What matters in this observation is that there will always be a select minority that accounts for a given majority – the least of the crowd that has the maximum benefit. The figures may vary (i.e. 20% of clients account for 90% of the sales, 10% of the employees do 10% of all the work) but uneven distribution is its core. This is called the Pareto Principle, and maybe one of the most influential time management strategies that people apply today.

How do we apply this to time management in the educational setting? Remember that even though we have ways to manage our study time, it still all boils down to what makes the most impact. Working with the ballpark figure 20%, we have to determine that particular fraction of what we do that exerts the most benefit (around 80%) to us. Now remember that we’re not talking about a 100% output, it’s all about managing a compromise between what would work for the most benefit, given the short amount of time we have.

For example, let’s say you have 10 hours free to do a paper (and in this case, let’s assume that 10 hours is average time to finish that kind of paper). There are many ways to go about it; for example, one time management alternative is to go through the whole 10 hours to finish the paper. You could also draft, let’s say 2 different papers on the first 5 hours, then choose 1 paper to edit and revise in the next. What the Pareto Principle suggests, is to use the first 20% of your time – in this case the first 2 hours – writing an outline of around 10 papers then devoting the next 8 hours writing about the best of your drafts. In any case, if something happened at the start of the third hour, let’s say a quick trip to grocery, you already have a lot of outlines to choose from. The work is already cut out for you, and you just need to flesh out the details.

The Pareto Principle points out that given a limited amount of time, we can always choose to prioritize the tasks that could give us them more bang for our buck. In the case of our 10-hour paper, it makes sense to draft a lot of outlines first, because at that point, the majority of the task (again, not always 80%) is already finished. Whether it’s about writing an academic essay , doing examination preparation, or devoting time to just about any task you could think of, in a nutshell, it’s all about the creating the maximum effect with the least effort.

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