The 80/20 Rule and Procrastination


6a00d8341d451353ef01156fc1811e970b-320piThe 80/20 Rule has been one of the most helpful concepts for my time and life management.  Also called the “Pareto Principle” after the Italian economist, Pareto recognized that people in his society were divided into two groups:  The “vital few” were the top 20 percent in terms of money and influence, and the “trivial many” were the bottom 80 percent.

Bottom 80 percent?  That’s harsh!

He also discovered that just about all economic activity operated by the same principle as well.  For instance, the principle states that 20 percent of one’s activities will account for 80 percent of their results; 20 percent of customers account for 80 percent of sales; 20 percent of products account for 80 percent of profits; 20 percent of our tasks will account for 80 percent of the value of what we do.

Basically, if you have a list of 10 items to do, two of those items will be worth 5-10 times more than the other eight put together.  If you think about it, you know this to be true!

The long (and often unimportant) to-do list

Each of the ten tasks mentioned above may take the same amount of time to accomplish.  However, one or two of the tasks will contribute 5-10 times the value of the others.

Many times, I have found that one item on my to-do list will be worth more than the other 9 items combined.  Don’t you think this is the first item I should try to complete?

However, this one item is normally the item that the average person is most likely to procrastinate.  Most people procrastinate the top 10-20 percent of items that are most important.  The other 80 percent (the “trivial many”) contribute very little to real results.

Do less to accomplish more

You know that co-worker who appears to be busy all day long but never seems to accomplish anything?  This is because they are working on tasks of low value while procrastinating on the one or two activities that could make a huge difference in their career.  If only they focused on the “vital few”, they would be in great shape.

The most valuable tasks of the day are, of course, the hardest and most complex.  The payoff for completing the tasks well can be enormous, though.  Therefore, you must focus on the top 20 percent of tasks to be done before spending time on the bottom 80 percent.  Before you begin working, ask yourself, “is this task in the top 20 percent or in the bottom 80 percent?”

Resist the urge to clear up small things first, or you will spend your entire day doing small things.

This is the crazy (and wonderful) thing about habits: whatever you choose to do over and over again becomes a habit.  Habits are hard to break, but you can always build a new habit on top of an old one.  You do not want to build a habit of starting your day working on low-value tasks.

The hardest part of an important task is getting started on it.  Once you start a valuable task, you will motivate yourself to continue.  It is fun to work on a task that you know will make a huge difference.  Get used to doing this, and it will become a habit.

Get pumped!

Think about how you felt when you completed an important task in the past.  Felt good, right?  Just thinking about starting and finishing a huge task motivates you and helps you overcome procrastination.  Many times, the amount of time it takes to complete an important task is the same time it takes to complete an unimportant one.  The difference is the feeling of accomplishment and pride in completing something that makes a difference.

Time management is all about controlling what you do, and in what order.  Success comes with deciding what the important and unimportant tasks are in your life.  The most successful and productive people discipline themselves to start with the most important task.  They force themselves to stick with it, thus accomplishing more than the average person.  We should all attempt to work this way as well!

Carnivals I was included in last week:

Carnival of Financial Planning at Planting Our Pennies
Carn. of Financial Camaraderie at My University Money
Carnival of MoneyPros at Making Sense of Cents
Y and T’s Weekend Ramblings at Young and


  1. Always happy to see a post on this topic and you did it right, Tony. You know as someone who teaches music how this principle plays out with students. I have about 40 students and I am lucky to have 2-3 that are really killing it at any one time.

    As for a to-do list, some time in college I stopped the nonsense of going for the little fish first and dove straight into the most difficult and challenging tasks first. Thankfully this attitude has carried into adulthood and I continue to attack the top 20% like a viscous Komodo Dragon, or something like that.
    cj recently posted…The Boons of Our Shared BackgroundMy Profile

    • Thanks, CJ. Interesting to look at it through the eyes of education. I’ll have to look into the viciousness of Komodos…they always look so chill.

  2. This is a really great article. My job is based on the little things, so I definitely focus a lot of time on them,but there are some big things that I should be slaying first before moving on to the big things. I’ll try to implement this into my day today.
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…Why You Should Be Skeptical of Financial “Rules of Thumb”My Profile

  3. This is so true. My boss actually taught me to do the hardest thing first every day, you know that one thing you’re dreading doing? That way everything else seems so easy!

  4. I’ve been caught in that trap, too — the one which says that if I complete a whole LOT of low hanging fruit tasks, I’m really getting a whole lot done. I know that realistically it doesn’t work that way, but I can keep dreaming. I’m definitely a Pareto disciple as well. :) Thank you for talking about it!
    Emily @ Financial Money Tips recently posted…Pay the Rent! + MOREMy Profile

  5. That’s true. It’s much easier to give more credit and time to the easier tasks and putting the harder one on the back burner that will add more value. I’ve done it and battle with it all the time. That’s something I’ve been working on getting better at. I know when I quit smoking that if I didn’t just start to quit that I would never be over a year smoke free today. Sometimes we have to take the hardest things that we have to do and start them on top of the crappy things just to get the ball rolling. Great post Tony.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted…PF Weekly Reading List #18-Come Hang Out In My Closet, I’ve Got Beer and Breakfast!My Profile

  6. Very true! I have a hard time doing this at work – I know that if I talk to the right people, many of my tasks can get cleared up within the hour. But I put it off because it’s hard to get a hold of people or I don’t like approaching them for help or whatever. As a result, it sometimes will take me longer to finish something than it should.
    CF recently posted…Updates: April 28 – May 4My Profile

  7. I’ve always believed in the 80/20 rule and found that it applies to mots situations in life. That being said, we have to be careful about choosing those 20% tasks that will have the maximum impact .
    Harry @ Smart Money Junction recently posted…15+ Ways to Create Multiple Streams of IncomeMy Profile


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