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The Pareto Principle: Work Less, Achieve More

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, states that for many phenomena 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. The principle has been named after Vilfredo Pareto; an Italian economist who, back in 1895, noticed that about 80% of Italy’s land belonged to 20% of the country’s population.

Although originally the Pareto principle referred to the distribution of wealth, it can be applied to a wide variety of contexts. Some cool examples:

  • ~20% of seeds planted result in ~80% of the flowers.

  • ~20% of the world has ~80% of the wealth.

  • You wear ~20% of your clothes ~80% of the time.

In fact, The Pareto Principle comes also in handy in the setting of time management.

Once you realize that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of the time and effort you spend on them, the importance of prioritizing becomes obvious.

For instance: if you have a 10-item to-do list with each task being equally

time-consuming, you can boost your efficiency by identifying and completing two top-priority tasks. As a result, even if you don’t manage to do all the remaining tasks, the 20% you completed could amount to up to 80% of the impact.

What if this rule can be applied to academics?

Simply put, 20% or less of the studying you are doing is leading to the majority of your results. Furthermore, 20% or less of your course content comprises the majority of the content on your exams. Remember, professors (whether they know it or not) are applying the 80/20 rule to their exams.

Due to time constraints, they need to test your knowledge on their course on only a few pieces of paper. Without a doubt, they are going to do their best by testing the most important ideas of the course which tends to be about 20% of the material they teach.

While this sounds amazing in theory, how do you actually apply it?

Here are a couple of tips that you can use:

  • Note down how long a professor spends talking about a topic. If they talk about it in-depth and for a fair amount of time in class, it is probably something you are going to want to remember for the exam.

  • When a professor says this is the type of question you’ll see on the exam, take note of it! They often aren’t kidding. In a class with hundreds of diagrams in it, you will be able to ascertain exactly which three were going to be tested on the final simply by looking at your notes and seeing when your professor said "possible test question."

  • Do not memorize! The only way this rule is going to work is if you seek to understand the material rather than simply memorize it. If you can understand the core idea of the material, you can often-times derive the rest of it with the little bit that you do know.

Eventually, thanks to incorporating Pareto's principle into your time-management strategy, you can maximize your efficiency by limiting the amount of time you spend doing something. That can have the biggest impact on your study habits and help you achieve more by working less.

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