The 80/20 rule (or Pareto Principle) can help you boost your productivity by doing what really moves your goals forward.
In the wonderful world of working less and doing more, the ideal life is one where you have a magical genie’s lamp. You rub it, tell the genie what you want, and it happens. You’ve worked less. Far, far less. And done more. Far, far more.
This is the ideal life. And Bernice, owner of Green Growing Things Plant Stores I and II, dreams of someday having that lamp. She has so much to do, and it seems like everything is more work.
It seems so easy to work more and do less, but that way lies ruin. Bernice’s genie is right in front of her: it’s called the Pareto Principle, or more commonly, the 80/20 rule.
Less Is More…Almost Always
It turns out that reality is lumpy. Not all things are created equal, not all actions have equal consequences. Let’s say you want a big, beautiful house. If you actually have a genie, you can rub the lamp and ask for it. BOOM! You’ve got 24 karat gold toilets. Good for you.
But what if you have the lamp, and instead of rubbing it, you put it on your shelf and spend your time day-trading cryptocurrencies? You make enough money on paper to buy those gold toilets, but the crypto-exchange you’re using gets hacked, and a 13-year-old Russian high schooler steals your entire net worth, leaving you broke.
You have two possible actions: 1) rubbing the lamp, and 2) trading cryptocurrencies. Rubbing the lamp will get you a house. Trading cryptocurrencies will get a 13-year-old high schooler a house. Clearly, not all actions are created equal.
Reality Is Really Lumpy
What Pareto observed is that generally, only 20% of inputs control about 80% of outputs. 20% of the population controls 80% of the wealth. 20% of your actions produce 80% of your results. (The rest of your actions don’t have much effect one way or another.) And so on. Bernice can use this to her advantage.
Revenue Is Lumpy
Bernice lists out all the product she sells, along with sales records for the last year. She figures out how much revenue each product accounts for.
The store sold $1,000,000 worth of plants last year. Of that, $550,000 came from sales of Audrey IIs, $250,000 came from sales of Venus fly traps. The rest of her inventory—more ordinary plants like roses, lilies, orchids, and snozberry bushes—sold only $150,000 combined.
It turns out that 80% of her revenue came from the sales of her two carnivorous plants: Audrey IIs and Venus Fly Traps. If she wants to increase her revenue, chances are that concentrating on the carnivorous plant market will get her the biggest revenue boost.
Profit Is Lumpy
But gross sales isn’t the same as profit. Audrey IIs have a really small markup, because they already cost an arm and a leg, and the market won’t support a high markup. Though the price is high, the profit is low.
The breath mints by the cash register, however, cost her a few cents, and she sells them for several dollars as “artisanal breath mints.”
She makes a list of all the products she sells, and how much of the store’s overall profit comes from each product. To her great surprise, 80% of the store’s profit comes from breath mints.
Activity Is Lumpy
Bernice’s task list is also subject to the 80/20 rule. She reviews her list and, for each item, asks how much eat item contributes to the store’s success. Not surprisingly, she decides that her sales and marketing efforts–20% of her time–is ultimately responsible for the store’s success. If she boosts her sales and marketing time from 20% of her time to 40% of her time, she could double the size of the store.
Combine the lumps
But having done her 80/20 analysis, Bernice can use the results to make her time even more productive. Previously, she concentrated on selling large batches of Audrey IIs to large, corporate call centers. That brought in a lot of revenue.
But what she really wants is profit. Profit comes from breath mints, primarily purchased by retail customers who visit the store. This suggests she test concentrating on in-store consumers by adding more high-profit impulse purchases. Though her revenue will be lower, she’ll actually take home more in profit.
She could also use her 80/20 analysis to suggest to her big call center customers that they buy breath mints with their Audrey II orders. After all, with all the meat they eat, Audrey IIs can have seriously bad breath, so breath mints make sense as an accessory. A very, very high profit accessory.
Everything Is Lumpy
An 80/20 analysis helped Bernice understand revenue, profit, product mix, and growth strategy. But you can use it everywhere. Like relationships. Of all the things that bring Bernice and her shmoopie Melvin closer, she realizes that sharing new analytical techniques makes Melvin light up like nothing else. Geek talk is only 20% of their relationship, but it’s 80% of their bonding time.
You don’t need a genie, you just need 80/20.
Knowing this, Bernice realizes that sharing the 80/20 principle with Melvin will make him deliriously happy. So she packs up early, closes the store (putting some sample packages of breath mints outside the door as a gift for any customers inconvenienced by the early closing time), and rushes home for good old-fashioned quality geek time.
Because at the end of the day, there’s an 80/20 rule for life. And for Bernice, 80% of her deep happiness comes from her friends and family, not her business. So profitable though it may be, sometimes shmoopie-time is just more important.
Use the 80/20 rule anywhere you want to get more results. Ask which 20% of the effort, time, or money is producing 80% of the results. Then double down on that 20%. You can find out what brings the most revenue, profit, and products. You can find out what brings the most happiness. The most closeness. The most joy. Because reality is lumpy. And you don’t need a genie to get what you want out of life…you just need to take your lumps and use them to work less and do more.
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