The transition to a work-from-home set up was initially viewed as a chance to increase productivity. No more figuring out what to wear in the morning or struggling to come in on time! We only needed to get up, have coffee, and start working.
However, remote working also introduces additional barriers to distributed teams. It’s also inevitable that the boundaries between work and home life eventually blur to non-existence, yet achieving work efficiency becomes even more difficult.
The less work we got done during the day, the longer hours we put in. This creates a dangerous cycle where there’s no clear time to work and no time to rest, affecting both productivity and personal wellbeing.
In fact, a study conducted by Professor Isamu Yamamoto of the department of Business and Commerce at Keio University showed that 35% of respondents felt that telecommuting had negative effects on their mental health.
Fortunately, applying the 80/20 Rule may be able to help get you and the team back on track.
What is the 80/20 Rule?
In the late 1800s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto was working in his garden when he noticed that about 80% of the peas came from 20% of the peapods.
This ratio came up again in his study of unequal distribution of wealth in Italy, which showed that approximately 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to 20% of the population. Further research led him to discover that this problem also existed in similar disproportions in other countries.
Surprisingly, the phenomena was found to have a broad range of applications, including computer science, quality control, and even sports. Business theorist Joseph Juran later dubbed the imbalance of inputs and outputs as the Pareto principle or the 80/20 Rule, which asserts that 80% of results come from 20% of causes.
Applying the 80/20 Rule in the Workplace
It’s important to note that the 80/20 Rule is not a law, but an observation. However, it can also be an extraordinary guiding principle to improve both productivity and employee wellbeing.
Applying the 80/20 Rule is especially useful for remote teams. Here’s how to do it.
80/20 in Problem Solving
According to the 80/20 rule, 80% of problems in the workplace are caused by only a handful of issues that need to be fixed.
For example, if you notice that there are frequent misunderstandings between you and your co-workers that cause projects to be delayed or to not have great outcomes, this may suggest that the method, channel, or frequency of communication needs to be improved.
Another sample scenario is if projects normally go smoothly in the beginning but somehow end in total chaos at the last minute, there might just be a single crucial step missing in between.
Why struggle when there might be a way to optimize your processes?
Take a step back to identify the 20% of causes that result in 80% of your or the team’s problems and focus on fixing that. It will make a much greater difference than if you simply put out small fires as they come up.
80/20 for Time Management
Have you ever felt overwhelmed with the workload, like there’s too much to do and everything is ‘urgent’?
Chances are, many of the items on your to-do list won’t actually make a huge impact on the business. The Pareto principle would suggest that only 20% of your workload actually requires you to bring your a-game.
The first step to using the 80/20 rule for task management is to identify which tasks are most valuable for the team or the business. At the beginning of each day, determine which tasks are within the top 20% of your most valuable work (crucial for business operations or revenue) and which are the bottom 80% (nice to haves, won’t affect the company’s bottom line).
Focusing your efforts on the high-value tasks first is a better use of your time. Only once those are completed should you move on to the latter 80%, which you can then do with less pressure.
80/20 Rule for the Household
Ideally, remote employees should only do work during work hours. However, that is rarely the case.
Luckily, the 80/20 rule also applies to household chores or other distractions that may occur at home. Identifying which 20% of tasks at home absolutely need to be done on a workday means you can attend to the 80% only if and when you have the time for it.
Keeping this in mind ensures that you’re not frequently disrupting your work to attend to minor tasks at home that can wait.
Using the 80/20 Rule at work and at home helps you maintain focus, make a difference, and keep you sane. Once you identify the top 20% of your responsibilities on the daily, they become much less overwhelming to tackle.