I read a lot of business books because I just generally like reading about entrepreneurs and how they are so scrappy in taking an idea and making it work. I’m also a big fan of reading about money management and investing. (Note: I still barely open my monthly retirement account reports, but I’m hoping to mature in this area in the next 1000 years and actually apply all of my reading – stay tuned!)

Along the way in my reading, I kept coming upon a concept that applied in a ton of different areas: the 80/20 rule. It’s sometimes called the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule is the idea that 80% of the result of something comes from 20% of the effort. For example, 80% of your earnings in investing typically come from 20% of your funds. Another example in business is that 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. I can tell you that this is extremely accurate in my business, my investments and, when I think about it, a bunch of other areas in my life!

The big idea for me was this: I am spending 100% of my time on ‘things.’ Of those 100% of the time I spend on things, 80% of the outcome is coming from 20% of my input. I recently realized that the 80/20 principle applied to cleaning my house. Here’s how: I would spend an inordinate amount of time organizing drawers, color coding files, labeling things with my beloved label-maker and purging clothes from my closet. They felt good to do and I liked the result. BUT I noticed that if my drawers weren’t fully organized or color coded or my closet was a little more shoved full of clothes than usual, it didn’t really matter AS LONG AS THERE WAS NOTHING ON THE FLOOR OF THE CLOSET AND THERE WERE NO DISHES IN THE SINK. I realized that while I was doing a ton to keep my house clean, the real payoff (the 20%) in satisfaction was coming from making sure nothing was on the floor of the closet and the dishes were either put away or were in the dishwasher.

I started to think about what this meant for me in my teaching life. When I started to deconstruct how I spent my time as a teacher, I realize that I probably did a zillion different things that were great, fun, interesting and creating (color coding pocket chart strips so they were easier to sort, for example), but that didn’t mean that those things contributed to the success of my students. I mean color coded pocket chart strips never really got someone to benchmark as far as I know!?

I’m starting to really think about my work day in terms of the 80/20 principle and analyzing what I spend my time doing that really get the biggest results. Is it sitting in front of email and making sure that my inbox in empty? Not usually. Is it taking every single phone call when it comes in? Definitely not. Is it reading very newsletter that crosses my desk? Nope. The 80% of the output comes from the 20% of the time that I turn my phone off, turn on a little spa music, and close all of my browsers, set a timer in 30 minute intervals and JUST WRITE.

In my classroom that might mean doing my lesson planning (which contributes so much to the success of my lessons) before I do my bulletin boards (which I love to do, but take up a lot of time and don’t really have an impact on the quality of my teaching).


Question of the Day: Which 20% of your tasks/activities in your school day are giving you 80% of the output that you want? If you’re a coach or a leader, what tasks or activities give you the return on the time investment and get you closer to your goal? I’d love to hear from you!