Time Management and the Pareto Principle

“It’s not the hours you put into your work that counts, it’s the work you put into your hours.”        -Sam Ewing

I received pretty good marks in university.  I never won university-wide awards or prestigious medals or anything like that, but I did well enough to receive several scholarships/grants and even set the curve in a few of my classes.  I received these marks not because I was the smartest (I’m definitely not), and not because I worked the hardest (I put in some work, but I also took a ton of leisure time), but because I possibly worked the most efficiently.

Time management for me breaks down into 4 main points.  The most basic time management skill is organization.  Now I’m saying you have to be a neat freak, or that I’m some sort of OCD personality.  If you are either of those things, please cherish that aspect of yourself, because if you harness that energy properly it can be very productive for you.  Instead I am suggesting that realizing the basic routines and systems that benefit you most can be extremely useful and remove a lot of worry from your life.  Some examples are: where to store notes, when to work out, how much sleep you need, what sort of sleep schedule fits you best etc.  Making these beneficial routines habit for yourself will maximize your productivity and leave your mind free to contemplate other matters.  I don’t think there is a one size fits-all method of routines, instead figure out what works best for you and your unique circumstances.  Staying organized is also a must for just about any serious multi-tasking.  If you are not aware of deadlines, you cannot keep track of contact information, and appointments are constantly forgotten about, then you need to realize you are wasting a ton of energy and effort in the long term.  This doesn’t require perfection, it merely requires a commitment to genuine consistency, and an overall high standard.If there is one skill or area that I’m blessed to have a natural ability in, it is the talent of time management and focus.  For most of my life I never realized that the ability to focus completely on something was that important and/or unique.  No matter what I was doing at the time, whether it was sports or academics, I never had a difficult time blocking all distractions out and focusing on the task before me.  It was only after I got to university and seen a lot of really smart people struggle on account of having poor time management skills that I realized time management instincts were very useful to have.  Not only that, but they are often very underrated.

Time management – Prioritization

After you have your life organized, the next step is prioritization.  Without realizing what is most important, what needs to get done the fastest, and what has a very important deadline approaching, time management is very tough to practice.  In order to allocate the proper amount of time and resources to something, you must first determine how important it is.  Do you really need to start partying at 4 in the afternoon, or will 7 do?  If you’re not a competitive athlete is that second workout for the day really going to affect your life very much?  Is getting an A in that course going to affect your chosen job path?  These are examples of big picture questions that should help prioritize just what you want to spend time and effort doing in your life.  What is the most important to you?  What makes you the happiest now?  What will make you happier in the future and consequently is worth working hard for?

Time management – Pareto Principle

The third step might be the least well known one.  It’s known as the Pareto Principle, and once you start thinking about it, it’s amazing how often you notice it in life.  To sum it up, the Pareto Principle is a simple mathematical formula thought up and applied by an Italian economist (Victor Pareto).  The basic idea is that for most areas in life you can get 80% of the results or end product, with a well placed 20% of the effort or input.  In my experience this is definitely true in university.  A+ students needed to give 80-100% of their available time and effort, but B+/A students only really needed to give 20-30% of their effort as long as it was used in the areas of highest impact.  One notable example of the Pareto Principle is that in business, it is generally assumed that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.  Another is that in terms of the world wealth, roughly 20% of the world’s population own 80% of the wealth.  I found that with around 20% effort in multiple areas, I could achieve disproportionate results in each of those areas.  This ties in directly with my fourth point.  I now find daily examples of the Pareto Principle in action.

Time management – Focus

The fourth leg of my time management table is focus.  When someone fully commits their concentration in its entirety to a specific project or goal, the vast majority of the time they surprise themselves with how much they accomplish in a short period of time.  Elite athletes, elite academics, and elite musicians all have the capability to focus on something very specific and they have honed this skill with constant repetition and practice.  To put this into a university perspective, think of the last paper you wrote or exam you studied for.  How much of the time you were sitting at your desk were you fully engaged with your primary goal?  Likely you were texting, glancing at the web, listening to music, thinking about something more fun etc.  Most people have no idea how productive they can be until a deadline focuses them and then they are amazed about what they accomplish; however, if they were to have focused earlier they could have achieved the same level of production without the distraction of desperation.  When you combine this with the Pareto Principle ask yourself if ‘studying with friends’ while listening to music and chatting for 8 hours is as effective as completely isolating yourself and immersing your brain in the material for 2 hours.  My guess is that it is not.  Then stop to realize that completely relaxing with your friends for 6 hours instead of having the stress of thinking about academics while talking to them for 8 hours is probably much more enjoyable.

As time management is one of my favourite areas to look at it, and it is so relevant for university students, I’m sure I’ll be writing on the topic in the future.  Next time I’ll include some specific tips and tricks I found that worked for me; but these are the general strategies that shaped my thinking when it came to maximizing my social/leisure time in university, while at the same time achieving a decent academic standard.

Time management (image credit)

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