Principles of Design: The 80/20 Rule

I received the book, Universal Principles of Designfor Christmas. This book was recommended as a foundational text for anyone interested in design, and after only getting through a portion of the book so far, I have to agree. The book has definitions, explanations and illustrations of 101 principles, and I am learning a lot as I make my way through the book.

Of course, as I’m reading, I’m thinking about how the concepts apply to what I do every day, and blogging in general and I thought I would use some of the principles as inspiration for posts.

The first principle in the book is the well-known “80/20 Rule” or “Pareto Principle“:

A high percentage of effects in any large system are caused by a low percentage of variables.

Spend Time Wisely

The 80/20 Rule is most helpful in determining where to put your time and resources. If 20% of a site’s functions are used 80% of the time, then it only makes sense to focus time and attention mainly on these items. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to get bogged down in some minor detail that ends up sucking all your time away.

I have 2 ways of dealing with this issue:

  1. I complete the most important items first, so that if anything is going to get shortchanged on time as a deadline is looming, it will be the least critical elements.
  2. If I get stuck on a less important item, I force myself to put it aside until the most important pieces are complete. Often, giving my subconscious time to ruminate on the problem makes it easy to solve when I get back to it.

Using the 80/20 Rule as a Formula for Success

Another way to think about this principle is to look at all of the activities that consume our time as we work towards success in whatever we’re trying to accomplish. The 80/20 principle indicates that about 20% of the activities we engage in are responsible for 80% of our success. The other 80% of the activities might be somewhat useful, but are not major contributors to the bottom line.

An interesting exercise might be to list out all of the activities you participate in during the time you have to work. If, for example, you’re working towards being a successful blogger (whatever your definition of success is), then you have multiple activities you engage in including things like researching and writing posts, tweaking your site, reading other blogs, commenting, networking, participating in social media such as Twitter and StumbleUpon, etc. and the list goes on. Rate all these activities by how much they contribute to the actual success of your blog.

Let’s say you have 5 hours a day to devote to your site. 4 hours should then obviously be given to those things that fall into the top 20%, leaving an hour for all the other items.

It is so tempting to get sucked into Twittering away the day, or reading every last item in the feed reader, and before you know it the day is gone and nothing has been accomplished. This happens to me regularly. If I would only keep my eye on those few things that are most important, I would be much more productive.

Okay, so this post has been a big pep talk to myself really. There is so little time and so much to do. I need to be more disciplined. I encourage you to check out the Universal Principles of Design- it’s a great read.

My 2 Year Blogaversary is coming up at the end of January! I’m celebrating with a week-long Blogstravaganza with lots of prizes, so be sure to check back or subscribe so you won’t miss it!
Published on: January 19, 2009 | Category: Blogging, Design