80/20 Rule

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 5, 2013.

There seems to be a law of nature called the 80/20 rule. It manifests in a lot of different areas…80 % of your progress comes from 20% of your effort. 20% of your portfolio yields 80% of your profit. 80% of your fun comes from 20% of your leisure time. 20% of your “friends” cause 80% of your grief. Study this phenomenon in your own life.

The 80/20 rule is also called Pareto Principle, after 19th Century thinker Vilfedo Pareto. He described the distribution of probable results and options as a mathematical function that is then graphed.

The resulting graph gets divided into the vital few and the trivial many.

Chunking is learning to solve problems by leveraging this rule. If you face a project that is incomprehensibly large and complex, break it down into smaller tasks. One of them (usually a 20% piece) is the key. Discover it. If that chunk is still to large/complex, break that chunk into pieces. Find the key part or chunkVilfredo_Pareto. Rinse/repeat until you have a key piece that constitutes a small enough chunk to handle.

If the chunk is will be something that you show the world, it is what Agile terms a minimum viable product (MVP). Your project might create an MVP or it might only be part of one. If the key chunk of the project proves not to be doable, you have just saved an enormous amount of research time. If it proves workable, you have created a plan for accomplishing your goal!


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