The 80/20 Rule in Studying

Understand the 80/20 rule and use it to help you improve your productivity and study more efficiently.

Businesses will tell you 80% of their revenues come from 20% of their customers, and 80% of sales come from 20% of their product range. Customer service will say they spend 80% of their time dealing with 20% of complaints.

When we look at inequality gaps, we will learn that 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the population, and 80% of health care dollars are spent on 20% of the populace.

Meanwhile, a common adage in the IT industry is that 80% of all end users generally use only 20% of a software application’s features. And Microsoft discovered that about 20% of the bugs they detected caused 80% of all the errors in Windows and Office. 

We observe the same distribution theory in our lifestyle, where we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time, 20% of the exercises we do have 80% of the impact, and arguably only 20% of our relationships give us 80% of the satisfaction and connection we need. There is even a fad diet based on eating wisely 80% of the time and cheating the other 20%. 

The 80/20 rule is in everything. And this simple concept that describes situations where a small number of inputs causes a large majority of outputs can be especially beneficial in helping you supercharge your productivity and study more efficiently. Here’s what you need to know to apply it to your running list of goals.

Scholarship Guide The 80/20 Rule For Studying peas in a pod

What Is The 80/20 rule? 

It all started with Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the people. He then became obsessed with this ratio, seeing it in everything, such as observing that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of his pea plants. Pareto published his findings in 1906, and the 80/20 distribution theory known as the Pareto Principle was born. 

In a nutshell, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of effects originate from 20% of causes. So, if 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions, why not focus your efforts on the 20% that make a difference instead of the 80% that do not add much? 

Here’s what focusing on the 20% to efficiently create maximum value looks like: 

  • Make consistent small efforts (20%) that lead you towards (80%) success.
  • Deep dive into the 20% of what is wrong, and you can expect to solve 80% of the problem.

Misconceptions of the 80/20 Rule

It is important to recognise that the 80/20 theory is more of a guideline than a rule, and it is definitely not a mathematical law. The 80 and 20 figures are the respective outputs and inputs representing different units. As such, the percentages of causes (20%) and effects (80%) do not equal 100%. While the numbers are not always exactly 80/20, what is essential to understand is the lopsided ratio of effort to results.

Whilst the rule focuses on fixing 80% of the problem or aiming for 80% of the success, it does not mean that we ignore the other 20%. It also does not imply that 80% of the causes or efforts are insignificant or trivial. The point here is to be more efficient and stop wasting time on the majority of actions that make only modest satisfaction for you. In other words – to work smarter. 

Scholarship Guide The 80/20 Rule For Studying student studying

How To Use The 80/20 Rule To Study Efficiently

Identify & Prioritise:

It is easy to get caught up on the various tasks and activities in student life. Do not fall for the multi-tasking and hard work paradoxes. Be clear on the task at hand. Know the 80% effect you want to achieve. Then, the crux is in identifying the 20% that matters. Once you discover the 20%, go full throttle at it. Here’s a tip to help you prioritise: Write a to-do list. If there are ten things on the list, choose the top two most important tasks and focus on them. By working on 20% of your tasks, you will gain 80% of the results from them.

Study Smart:

The prioritisation idea is the same when studying for exams. Identify topics that will create the most benefit for an upcoming exam and focus on those first. Pay attention to concepts that lecturers spend a lot of time on and common topics that appeared in past year’s papers. This is not to imply that you should ignore the rest of the materials. The key is to fully work on the crucial 20% before spending time on the rest—to secure at least 80% of the results. 

For this to work, seek to understand the material and actively revise beforehand, rather than cram everything into the eleventh hour and rely on memorising. When you develop a good understanding of the core topics, you can apply your knowledge to questions displaying things you may have never seen before. Oftentimes, you can also derive the rest of it with the little bit that you know, and you will not be as stressed for not focusing on the 80% of materials even in your last-minute studying.

Use the Pomodoro Technique:

We all have a limit before our attention begins to wander. Studying and mulling over assignments for long hours can reduce concentration, and not feeling productive after spending so much time on the work can be incredibly frustrating and draining. Short breaks are proven to help improve focus. The Pomodoro technique can help you study and work efficiently whilst ensuring that you get your interval breaks. 

Here’s how it works: Set a timer for 25 minutes, during which you will have full concentration on your work, then take a 5-minute rest. Do this consecutively four times, then take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. The 5-minute break amounts to almost 20% of the total 30-minute study time in each segment, aligning with the 80/20 logic, where the 20% rest time reduces 80% of procrastination. See how everything is coming 80/20 together? 

Assign Consistent, Frequent, But Short Study Sessions

If 80% of knowledge is gained in 20% of the time, surely making consistent small efforts every day to reap 80% of success is not too much to ask. Assign short study sessions for each subject a few times a week. Break down your assignments to be completed across multiple bite-size sessions. Make each session count.

Limit Distractions, Focus & Recreate Optimal Conditions for Being Productive:

Whilst you are at your committed sessions, be sure to tune out all distractions, such as putting your phone on airplane mode and finding a conducive workspace to concentrate on your goals. Do not switch between tasks. Your focus must be on one thing, one subject, one assignment at a time. Figure out the conditions under which you are most productive. For example, you may function best in the early morning, after breakfast and a short workout, with a cup of coffee on the side and listening to music without lyrics. And if those are the conditions that put you in great form to execute the crucial 20%, recreate those conditions every time you need to focus. 

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Final Thoughts

We only have 24 hours each day, 7 days each week, and limited time. Do not be a slave to a never-ending list of things to do. Achieve more by focusing on less. Use the 80/20 Pareto principle to help you prioritise.

In the same way you apply the 80/20 rule to improve productivity and study efficiently, do the same for your emotional well-being. If 20% of how you spend your time brings you 80% of happiness, be sure to focus your energies on those joyful activities. Start living 80/20 today.