Pareto’s Principle and the Micro-Business

In last week’s blog we talked about the fact that running your own company gives you the freedom to explore your passion, with the flip side of the need to bring in money to pay your salary. Micro-business owners are responsible for everything, and so deciding how you balance your time between competing activities is a challenge.

Scientific research is at the heart of Pixalytics, but I also want to promote science. So for me I have to balance doing the work we have, bringing in new business, my scientific research, running the company and the volunteer roles I do to support the promotion of science; this week I’m in Warsaw attending the 34th EARSeL symposium.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Pareto Principle, originally set out by the Italian economist Alfredo Pareto in 1906 when he observed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. The 80/20 rule as it’s also known has been applied across business in a variety of ways. For example:

  • 80% of your sales come from 20% of your products,
  • 80% of software problems are caused by 20% of the bugs; and
  • 20% of your efforts should yield 80% of your results.

As you’ll have probably gathered from our blog I’m someone who likes to do lots of different things; so determining which 20% of my activities I need to focus on would be really useful. Over the last couple of months I’ve been reading ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less ‘ by Greg McKeown which is a variation on the 80/20 principles, but focuses on doing what you’re best at which is also probably what you enjoy most too!

The book’s message struck a chord. It made me realise I need to reduce the number of things I do, so I can focus and concentrate my effort on key tasks; essentially simplifying my life. These things are easy to say, but some of the small steps I’ve already taken are:

  • Unsubscribing from mailing lists I don’t read to reduce my in-box.
  • Immediately discounting meetings I don’t think will directly contribute to the business / my primary interests, even if my scientific half thinks they would be interesting!
  • Reducing the number of conferences and workshops I go to.
  • Reducing the number of presentations I give, so I’ll talk about something new rather than just updating the previous presentation with small increments.

These are first steps for me, but what about you? Have you given any thought to what is the most valuable 20% of your day, or perhaps more importantly what do you do with the other 80%. For example:

  • How much time do you spend being swamped with electronic data and information, rather than just accessing what you need?
  • Do you attend networking events because you feel you need to rather than want to or feel they’ll generate sales leads? (see our previous blog)
  • Do you spend time thinking about what you want to do, or do you go with the flow and not actually make conscious decisions?

For micro-business owners every task can seem critical, and it’s easy to carry on doing what we’ve always done – after all doing it has got us a business! However, this doesn’t mean everything you do is benefiting you or your business.

Take a few minutes to consider what you’ve done today. What has directly added value, and perhaps more importantly what hasn’t? Consider cutting down, or even cutting out, the activities not adding value. It should get you closer to identifying the mystical 20%.


Blog co-written with Bryony Hanlon, work placement student at Pixalytics.