Vilfredo Pareto changed my life. The Italian economist is the inventor of the so-called Pareto Principle which states that 20% of all efforts usually lead to 80% of all results. Believe me: it is a lot less mind-numbing than it sounds. What if you could get more done in less time? What if you could shift your focus to only doing things that truly matter? Pareto has got your back. The best thing is that the Pareto Principle can be applied to every area of your life. In business, a minority of salespeople close a majority of sales. The most frequently used 20% of words in a language usually account for 80% of all communication. 20% of all food you eat contains 80% of the calories you consume. Chances are, you wear 20% of the clothes you own 80% of the time.
The exact distribution probably isn’t 80/20, but in almost any field, a majority of results come from a minority of actions. Sometimes, 1% of all efforts lead to 90% of all results. Sometimes 10% of all efforts result in 75% of outcomes. The point is that you can always get disproportionate results from putting in relatively little effort.
Of course, the principle can also be applied to studying:
Cut Out The 80% Of Trivial work
Think about the time you are wasting when studying doing insignificant, unimportant things. Do you sometimes get distracted and end up on Facebook? Has it ever happened to you that you spend a whole day doing things that you thought were crucial at the time just to realize that really, you didn’t get a whole lot done? I did that all the time. It is easy to feel like you are productive when you are not. Many students focus their attention on studying things they are already confident about because it feels good. Don’t do that, instead, concentrate on what you don’t know and the skills that you haven’t developed yet.
Put your phone away, install something like Freedom to block distractions or turn off your wifi if necessary. Focus on one thing and one thing only. The best way to feel productive without producing results is to multitask. Cut all of those activities out. These are the activities requiring 80% of the work that lead to only 20% of results.
The goal is to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and to find your strengths so you can multiply them. Tim Ferris, author of The 4-hour workweek
Make a Plan / Do a “Pareto Analysis”
Instead of diving right into studying, make a plan. Doing an 80/20 analysis will only take you 10 minutes but trust me, your productivity will skyrocket. I like using pen and paper to avoid distractions, but you can also do it with Wunderlist, Evernote or whatever you usually use. It is important to write your plan down because you can come back to it whenever you need to.
These are the questions you should ask yourself:
- What are the activities that make me feel productive without producing results?
- Which material that I could study will likely yield a majority of results?
- What do I struggle with the most that might be important for the exam?
- If I could only study for two hours for this exam, what would I focus my attention on?
- If I could only study for 45 minutes for this exam, what would I focus my attention on?
Do that. Right now. Take the 10 minutes and create a plan. It will pay off. Here is a handy worksheet for you that you can download and fill out.
Focus on The Actions Yielding Disproportionate Results
Look at the plan and start by eliminating everything that is unnecessary. Cut out the things that only make you feel productive and concentrate on the actions you can take that will yield the greatest results. What you come up with in response to
“If I could only study for 45 minutes for this exam, what would you focus my attention on?” should be your to-do list. Use the analysis you created to find the things you can do to get the biggest effect. Stop doing everything else.
Example: Reading Non-Fiction Books
The Pareto Principle can be applied to anything you want to study. Here is just one example: Reading non-fiction books:
When reading a book that you need for class, start by reading all the headlines and the conclusion at the end. More often than not, the author of the book sums up the most critical arguments of the whole book in the end.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t do all your reading, you should just be mindful that your time might be spent more wisely doing something else. Of course, it would be better to read the whole book but in some cases, it can be good enough to read the conclusion and the headlines.
Everything you do has an opportunity cost. If you decide to spend three hours reading a book, be aware that these three hours could also have been spent revising other material. Nobody can tell you what specific actions will lead to extraordinary results, all I can say is that such actions exist. You need to figure out which these are for yourself.
Note: This post is brought to you by Paul Faecks, the guy behind the awesome blog LearnStudying.com. Be sure to check it out for more content about learning, studying and student productivity.