The Pareto Strategy To Maximize Leisure Time

I generally work only about 20 hours per week.  I spend about 35 in the office, but only about 20 doing the actual work that I’m paid for.  And yet, I’m highly successful at outperforming my peers.  My bandwidth is significantly higher, and every boss I’ve had over the past 11 years of my engineering career has consistently complimented my “bandwidth.”

The reason I’m saying this is not to brag about my abilities, work ethic, or intelligence.  I don’t consider any of those 3 things as superior to my peers.  In fact, I often feel the opposite.  The reason I brought this up is to share my secret.

It’s simply the Pareto Principle.  80% of events come from 20% of the causes.  In the corporate working world, it’s simply a matter of prioritizing the important 20% and leaving behind the other 80%.

An average employee does 100% of the work, and achieves 100% of the effect (job complete).  But I will only do the most important 20%, achieving 80% of the work complete.  I then hand the work off to someone else (if the final 20% of work is important – often it is not).  By doing this, I am then able to take on a second task.  Then third task, and forth, and fifth.

By doing 20% times 5 tasks, I spend 100% of my time.  But the achieved effects are 80% times 5 tasks = 400%. Depending on how you look at it, that’s 4 to 5 times the performance as compared to the average employee who completes all of his or her tasks.  4 times if you think purely in effects, but to most people they will simply see that you are balancing 5 projects as compared to your peers 1 project.

In actuality, I choose to use this trick to reduce my time working.  As mentioned earlier, I only work 20 hours per week.  The rest of my time in the office is spent entertaining myself, learning new skills, and writing posts like this.  Over time, I’m planning to “work from home” more, where I can continue to perform well, but have more leisure time.  The morality of this approach is sound, given that I work on salary and not hourly, and I’m performing at the level that I’m paid for.  The fact is that I won’t be paid 4 times as much if I accomplish 4 times my peers, so I have no moral obligation to do this.

This also works in other areas of life.  Romance with your wife, quality time with your kids, skill improvements, etc.


11 Responses to The Pareto Strategy To Maximize Leisure Time

  1. Andre900 says:

    I have sort of a similar situation at my workplace. Frankly, management’s and the organization’s expectations and standards for certain groups of workers are not very high. (Call this Group B.) Expectations & standards for workers of the group I am in are measurably higher. (Call this Group W). So, if performance is measured on a scale of 0 – 10, and if Group B is expected to work at, say, level 4, then Group W workers are only expected to work at level 7.

    • :) Sounds familiar.

      My advice: get out of Group W. as soon as possible and join group B. Better yet, is there a Group A that does even less? There’s no honor in working hard for a career.

      Now, if you love the work and love what it’s doing for the world, I don’t mean to stand in your way. But by your description, I saw no reference to any pride in the work’s benefit.

  2. Andre900 says:

    Good strategy, but in my description the features of each group’s members are hard-coded by mother nature and prevent switching between groups. I’m not really complaining, in fact, this is great. If some peers only have to perform a a mediocre level than I can perform at mediocre++ and that’s acceptable. I can do this at half effort. Or, I can perform at mediocre++++ and be a superstar.

    Yes, I do feel pride in being good at what I do (management analysis), a job well done, and respected by coworkers.

    • Yes, I do feel pride in being good at what I do (management analysis), a job well done, and respected by coworkers.

      I spent years feeling pride in knowing I did great work, knowing I was respected and even admired by my peers, and I was rising up the ranks. But then I came to the conclusion that my “good work” wasn’t making the world a better place. And even if it was, I was just beating other people at things that would, essentially, make the world just as good anyways. So really, I was dedicating a ton of time towards competition in beating my peers. Which is fine in sport, where the competition is obvious, but less so when we pretend we’re working together but secretly we’re competing.

      I’m not challenging your point of view as wrong, I’m sincerely interested in your pride with good work, peer respect, etc.

  3. JP says:

    So what you’re saying is… you skip your unit tests? 😉

  4. JNatael says:

    I’m confused, you mean that you take the top 20% of your tasks and get them to the 80% mark? And you hand off or just don’t do the other 80% of the tasks? Or you do 20% of the work of all tasks, getting them 80% complete? From the way this is written I can’t tell if you’re selecting your top tasks and then completing only those or taking all your tasks and getting them most of the way done to hand off to someone else. Can you clarify?

    Also, what do you feel about using work time for non-work projects (which, in many jobs, means they have legal ownership of anything you produce anyway, which could be complicated if you post to this blog and then make income off it)?

    Your situation sounds ideal but I’m still not sure I buy it entirely, love to understand better.

    • Let me try to answer your questions 1 by 1.

      Regarding the idea of using the Pareto principle at work, let me try to explain with an example. Recently, I found a way to create a tool that would greatly improve the efficiency of a process by automating a bunch of work we were repeatedly doing manually on every project. So in a very short time I architected the software and wrote some high-level pseudocode. I then went on to write some very simple code that proved that the tool would work. I left it with several bugs and corner cases that still needed to be addressed. I did this all very quickly (2 days). That was only 20% of the work, but accomplished 80% of the work. I then handed it off to a more junior engineer that had way more software experience. He spent a few weeks cleaning it up and perfecting it (80% of the work, but only a 20% improvement on the tool – frankly we probably could have left it as it was and still gotten great benefit – that would have been another use of the Pareto principle).

      We share credit, but I did significantly less work. Meanwhile, I was able to free up that time to either go start another 20% project, or have more leisure time. Normally I’ll make sure everyone knows that my partner did most of the work, but if you do this enough times and are constantly part of successful projects while giving out all the credit to others, the “others” begin to respect you for dishing out the credit, and any decent manager will start to notice that this BNL guy sure is a part of a lot of successful projects and organizational improvements.

      Regarding your question about using work time for non-work projects, I think it depends on your employment situation. If I worked 9-5 in a factory and was paid hourly, then I absolutely would consider myself responsible to be working during those hours. Then again, when I came home I’d be done for the day.

      But these days, work and life are so intertwined in my profession. I carry a work-issued cell phone, and often use my personal laptop to do my work. It’s 8:30am right now, and I’m at a coffee shop to do my real work. But I’m taking a few minutes off to write this comment. So is this work time, or non-work time? Later this evening at 6pm, I have a call with my team in China. Is that work time, or non-work time?

      Additionally, I work on salary. To me, that means I get paid to do a specific job, not to work certain hours. Afterall, no one paid me extra when I was working 80 hour weeks, so I don’t see why it would be different in the opposite direction.

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  7. thegoblinchief says:

    My problem – and my wife’s, incidentally – is that we’ve had so many experiences from school projects on upwards where you lay the foundation incredibly well, but the person you hand it off is so incompetent that the work goes backwards from 80% complete to, say 40%, and now you have to spend 60% debugging AND finishing the work….

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