By Greg Enos

The foundation for current personal productivity thinking is that concepts that have been generated or refined over the last 50 years in the United States. Their logic is inescapable.

One of the most significant is the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) that says 80-percent of your results come from 20% of your efforts. It is derived from the work of Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and is also known as the law of the vital few (80-percent of the effects come from 20% of the causes).

Pareto observed in 1906 that 80-percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20-percent of the population. His work was promoted by business management consultant Joseph M. Juran, who is credited with the 80/20 rule.

Modern day adaptions include:

80-percent of your sales come from 20-percent of your customers

80-percent of your problems come from 20-percent of your staff

80-percent of your satisfaction comes from 20-percent of the people in your life

80-percent of your report comes from 20-percent of your research

80-percent of your family issues come from 20-percent of the relatives

The bottom line is that we should focus our efforts on priorities and people that are most likely to give us a profitable return.

This relates to the attitude of “work smarter, not harder,” which was originally discussed by Frederick Winslow Taylor when he proposed the theory of management in 1895. While this makes sense to most people, it is not always practiced in day to day life.

Other concepts that have contributed to our understanding of personal productivity include:

Parkinson’s law – “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Coined by C. Northcote Parkinson, who also developed its corollary, “Expenditure rises to meet income.” In computers: Programs expand to fill all available memory. Good planning and effective leadership can affect this law.

Peter principle – “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Created by Dr. Laurence J. Peter in his book The Peter Principle. In his follow-up book, The Peter Prescription, he offered possible solutions to the problems his Principle could cause.

Segal’s law – “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

Sutton’s law – “Go where the money is.”. Often cited in medical schools to teach new doctors to spend resources where they are most likely to pay off. The law is named after bank robber Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, is claimed to have answered, “Because that’s where the money is.”

The Time Trap – Alec Mackenzie proved in 1972 that the root cause of most time management problems can be traced to some powerful tendencies of human nature and the challenge of learning new habits. More than a half million of his books were sold.

Dilbert’s law (Scott Adams) – “the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”

Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Ascribed to Edward A. Murphy, Jr.

Effective use of our time results from a concerted effort to focus on the important “stuff.” Prioritizing where we will devote our attention does not need to be difficult. Just write down your top three priorities before the start of your work day, focus your energy, and celebrate your success.

Have a productive day !

Author’s Note: These laws and principles were adapted from Wikipedia, books and articles collected since 1970. Additional information is available at

©2013Time Communications Associates