I have a great interest in decluttering and first encountered this principle in a book on home organisation and later in an excellent 1970s management book Timetrap: how to get more done in less time by Alec R. Mackenzie (Timetrap is available second-hand from Retrorocket).
Pareto’s Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule and the principle of imbalance. This principle was originally propounded by Pareto as an economic theory to show that 80% of the wealth is retained by 20% of the population (and vice versa). However, for decades the Pareto principle has been applied to business management:
“Observation that where a large number of factors of agents contribute to a result, the majority (about 80%) of the result is due to the contributions of a minority (about 20%) of factors or agents…for example that some 80% of the sales of a firm are generated by 20% of its customers…it is however a heuristics principle, and has not been proved as a scientific law”
See Business Dictionary for more information.
Not having enough time to do the important things at home and work is a constant problem. The Pareto principle has been applied (and distorted) in numerous ways to provide business solutions: achieve the most at the your most efficient time of the day (20% of the day, 80% of the important non- computer tasks), focus on specific customers (20% of customers 80% of sales) etc.
Although it is ironic that a principle developed to highlight social inequality has been adapted to increase capital I and many other perfectionists use it to achieve tasks that may otherwise be overwhelming.
As a perfectionist, this principle provided me a much needed template for action. It can be used / abused in many ways: If I need to complete a task, I focus on 80% of the result which allegedly requires 20% of the effort and the remaining 20% of the result which needs 80% effort can be saved for a rainy / quiet day.
A good example of this principle in action is recategorising a dusty bookshelf.
Instead of making the job at hand more complicated apply the Pareto Principle. Take the books off the shelf, clean the shelf, dust the books and place the books back: you have a clean bookshelf and books. At a future time, the consuming task of recategorisation can (hopefully) be done before the dust builds up. This is a very subjective thing – some may argue that recategorisation is more important and/or takes less time: good, do that first.
For me it is cathartic that there is a logical system I can apply with a large impact and smaller effort at the outset; this in turn provides me the impetus to complete the remaining 20% of the job later (probably). The result is that action is taken, an important job is complete and task paralysis does not take hold too often.
In sum, although debilitating perfectionism can also be overcome using the ‘snapshot in time’ analogy (where the work is as perfect as it can be within the time given to complete it) the Pareto Principle frees me from thinking a job is unachievable and/or incomplete due to its lack of perfection. Instead I think, “Excellent: clean shelf and books. Next time I’ll recategorise the books”.