Master Your Day: The Pareto Threshold
Episode #4 of the course Master your time: The secret to being insanely productive by John Robin
Welcome to Day 4 of Master Your Time. I hope after yesterday, you’re getting more in touch with your ultradian rhythms to master your blocks of three to four periods of 25-minute focus.
You might find, naturally, that once you get into this flow, there is a Zen to it. But despite this, after somewhere around four or five hours of total focused time, you hit a different kind of wall than the one that comes at the end of each 90-100-minute period.
This brings us to the next important question: What exactly is the bar you should be striving for every workday?
Today, we’ll be talking about that by way of the important Pareto Principle.
The Pareto Threshold
You might be familiar with the Pareto Principle: 80% of results can be explained by 20% of effort.
Let’s apply this to our course: Spend 20% of your time on focused work. The remaining 80% of your time is yours to relax!
Let’s work out exactly what this means for our blocks of 25-minute focus:
One day has 24 hours. That’s 1,440 minutes.
Twenty percent of this is 288 minutes, or 4 hours and 48 minutes.
One week has seven days. That’s 168 hours.
Twenty percent of this is 33.6 hours. That’s 2,016 minutes.
Both these numbers are going to be important when we talk about where to draw the line each day.
Master Your Day
From the above calculation, you can think of a day in two contexts: the day itself and the day as a unit of the week.
If we follow the Pareto Principle on the daily level, that would tell us to spend just under five hours on focused work every single day, seven days a week.
You probably don’t want to do that (neither do I).
This is where that weekly calculation comes in. The larger goal is to get in exactly 2,016 minutes of focused work every week. That’s a total of 80.64 periods of 25-minute focus.
I’m being precise here to make a point: It doesn’t have to be exactly 20%. The 20% is just to help us approximate what minimum to strive toward.
I shoot for 81 periods of 25-minute focus because each week I hit that, I know I’ve done my 20% and shouldn’t feel guilty at all as I now enjoy the 80% of the time I spend on my personal, social, and spiritual life.
Put differently, I know that every week, I put in 33.75 hours of productive, focused work.
That might not sound like a lot, but for me, it is because it gives me a concrete unit by which I can predict future results (more on that in the lessons to come).
One great way to set your daily limits:
You can be creative how you tackle your days to achieve a balance between the daily and weekly thresholds.
I like to use what I’ve nicknamed the “Monday to Thursday punch” method. It goes like this:
• Monday, aim for six blocks of 3 x 25-minute focused work (=7.5 hours).
• Tuesday, aim for six blocks of 3 x 25-minute focused work (=7.5 hours).
• Wednesday, aim for six blocks of 3 x 25-minute focused work (=7.5 hours).
• Thursday, aim for six blocks of 3 x 25-minute focused work (=6.25 hours).
• Friday, aim for four blocks of 3 x 25-minute focused work (=5 hours).
You can see where it’s like a punch: Hit hard on the first four days of the week. There’s also flexibility so you can absorb lost time on Thursday and Friday.
The most important concept here is that there is a limit. You can complete this routine and know you’re DONE and feel no guilt to overwork nine, ten, or twelve hours.
You might notice a problem, though, when you try this: Pushing beyond four blocks (5 hours = 12 x 25 minutes) in a given day is very hard. This is the Pareto threshold for the day, after all.
There’s good news, though!
Just like harnessing ultradian rhythms to push 25-minute focus periods, we can harness a higher focusing technique to push our weekdays past the five-hour daily Pareto threshold.
But that’s for tomorrow!
You should shoot for 20% of your total day and week when deciding just how much focused work you want to get done. This comes to about five hours a day (twelve periods of 25-minute focus) and 33.75 hours a week (81 periods of 25-minute focus).
Using ultradian rhythms, this means you must fit in four to six blocks of 3 x 25-minute focus every weekday if you want to take weekends off while hitting your weekly total.
Your homework is to see just how many blocks you can do in a given day, i.e., start working on your punches!
The 80/20 Individual: How to Build on the 20% of What You Do Best by Richard Koch
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