The 80/20 rule for teaching

The 80/20 rule is a well known principle in business also known as the Pareto principle. This principle states that roughly 80% of consequences are caused by roughly 20% of the actions. Applied to business this means that 20% of what a company does generates 80% of their profits. It means 20% of their customers provide 80% of the profits. But it also means 20% of the customers cause 80% of the work and 80% of the complaints. There are even those in business who take this principle one step further, applying it to itself creating the 64/4 principle. That is, 4% of actions cause 64% of the resulting consequences. This literally means a business owner can do 4% of what he or she normally does to run the business and still generate 64% of the profits.

Consider this for a moment as applied to education, learning and teaching. 20% of what a student does results in 80% of their learning. 20% of what a teacher does results in 80% of their student impact. 20% of what a school does results in 80% of their community impact. 

The hard bit is identifying which 20% of our actions is having this impact. This is where tools such as Eisenhower’s matrix are helpful.

Eisenhower’s Matrix

The 20% of actions are frequently referred to as your high impact activities. Those activities you do or that your student does, that generate 80% of the results. So what are your 20% of actions generating 80% of your results? I’m going to argue that these are your deep work tasks. We can begin to identify deep work tasks by using Eisenhower’s important/urgent matrix This matrix is based on a quote from his Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”


Eisenhower's Urgent/Important matrix

To help you identify your deep tasks I encourage you to follow these steps:

  1. Put this matrix on a white board (don’t worry about the order, you really just need the 4 boxes labelled). 
  2. Identify all the tasks or actions you take as a teacher and write each one on their own sticky note.
  3. Take your time and stick each note into one of the four quadrants. The task needs to be important to you and help you achieve your goal/s and align with your mission statement.
  4. Take any task that is in the not urgent, not important quadrant and chuck them in the bin. Unless it is going to get you fired or you legally have to never do these tasks again!
  5. The tasks that are in your not urgent but important quadrant need to be scheduled into your calendar. Block out the time and do not let anything take this time. These are the tasks that most likely align with your mission statement. They are also most likely to be your 20% tasks that have the greatest impact on your effectiveness. It will often include, doing exercise, reading a book, conducting research for a unit of work you are creating, or applying what you learnt from a professional learning experience.
  6. The final 2 quadrants need to be considered thoughtfully and compiled into a weighted to do list. You want the important and urgent tasks on top and the urgent not important tasks at the bottom. As you do this, consider these urgent and not important tasks and only include the ones that actually help you in your mission statement. You want to keep those that help you achieve your goals or that you legally must do as a teacher. You may also want to see if it is possible for you to delegate these tasks to someone else.

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