“Strive for excellence in few things, rather than good performance in many.”
You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule, or to give its proper name, the Pareto Principle.
Its name comes from the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto who observed in the 19th century that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. When he carried out similar surveys in other countries, he was surprised to find a similar distribution.
The 80/20 rule roughly means that 80% of your results (or outcomes) comes from 20% of your activities (or inputs).
Let’s take a look at some 80/20 examples
In economic terms, we can say that 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the world’s population.
In business terms, 20% of a business’s employees is responsible for 80% of the business’s revenue or 80% of a business’s sales comes from 20% of its customers.
When calculating productivity, you might discover that you’re spending 80% of your time on a project that will only earn you 20% of your income.
At a personal level, you may find that 80% of your income is spent on paying a few things (mortgage, bills or food). Or 80% of your social life is spent with 20% of your group of friends.
Applying the 80/20 rule to our business and personal lives allows us to measure our productivity and to make the necessary adjustments if we want to.
For example, instead of spending most our time looking for new business, we can redistribute our resources on nurturing our existing and lucrative clients to get repeat business from them.
If 80% of your weight loss comes from doing weights at the gym, maybe you can reduce the number of runs you do in a week.
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Here’s why you need to apply the 80/20 rule to your Business English learning
In last week’s post, I suggested how you could fit your English practice into your “me time” to make it a natural part of your everyday life.
Another way is allocating specific slots in your weekly, monthly schedule and dedicating that time solely to your Business English. This is essential especially if you’re working with a clear, specific goal. (Find out why long-term goals don’t work here.)
Setting the time aside is the first key step in achieving your goals.
The second step you need to do is to focus on what you’re going to learn first. In other words, you need to prioritise on what’s important. Remember, you don’t have much time, and consequently, you need to be as productive as possible.
“You cannot learn everything about the English Language.” It’s NOT possible.
In fact, you DON’T NEED to learn everything.
You don’t need to know about the names of all the animals in English or all the words for office stationery if you’re a change management consultant who needs to give pitch presentations in English or you have to call medical doctors to discuss your company’s latest medical device.
If 80% of your communication in English is related to one area of your work, you need to focus on the language for THAT area and only that area (in other words, 20%).
Concentrate on your 80%.
Use the goals you’ve outlined to help you determine what you need and are going to focus on.
Your clear and specific goal: “I want to write clear and concise emails to my shipping suppliers.”
80% of your communication in English is through emails to suppliers – sending and responding to enquiries, submitting orders, clarifying delivery times, cargo and so on.
The language you require is specific and limited to language related to shipping, delivery, logistics and so on.
Knowing how to talk or write about the weather or sports is a total waste of your time and completely unproductive.
Of course, knowing how to talk about sports and books might be a “nice to have” but it’s not a “must have”.
It’s certainly not going to help you with your emails to your suppliers.
Now for your 20%.
The next step is to focus on the language you need to write those emails and communicate with confidence and clarity. And here’s where you discover your 20%. In other words, you only need limited vocabulary to achieve your goal.
No matter how proficient we are in any language, we only actively use a third of the words we know. It would be ‘nice’ to vary our language, but in the fast-paced business world we operate in, we need to be efficient and if that means using a bank of frequently-used words, then that’s what you have to do.
You probably have a lot of the vocabulary you need, but what you may want to work on is making your emails more concise, flow more easily and be clearer. But, you’re not writing a short story, so you don’t need to have a long list of descriptive adjectives, for example.
Of course, if you need to write good sales materials, having a wider choice of vocabulary would be advisable but even then, the words used will be repeated. Once you’ve built a bank of words and phrases, you have all you need to do your work over and over again.
20% may seem little to you, but if it applies to 80% of your business communication in English, it makes productive sense to concentrate on that 20%. That’s what efficient productivity is all about.
You are a busy professional. You don’t have time for the “nice to have”. You must concentrate on the “need to have”. That’s what’s going to give you results. You have to let the “nice to have” go.
That’s why you need to apply the 80/20 rule to your business English learning goals.
I hope I have given your some food for thought. I’d love to know if and how you apply the 80/20 rule to your life, work and English.
Thanks for reading and listening.
See you next week.
Ciao for now