The 80/20 Rule for Educators



As teachers we all want to bring things home because we are never really finished.  Our days never truly end.  As the last student leaves the room screaming good bye as he or she runs down the hall, we plop into our seat, sigh a heavy breath, look up at the ceiling and wonder where to start.  Do we piece our rooms back together? Check the email we haven’t looked at since morning? Grade the pile of papers we collected throughout the day? Finalize our plans for tomorrow? Or leave it all in the hope that some friendly helping teacher elf will take care of it while we sleep a blissful sleep in the comfort of our own home?  Every teacher’s fantasy is to walk in their classroom in the morning with our rooms organized, cleaned, updated and ready to begin a new day.  If you have access to a friendly helping teacher elf (perhaps in the form of a student teacher), congratulations!  If you’re like the rest of us and consistently feel the pressure of never being done and frequently taking school “stuff” home, you may need to figure out some ways to alleviate this routine so that school can stay at school.


So the question remains, how to prioritize when everything feels important? Well, one way to really start to think about how to choose what needs your ultimate attention is to consider the concept of the 80/20 rule.  This rule is often applied to business and marketing when deciding where to focus energy and resources.  This rule, often times referred to as the Pareto Principle, states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.  It’s named after Vilfredo Pareto, who observed over a hundred years ago that 80% of wealth in Italy was held by 20% of the population AND that 80% of the peas in his garden were produced by 20% of his pea plants!


This is not a foolproof method or a rule that works in every scenario but it’s important to consider because we often believe that all of our efforts have equal impact and all of our “to do” list items have equal importance.  We sometimes look around our classrooms at the end of the day, scurrying to get it all done. Maybe if we focus on the most important 20%, we would maximize or time and efficiency, leave work earlier without taking more work home, or leave work a little later but feeling like we took care of the most valuable items first.


Another way to apply this principle is to identify the most important tasks to get done and do them first during your planning time or free time before and/or after school…no exceptions. For example, my school day from the time I need to be there until the time I am allowed to go home is about 450 minutes.  Twenty percent of 450 minutes is 90 minutes.  Because we have block scheduling, teachers usually get about one block for their planning (about 80 minutes).  If we truly begin maximizing our planning period by focusing on the most important things, we have the potential to get about 80% of our results.  Our results come in the form of papers graded, lessons planned, rooms set up, copies made, meetings, and emails (whatever needs the most attention that day).  


And ultimately, what really matters is that we are our best selves for our students each and every day.  If that means bulletin boards don’t get done perfectly, every email doesn’t get answered and every paper doesn’t get graded immediately, but that we are more energized, enthusiastic and patent with our students, everyone will benefit!  By maximizing our time when we have it and focusing only on what really matters, we may have less residual build up of tasks, stress, and “stuff.”


Now, this is an example of one ideal schedule.  But how can you find that 20% of time in your day?  You may need to get creative.  Get creative about when you find your pockets of time.  Get creative about how you plan your weekly schedule.  One thing that  may help is stacking functions.  For example, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays spend that precious 20 percent grading papers.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, spend the time planning, prepping and emailing.  By not thinking about grading papers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you will be more focused on what you are doing on that day.  By knowing that you have appropriately set aside time for planning and prepping, you will not get distracted by that on paper grading days.


You may need to let go.  Let go of perfectionism in favor or your health and well being.  Let go of caring for everyone else in favor of caring for yourself.  You may need to say no to additional commitments in favor of saying yes to you.  


The biggest obstacle to maximizing this time is creating a plan and sticking to it.  By taking the time to create a weekly schedule, you will no longer feel the stress of feeling like everything is a priority which activates our stress hormones and causes us to either want to flee or fight.  Adding this kind of stress to our work day is unncessary; we will each encounter enough daily stress by virtue of simply working in education without having to add to it!


So do the math and figure out how much 20% of your work day is and create a plan for how to find this time and what to do with it.  Of course you will need to squeeze in other responsibilities but they should be the items that don’t take a lot of your brain power or attention.  The most important 20% is relegated to these pockets of time.
If you use this tip, please comment below or send a message to  If  you want any more assistance on creating a routine, please check out our free resource Twenty Minutes to a Working Wellness Routine.


0 thoughts on “The 80/20 Rule for Educators”

  1. Martin Hurst says:

    Thank you for a great article.

    I work as a teacher and I wonder how you determine what those 20% of efforts are? For example if I aim to teach my students how to read, how do I know which of my exercises in class produces most of the results? Which are those 20% efforts?


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