80/20 Thanks Mr Pareto

80% of the time I remind my daughter about 20% of the things she does. 20% of her leisure activities take up 80% of her time. The 20% of things she does well are ignored 80% of the time. So where am I going with these observations?

To the 80/20 rule. Otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, named after an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who formed this idea in 1906. He was originally talking about the fact that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the population. Since then, the Pareto Principle has become the general observation that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs.

For example, 80% of the time I wear 20% of my clothes, those three favourite shirts, shorts and same pair of shoes. The other 80% of my clothes remain in the wardrobe, waiting to see the light of the day because they are specialist clothes like a dress suite or clothes that I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. And once I’ve got these clothes on, 80% of my time at work is taken by 20% of my tasks. I think you get the picture.

Back to the reminding (or moaning she would say), especially on a Saturday. My daughter makes her own breakfast each morning. No matter how many times I tell her, “Not too much milk,” she tips the milk carton too high and too fast. Milk gushes out, and her breakfast cereal swims in a deep white lake. Then there’s the juice. “Not too much.” A tall glass is filled to the brim, only for most of it to emptied down the sink. The milk from the cereal goes the same way, and I’m left a little frustrated by the waste.

If I analyse this in the 80/20 rule, I can hear 80% of my conversations over the same 20% of things she does each time this occurs. She doesn’t mean to be heavy handed with the cartons; she cannot judge when to stop pouring as quickly as me, and so she lingers too long before she stops the flow of the milk. With the juice, no matter how many times I tell her to choose a smaller glass, she doesn’t. This small problem of judgement due to her additional needs causes me to moan at her too much. The solution, me to accept that this is only one small area of her challenges, and stop her feeling that I spend 80% of my time nagging her – as I’m sure she thinks I do.

And then after she’s finished breakfast, am I to spend more time nagging her for watching the same 20% of informative (or not so) YouTube videos? I could think that this 80% of her leisure time wasted is no different to the way us ‘adults’ waste time on Facebook or Twitter or channel of choice. Perhaps I should be more grateful that she does spend 20% of her leisure time on the Kindle with Jacquelin Wilson filling her mind with stories.

This love of reading, along with all the other things she does well – like getting dressed in the morning, showering, making her own breakfast, getting her schoolbag ready, crossing most of the roads on her own, doing her homework when she comes back from school, changing her bedding at the weekends – these all are a part of the 80% of things she does that I only acknowledge and praise her for 20% of the time. Those 20% of things she doesn’t do so well, I dwell on 80% of the time.

break bad habits, build good habits - motivational reminder on colorful sticky notes - self-development conceptThe answer then, for me, should be to not speak too quickly. Remember that her additional needs probably account for way less than 20% of who she is. She struggles with maybe 20% of those life skills tasks that leads to greater independence, but which may be 80% of the restriction to her living independently right now. But if I recognise that this 20% of things she needs real help with should have 80% of my devoted energy, when I’m calm, logical and patient, then I would be benefitting her more. Who cares if the milk is wasted? What my daughter needs is my thoughts and strategies on just a dozen or so things that could make her independent.