sand going through an hourglass
PHOTO: Jack Sharp

In today’s fast-paced business world, we constantly feel like we need to be juggling several different tasks at once just to stay afloat. Because of this, we’ve become obsessed with finding productivity hacks to help us maximize our time and get everything on our long to-do list done.

In recent years, the rapid increase in both the depth and volume of our customer data has only made those lists even longer. We now have more data than ever to grow our businesses. With all this data, the insights we have access to are unparalleled to just a few years ago.

But maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.

Instead of scrambling to frantically cover all our bases, maybe the key to success is learning how to prioritize what’s most important. Whether it’s prioritizing our time, budget, marketing efforts or even achieving life goals, there’s one productivity hack which has stood the test of time: it’s called the 80/20 principle.


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It’s All About Prioritization

The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts or input. The principle is initially credited to Italian engineer and economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Think about it this way, it’s likely that about:

  • 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your revenue.
  • 20% of your features experience 80% of user activity.
  • 20% of your blog posts generate 80% of your traffic.

The 80/20 rule is being leveraged by businesses to maximize their efforts by focusing on the 20% that will drive the majority of their results. Instead of improving all of your product features at once, focus on the 20% that see the most engagement from users. Instead of focusing on bringing in more leads, focus on acquiring the subsection of customers who will bring in the highest revenue.

This principle can be applied to the analytics world too. If our theory is that more businesses will go online and more people will continue to transact online, then all the tools we use to facilitate that will soon experience an explosion in analytics. Once again, only 20% of analytics will be responsible for the sorts of decisions that drive 80% of our growth. With so many different analytics platforms out there, where do we even start?

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Prioritization in the Age of Data Overload

In the quest to become data-driven, we’re measuring and tracking more data than ever. We’re encouraging people to make data-driven decisions and buying more and more tools to funnel in more data which we can use to base our decisions on.

The problem is, instead of helping us make better decisions, the majority of businesses are actually struggling to manage the volume, variety and velocity of the data they’re receiving.

The impact of data overload is not lost on marketing managers. In Gartner’s 2018 Marketing Analytics Survey, almost half of digital marketing leaders agreed that, “some of their most expensive and experienced analysts spend their time preparing data to be analyzed rather than analyzing the data.”

gartner: expensive, talented resoouorces are misaligned

While the business mantra was once: the more data the better, we’re now moving towards a new era where we need prioritized data-backed insights, rather than huge volumes of data to sift through. Instead of making us more agile and effective, trying to focus on everything is actually slowing down our productivity.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Today the companies which will really succeed are those that know how to cut through the noise and prioritize the data that’s most relevant to their business.

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Prioritize Your Core Growth Metrics

The first step is to identify your company’s core growth metrics.

All businesses are tracking and reporting on the same metrics: number of users, acquisition, followers, website traffic. But which metrics actually make sense for your product or audience? Which actually tell an important story for your business? And, most importantly, which metrics are directly related to your company’s growth objectives?

This is driven by factors such as:

  • Industry.
  • Your existing tech stack.
  • Past performance and user behavior.
  • Trends in the market.

Just like most things the 80/20 principle is applied to, the analytics we consider to make decisions will also follow this rule: 20% of the analytics we have will be the most important to consider/act off in order to drive the majority (80%) growth.

For example, if you’re an ecommerce store, focusing on the number of visitors to your website won’t be as important as looking directly at your Shopify sales numbers.

Meanwhile, for affiliate marketers, increasing website visits and followers is key to gaining more partnerships.

Of course, your core growth metrics will change as your company and industry evolves. This means you need to continuously review and re-prioritize your data.

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Stop Collecting and Start Doing

If you still don’t know where to start, advances in machine learning are helping us to not only collect and clean data, but also to pinpoint the 20% of analytics that are driving 80% of your company’s growth. Autonomous analytics is already being leveraged by major companies like Deloitte and Cisco systems to accelerate business insights but new startups are now bringing this technology to a wider audience.

In the age of big data, it’s easy to get caught up in all the opportunities that analytics can bring. The truth is, no company can or should try to analyze all their data points. Instead, smart businesses are leveraging the most relevant 20% to drive real growth. The principle has stood the test of time, and even with so much changing around us, this principle probably won’t.