20% of the Time, 80% of the Value

Pareto Principle Option 2
Credit: flickr / Sleepy Valley

If you look, you’ll see the Pareto Principle everywhere. Last week, I saw it in grad school. I was having my 20% – and it was awesome! But it does make me sad about the 80% of my time – this is the time that I spend marking, doing assignments that seem pointless and reading papers that I need to know the contents of, or might be useful, but turn out not to give me that zing of inspiration.

In the 20%, I’ll work 12 hours a day and enjoy it. I’ll wake up every morning fired up and excited for the day ahead of me. In the 20%, things take less time than expected. They sometimes turn out better than expected, too.

I think this is why I don’t want to convert to a PhD – the Comprehensive Exam, a thesis proposal, the TA-ing… I can see this will be the 80%. I think there are other ways I can get much of the value from the 20% of the PhD I want, basically by writing a large masters thesis. Perhaps I can summarize some choices, by saying, is this in my 20%, or will it contribute to it? Make it bigger?

I want to live in the 20%. But I recognize there’s a lot of stuff that I do in the 80% that enables the 20% to happen.

  • I have to mark because I TA, but there’s a 20% when I really manage to communicate understanding to a student, and they go away excited about what we’re talking about.
  • This semester, I spent a lot of time on assignments I thought were pointless, but they did improve my understanding so in my 20% I implemented something that I wouldn’t have known how to do in September.
  • Yes, a lot of the papers I read are a little dull, but I hoard the knowledge and later when it’s time to connect the dots or something clicks… some of them turn out to be useful.

So I think the question is, how do I maximize the 20%? I plan to explore this over the winter break, as after this week my TA-ing and course will be done with. I’d love your thoughts as to what your 20% is, and how you maximize it, if you do.

8 thoughts on “20% of the Time, 80% of the Value

  1. I got lucky in maximizing my 20% with TAing: my department introduced tutorials where I’d be working in the lab directly with students. Soon, I was spending ~6hrs/week actually in the lab helping students, a few more hours a week as prep time writing tutorials, and very little time spent marking. Totally flip-flopped my 80-20 and I couldn’t be happier.

  2. I got lucky in maximizing my 20% with TAing: my department introduced tutorials where I’d be working in the lab directly with students. Soon, I was spending ~6hrs/week actually in the lab helping students, a few more hours a week as prep time writing tutorials, and very little time spent marking. Totally flip-flopped my 80-20 and I couldn’t be happier.

  3. Tweak marking and other activities you don’t enjoy to see if you can be more efficient at them, or even make a game out of doing them well. For example, when marking exams, I realized that I could go much faster if I checked all the page 1s, then all the page 2s, and so on.

    Rubrics helped me streamline marking projects and made writing feedback easier. I worked out the point breakdown, what to look for, and some templates for recommending improvements. I still customized things a little bit, but it helped to have a checklist.

    Reading papers: Speed-read. You usually don’t have to read every word. Keep a highlighter handy, or copy interesting segments into your citation/quote file. When I was doing my literature review for my thesis, I dumped snippets into a file formatted for the Unix “fortune” command, complete with BibTeX citations. It was easy to search the file for just the quotes relevant to a particular section, and it was fun randomizing quotes too. (Good way to break writer’s block!)

    Study Hacks is an interesting academically-oriented blog. Check it out for inspiration if you’re not already reading it. =)

    And yes, continue to recognize the value of the rest of your time. The book Work Like You’re Showing Off might be a good read for you too.

    Enjoy!

  4. Tweak marking and other activities you don’t enjoy to see if you can be more efficient at them, or even make a game out of doing them well. For example, when marking exams, I realized that I could go much faster if I checked all the page 1s, then all the page 2s, and so on.

    Rubrics helped me streamline marking projects and made writing feedback easier. I worked out the point breakdown, what to look for, and some templates for recommending improvements. I still customized things a little bit, but it helped to have a checklist.

    Reading papers: Speed-read. You usually don’t have to read every word. Keep a highlighter handy, or copy interesting segments into your citation/quote file. When I was doing my literature review for my thesis, I dumped snippets into a file formatted for the Unix “fortune” command, complete with BibTeX citations. It was easy to search the file for just the quotes relevant to a particular section, and it was fun randomizing quotes too. (Good way to break writer’s block!)

    Study Hacks is an interesting academically-oriented blog. Check it out for inspiration if you’re not already reading it. =)

    And yes, continue to recognize the value of the rest of your time. The book Work Like You’re Showing Off might be a good read for you too.

    Enjoy!

  5. I just came across this from Penelope Trunk – http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/05/23/time-management-discussion-with-ann-althouse-only-sort-of/

    It’s kinda related to this. Lots of great tips – looking forward to spending time on them and thinking about this in more detail once I’ve finished this paper!

    For the TA-ing thing, part of it is the whole situation which (I’m assured) is a one-off, of 4 off given the number of TAs for this course… I also TA in French, which is difficult for me as I’m not bilingual. I’m confident it’ll be better next semester, if I TA again. And I definitely play the racing games with marking! Only way not to lose my mind!

  6. I just came across this from Penelope Trunk – http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/05/23/time-management-discussion-with-ann-althouse-only-sort-of/

    It’s kinda related to this. Lots of great tips – looking forward to spending time on them and thinking about this in more detail once I’ve finished this paper!

    For the TA-ing thing, part of it is the whole situation which (I’m assured) is a one-off, of 4 off given the number of TAs for this course… I also TA in French, which is difficult for me as I’m not bilingual. I’m confident it’ll be better next semester, if I TA again. And I definitely play the racing games with marking! Only way not to lose my mind!

  7. I found out my TA for the coming semester – beginner Java. Still in French, but I’m really excited about it and I think it will be a big improvement.

    I definitely need to work on skipping or not reading all of papers (and other things) that aren’t useful. I worry I’ll miss stuff too much! Need to let it go. Since I started printing papers out, it’s much faster and much more pleasant.

    I’ve subscribed to that blog and added the book to my cart of Amazon 🙂 thanks for the recommendations!

  8. I found out my TA for the coming semester – beginner Java. Still in French, but I’m really excited about it and I think it will be a big improvement.

    I definitely need to work on skipping or not reading all of papers (and other things) that aren’t useful. I worry I’ll miss stuff too much! Need to let it go. Since I started printing papers out, it’s much faster and much more pleasant.

    I’ve subscribed to that blog and added the book to my cart of Amazon 🙂 thanks for the recommendations!

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