Law of Vital Few & Trivial Many

A To-Do List, as a tool for time management, is overrated

Have you ever faced a day when you felt that you had a tad too much to do in a short span of time? And, getting the things done in that limited time seemed really intimidating? Here, a To-Do List has emerged as a big-big boon to make this problem look so manageable.

Undoubtedly, it helps you be focused. As you check the items off the list, you feel a sense of progress and accomplishment. Your productivity is enhanced as you have the clarity as to what has to be done, and this feeling of being organised also helps you end your day on a satisfactory note.

But, does everything on the list matter equally?

Brian Mulroney says, “If everything is important, then nothing is.

Therefore, just having a To-Do List isn’t enough.


The Pareto Principle

An Italian economist – Mr. Vilfredo Pareto, in the year 1896, published his work in ‘Cours d’économie politique‘. An essential observation of the work was a mathematical model for income distribution in Italy that stated that approximately 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population.

Vilfredo Pareto
Mr. Vilfredo Pareto

On the basis of this observation, a pioneer of quality-control management, Mr. Joseph M. Juran suggested a principle (in the late 1930s) that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. He named this principle as the Pareto Principle, which is now also know as the 80-20 rule, the law of vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity.


Separate the vital few from the trivial many

The law of vital few and trivial many simply states that minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.

In short, there is no point in doing every damn thing that’s on your To-Do List, especially when it does not contribute to the achievement of your goals, personal or professional. Here, the time allocation to the activities is really important.

Therefore, the first thing you’ve got to do is to separate the activities that lead to your personal and professional goals from the activities that don’t. Let us call the activities that are important for the attainment of your personal and professional goals as the ‘vital few‘ as these activities generally constitute approximately only 20% of all the activities, and the other activities as ‘trivial many‘.

Now, how do you determine the sequence and time-allocation of these activities?

Here, the Urgent-Important Matrix introduced the by a Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower comes into play.

First, classify the ‘vital few’ and ‘trivial many’ activities as important and/or urgent.

Important – Activities having an outcome that leads to the achievement of your personal or professional goals.

Urgent – Activities demanding immediate attention (may or may not deal with attainment of goals).

Once the classification is done, follow the sequence as per the activities falling under the following categories (to effectively use your To-Do List):

  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Not important but urgent
  4. Not important and not urgent
The Urgent-Important Matrix
The Urgent-Important Matrix

Things which matter the most must never be at the mercy of the things which matter the least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Therefore, you need to make sure that you allocate your time in accordance with the importance and urgency of these activities, considering its ‘vital few’ and ‘trivial many’ attribute. Of course, you’d not want to spend much time on the trivial activities, because it’ll lead you nowhere.


Realise that you are a force to be reckoned with, but only when you’re using your time wisely. Because when you’re killing time, it’s the time that’s actually killing you.

Take control of your time, and conquer what you desire!



  1. Identify the activities in your To-Do List into ‘Vital Few’ and ‘Trivial Many’
  2. Classify these activities into the 4 categories specified in the Urgent-Important Matrix
  3. Follow the sequence and allocate your time accordingly
  4. Achieve your goals


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