The Pareto Principle for Writers: Finding Focus, Success, & Staying Sane

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The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, suggests that a small percentage of your efforts (20%) drives most of the results (80%). As a writer, this principle can be a powerful tool for maximizing productivity, identifying high-value activities, and building a sustainable writing career.

But like any tool, it needs to be wielded with knowledge. Blind adherence to the 80/20 split can stifle creativity, ignore the realities of the writing life, and even jeopardize your passion.

Let’s explore using the Pareto Principle to optimize your writing efforts while ensuring you don’t lose the joy of the craft.

Identifying Your “20%” as a Writer

Using the picture of a black lady in a mirror to depict a personal reflection on the pareto principle

The first step is to figure out the writing tasks that generate the most significant results. Now, what is a result to you may vary depending on your interests and goals but here are a few areas to consider when trying to decide.

  • Writing Types: Do you see better engagement with blog posts, short stories, social posts, or email newsletters? Focus on the format that consistently resonates with your audience.
  • Marketing Channels: Are your best readers from organic search, social media, or guest posts? Double down on the strategies that consistently bring in quality traffic.
  • Income Streams: Do you make most of your income from freelance client work, book royalties, or self-published ebooks? Prioritize the revenue sources that are most lucrative and aligned with your long-term goals.
  • “Invisible” Tasks: Which ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities are crucial? This could be research, meticulous editing, or building relationships with fellow writers.

Remember, your “20%” can shift over time. Review it regularly!

The Pareto Principle Isn’t Always About Direct Profit

As a writer, it’s tempting to define results solely in terms of income, but this can lead to burnout and stifle the creative spark. Here’s where a nuanced approach is crucial:

  • Passion Projects: Carve out time within your schedule to work on projects that ignite your creativity, even if they don’t have immediate financial potential. These projects can fuel your long-term success and remind you why you love writing. [You can check out my post on balancing passion and profit in writing]
  • Skill-Building: Investing time in improving your craft – whether by taking a course or practising a challenging writing form – can unlock future opportunities and make your work more valuable.
  • Networking: Building genuine relationships with other writers, editors, and industry professionals can open doors to collaborations, feedback, and unexpected prospects.

Finding Your Balance: Pareto and the “Messy Middle”

using a seesaw leaning one way to depict leaning towards a personal productivity system and finding your balance

Let’s say you identify that freelance writing is your most lucrative focus. Following the Pareto Principle strictly, you might dedicate most of your time to client work. But real life isn’t so straightforward. You also need to:

  • Pitch & Find New Clients: This falls outside your direct billable writing time, but it’s vital to your business’s sustainability.
  • Manage Admin: Invoicing, communication, and other admin tasks are less glamorous, but essential for getting paid.
  • Stay Inspired: Take breaks, read widely, and nourish your creativity to prevent your client’s work from becoming stale.

Even the “messy middle” tasks contribute to your overall success. The key is to be intentional about the time you allocate while remaining flexible.

Evolving Your Pareto Approach

The most successful writers don’t stick to a rigid formula; they adapt their focus to their goals and the realities of the market. Here’s how to be dynamic with your Pareto approach:

  • Regular Reviews: Set aside time (monthly or quarterly) to assess what’s working and what’s not. Are you neglecting certain parts of your writing business?
  • Adapting to Demand: Notice shifts in client needs or audience preferences and evolve your service offerings or the types of content you create accordingly.
  • Embrace Experimentation: Set aside time for exploring new ideas, formats, or niches. This can lead to exciting breakthroughs and unlock new revenue streams.

The Pareto Principle: A Tool, Not a Dictator

Ultimately, the Pareto Principle is a powerful guide for writers. It helps streamline your decision-making, maximize your results, and ensure you’re investing your energy in the most impactful areas. But it’s essential to wield it with flexibility, prioritizing your unique passion, well-being, and a sustainable writing career.


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