Pareto and Me: How to Trick My Writer’s Block


It dawned on me. Late. But not too late. And for sure it’s not the least of things I need to know for now and my future: “Cooperate with the Pareto Principle!”

You never heard of it? Nevermind. Here it is. The Pareto Principle is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) who observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden yielded 80% of the peas. Well, more excitingly – and more economy-related – he also observed that 80% of the land in Italy belonged to 20% of the population. Needless to say that this principle holds true in many other fields of science and life and has since been widely confirmed, adopted, and applied to various areas of life. One of them is time management. Or have you never experienced that most of the furniture refurbishing, Pizza-making, scrapbook-assembling, etc. is done in a comparatively small amount of time, whereas the final amount of work seems to eat up most of the time? Here we go. Welcome to Pareto-World! 🙂

Today, as I was sitting and trying to focus on writing, I semi-subconsciously observed myself (not for the first time) during the process of writing: I normally set out to write, then encounter a small obstacle (sth. needs to be looked up, checked, read again, revised, etc.) and almost automatically it drives me to distract myself: for example, instead of checking something right away I make a (fatal!) detour and check Facebook (or news sites or …). There I hang out for a minimum of 5-10 minutes and before I get back to checking what I wanted to check or editing what I wanted to edit, a good amount of time is wasted. Now this is nothing new to me (and probably some people out there).

The new thing was that today as never before I vividly realized what I theoretically know for a long time: that I distract myself because I see that I cannot do something in one perfect flash; that my perfectionist nature sends me to “hibernation” as soon as it sees that perfection is not that easily reached. To cover up this “defeat”, to cope with this “disenchantment” I distract myself by doing something totally different. That this mechanism is totally counterproductive and costs more time in the end and brings me farther away from a good result, is more than clear.

So, what is the way out? Well, for me today it was the realization that I can and should consciously work with the 80/20 rule in my mind. Since I know that I will most probably spend 80% of my time anyway with doing the petty remaining 20% of the work, I can at least choose where I will put the 80% of the time – in the beginning, the middle or the end of my writing process?!

So why not putting it at the end? Thus I can use the first 20% of time to get 80% (!!) of the work done by simply writing, without bothering with perfection.

How to do that practically? Well, what seems to work for me is the following: Inserting colorful markers where info needs to be checked. Inserting bold comments at the spot where a footnote needs to be inserted at some later time. Underlining wherever I am uncertain re the formulation. Writing in italics if I need to brush up on some background info. Basically doing whatever is necessary to keep the writing flowing – even if it meant to transform your text-in-progress into a colorful mandala. Keep on writing, keep on writing! Because you know that the big chunk of time in the end will be there waiting for you anyway!!! And then you can correct, insert, check, rewrite, etc. The trick: by the end of the first 20% of your time, you will have completed about 80% of your work – and will be excited and motivated because you’ll see that you only have 20% of work left. Yes, it will still need a big chunk of time to work on that, but hey: 80% of your work is done. Isn’t that something?

So I’ll go to bed tonight, happy for this vivid realization… and eager to start writing in the morning. And yes, in the morning I will most probably again spend some time on Facebook and will check the news here and there and distract myself. But it will be a little less than today. And the day after tomorrow I will… [Paolinetta clicks on “publish” and logs out of WordPress. Correction of this blog post follows tomorrow…]


One thought on “Pareto and Me: How to Trick My Writer’s Block

  1. Jamie says:

    I SO need to do this too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s