The 80:20 Rule: How to spend less time studying but be more productive

We all know how it feels to be inefficient: spending many hours “studying” without getting much productive work done can be incredibly frustrating, and is a drain on time and energy for IB students everywhere.

What if you could spend LESS time studying, but still get MORE done in your day? If this sounds too good to be true, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. The secret to maximising productivity is The Pareto Principle, otherwise known as The 80:20 Rule. Pareto was an Italian economist in the early 1900s, and he declared that in many aspects of life, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. In other words, 80% of your IB exam success will come from 20% of the work you put in:

You may have seen in the news recently that Sweden has decided to shorten its employees’ working day from 8 hours to 6, after research showed that this leads to less sickness, lower stress levels, and greater overall productivity.

The same principle can be applied to your IB working life. Rather than spending hours and hours dragging out your homework and half working/half procrastinating, you should be focusing on how you can be as productive as possible when you sit down to work. This way, every task on your to-do list will take less time, but the result will be of a higher quality.

How to maximise that productive 20%

The key to successfully applying the Pareto Principle to IB work is making the most of the 20% of your time that will produce 80% of your results. Here are a few ways that you can ensure maximum productivity when you study:

  • Use the Pomodoro Technique

    Set yourself a 25 minute timer, and work on your chosen task until the timer rings. Take a short break before you start your next 25 minutes. Once you’ve completed for ‘Pomodoros’, take a longer break (20-30 minutes).

Pomodoro productive

  • Minimise distractions

    Use apps to minimise distractions during these 25 minute bursts of work. Strict Workflow, a Google Chrome extension, allows you to create a blacklist of websites to block for 25 minutes at a time. Similarly, Forest occupies your phone screen with a growing tree seedling for half an hour, which will die if you swipe off the app before your work time is complete!

 Strict Workflow productive

  • Choose a work space

    Consistently studying in the same place will help you to condition yourself to concentrate more readily when you sit down to work. Find a location with plenty of natural light, a large work surface, and as few distractions as possible. Why not try your dining table, a spot near a window in a library, or your bedroom desk?

Productive study space
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve

    Before each Pomodoro begins, have clearly in mind what work you want to get done in the next 25 minutes. Write a list of the tasks you need to complete this week, and break each one into small steps of around 25 minutes in length to be used as Pomodoros. Cross these off as you go.

Productive to do list


Got it? Set yourself the challenge of applying the 80:20 rule to the time you spend working this week, and let us know how you get on! 

Steps to start building your study stamina

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