The 80/20 Rule: How Will You Spend Your Time?

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Sure, you laughed at the picture, but was it because you either had to laugh or cry?  One of the chapters in the book Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics that impacted me the most was Chapter 4, The 80/20 Rule.  The authors quote Stephen Covey: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  We would all agree that there is not enough time, energy or money to do everything we want to do in our classrooms.  The trick, then, is to decide how you will use your resources to best meet the needs of your students.

So think about your job.  Of all the activities related to your job, which are the most important for reaching your goal.  Wait!  You don’t have a goal?  Well, that’s the first step.  As a math coach, my goal is to improve math instruction on my campus.  Here’s where the cost-benefit analysis comes in.  As I plan my activities, I should be spending my time on activities that will improve math instruction on my campus.  See how that works?  If you think of every activity and decision you make looking through the 80/20 lens, how could you not make better choices?

Here’s how Confer and Ramirez sum up the 80/20 Rule:

  1. Always “Keep the end in mind.”
  2. Do a cost-benefit analysis for decisions: before committing your time, energy, and money, consider your perceived benefits and your costs–what you won’t be able to do if you decide to take that action.
  3. Identify whether the benefits are likely to have a direct payoff for your goals and whether it is worth giving up the cost.
  4. Work toward making decisions that allow you to spend 80 percent of your time, energy, and money on the things that matter most, and 20 percent on things that have less payoff.
It really is a great perspective to take into the new school year, don’t you think?


  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for putting things into perspective before school starts for us this week. I plan to spend more time working with small groups while the rest of the class is doing a rotation or playing math games I’ve created. Wish me luck. I’ve been following your blog and have downloaded several freebies.

    • Donna Boucher

      Certainly a great goal!

  2. MrsArnold

    Interesting perspective. I’ve never thought about the cost-benefit — ie, I’ve never considered NOT being able to do one thing because I chose to do another. I’ve always added the extra time on to the day (overtime for all the things I had to do)or borrowed time from one activity to finish another with the kids. Of course that doesn’t work for long. I’m off to reconsider some things..

    • Donna Boucher

      Yes, very thought provoking. I think we naturally try to take on everything and then, not surprisingly, end up worn out and frustrated. I think justifying decisions based on a cost-benefit analysis could have a huge impact, not only on results, but also on teacher morale.

  3. Stephanie

    This is an excellent reminder just in time for back to school! My first 2 years teaching I wore myself out quickly trying to do it all which really wasn’t beneficial to anyone. The cost benefit analysis is a great tip to remember when things start feeling heavy! Thanks for posting!!

    ❤ -Stephanie
    Falling Into First

    • Donna Boucher

      I first read the book toward the end of the school year last year, and that was great timing, too. It forced me to really reflect on how I had spent my time during the year and what impact I had made. Rereading it during the summer reminded me again of how important prioritizing is! I know that, personally, I will make different choices this year.

  4. history_chick

    Wow, this has really helped me get things into perspective. I have always gotten caught up in trying doing more than is realistic. I always end up feeling burned out. I am going to sit down tonight and figure out my goals for the coming school year and focus my 80% there. Thank you for those words of wisdom.

    • Donna Boucher

      Awesome! We ALL take on too much and sometimes just spend too much time on something that doesn’t really benefit our kiddos all that much. Good luck!


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