How much time should managers or knowledge workers spend on each item on their Pareto list to help ensure successful outcomes? [Search this website for “Pareto” to learn how to apply this principle to your work day.]

Let’s borrow from the experience of successful companies in previous decades. For those companies to make innovations, breakthroughs, they permitted their most valued employees to spend 15% of their workday on their pet projects. Recognizing that successful companies are masters of managing and allocating the most precious and most scarce of all resources, time, then we can assume that those companies had carefully arrived at 15% as optimum for an important task.

Companies encouraged employee innovation by allowing 15% of workdays to critical tasks.

If any task, objective, or commitment on a Pareto list does not have approximately 15% time commitment, then it may require more scrutiny since it may be make-busy work.See End Note 1. Make-busy work should be minimized or removed from that list.  Using this 15% as a guideline can be an effective filter.

This 15% suggests that a worker can handle about 5 “solid” tasks that can result in meaningful contributions. 

Areas of meaningful contributions require sufficiently large blocks of time.


  1. Make-busy work is often confused with work that is productive. Instead, it is often comprised of tasks or responsibilities which “come with the job” or which are imposed on the job by others. It may also be items cloaked in corporate culture, ie. the “sacred cow”, or in ego, self-satisfaction, entitlement, or simply comfort zones. The most telling sign of make-busy work is the low value associated to the output and contribution.