Time Management

Classic time management: Pareto, ABC, ALPEN and Time Thieves

Here you can learn more about the most important principles in classic time management.

By using classic time management methods, you can use your time much more efficiently. But as a second step, it is important to not spend the time you have saved in order to work and “get more done”, but to use it specifically for creating a work-life balance: relaxation, growth, family and partnership. Make sure that you are doing things right (efficiency) and doing the right things (effectiveness) - then you can save time and achieve success.

There are many ways and methods to improve your time management. Among other things, the ABC method, the ALPEN method and the ability to identify time thieves.

In the next section, you'll be able to take a closer look at your time management - perhaps you'll see what you intuitively implement on your own - or you may notice how you can improve your time management. Good luck in deepening your knowledge of classic time management!


  1. The Pareto Principle (The 80:20 Rule) in time management
  2. The ABC analysis in time management
  3. The Eisenhower principle in time management
  4. The ALPEN method in time management
  5. The Performance Curve in time management
  6. The Silence Hour in time management
  7. Time Thieves in time management

The Pareto Principle (The 80:20 Rule) in Time Management

The Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Federico Pareto (1848-1913) formulated the Pareto Principle named after him, according to which we can obtain 80% of the results in 20% of the time. He discovered the Pareto Principle for the first time in the early 20th century, when he discovered that in Italy 20 percent of families possessed 80 percent of national wealth.

For work and time management, the Pareto Principle means that if you want to make the most of your time, you need to know that typically 20% of your activities and tasks are so critical that they contribute about 80% to the total success of your work. For your time management this means that the remaining 80 percent of the time yields only 20 percent of the result. The ratio between yield and effort is 80 to 20 from this perspective. For this reason, the Pareto Principle is also called the 80:20 rule.

The Pareto Principle is an effective time management method for setting priorities and prioritizing tasks, for identifying scheduling issues early, and for developing a concrete plan for work. In order to effectively apply the Pareto Principle, it is critical that you be able to assess your own capabilities and level of performance, clearly articulate your goal, and separate the important from the unimportant. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and recognize the success factors that will enable you to reap 80 percent of your success using the Pareto principle with 20 percent time commitment!

Examples: The Pareto Principle in economics:

  • In meetings, 80% of the decisions are usually made in 20% of the time.
  • Desk work: about 80 percent of tasks are done in 20 percent of the time.
  • 20% of customers or goods lead to 80% of sales.

Examples: The Pareto Principle in daily life:

  • We usually wear only 20% of the clothes we own.
  • In the home, 20% of the carpet surface accounts for 80% of the total wear.
  • 20% of leisure activities provide 80% of the desired rest.

Pareto Principle and Perfectionism

According to the Pareto Principle, perfection is uneconomical and unfavorable for time management. Rather than engaging in work that does not add value, you should limit your own perfectionism in order to have time for the essentials.

It is therefore more beneficial for your time management, if you put in time working for the 80% results, instead of putting your energy into the 20% still missing for perfection. But beware, that does not mean that there is no work that must be done absolutely one hundred percent. For example, when building a house, it is absolutely counterproductive if work is ended, when only 80% of the wall has been built.

The ABC Analysis in Time Management

The ABC analysis is a simple tool for helping you understand the current situation of your time management. When you use the ABC analysis, it becomes clear how your effort is related to the yield.

The benefit of ABC analysis is its fast and straightforward applicability. The goal of ABC analysis is to focus more on the important things.

The ABC analysis differentiates between very important tasks (A, value: 65%, time: 15%), important tasks (B, value: 20%, time: 20%) and less important tasks (C, value: 15%, time: 65 %).

The ABC Analysis in overview:

A-tasks can usually only be done by yourself. They are not delegable and very important. Their execution provides the highest value.
B-tasks are on average important tasks but are also (partially) delegable.
C-tasks are the least valuable towards performing a function, but they take up the most time (routine work, paperwork, reading, telephoning, filing, correspondence, and other administrative tasks). In most cases, the ratio of the time used stands in stark contrast to the value of the activity.

A good distribution of work according to the ABC analysis would be the following:

  • only schedule one to two A-tasks per day (about three hours total)
  • make time for another two to three B-tasks (about one hour total)
  • reserve the rest for C-tasks (about ¾ hours)

The Eisenhower Principle in Time Management

Many people confuse urgency with importance and are thus unnecessarily prevented from completing important tasks. In the Eisenhower Principle, which has become known due to former US President Eisenhower, various activities are divided into four squares.

In the Eisenhower Principle, the first quadrant contains things that are both urgent and important: crises, pressing issues, projects, meetings, time-limited preparations.

The second quadrant in the Eisenhower Principle is the most important of them all. What is to be done here is important, but not urgent: training, preparation, prevention, identifying value, planning, working on relationships, real recovery, promotion of self-responsibility, strategic work.

The Eisenhower Principle is about life, love, learning and a legacy. This quadrant is the most important for success. This decides whether you will lead a life of mediocrity or excellence.

The third quadrant contains things that are not important but urgent. These are, according the Eisenhower Principle: interruptions, a few phone calls, some mail, some reports, a few conferences, many upcoming urgent matters, many popular activities.

The Eisenhower Principle assumes that in the fourth quadrant things are not important and not urgent: Trivialities, being busy, circulars, some phone calls, time-wasting activities, escape.

The Eisenhower Principle advises that you spend as much of your time as possible on Quadrant II activities. This is valuable time invested.

The ALPEN Method in Time Management

The meaning of the term ALPEN is a bit complicated, as the acronym comes from German (“the Alps”). The approach is, however, a valuable one!

A– (Aufgaben) = Tasks / To-Do (think of this is your “A list”)

Write down everything you want to do the next day. Consider the tasks that derive from your weekly and monthly goals, unforeseen tasks, newly added activities and routine activities, as well as your appointments.

L – (Länge) = Length of time

Next to each task note the time that you estimate will be required for it. Do not be afraid of inaccurate estimates! After only few days, you will know exactly how much time you need for certain operations. In addition, we have a tendency to always take just as much time as we have given ourselves. If you have not set an end for a meeting, then the meeting will last until time runs out (e.g., you have another appointment). If you have limited the meeting to 90 minutes, then you may need 10 minutes longer, but you will finish much earlier. It is the same with your own time. If you specify a length of time, you will force yourself to stick to it consistently and work more efficiently.

P – (Pufferzeiten) = Plan buffer time

Reserve at least 40% buffer time! This time is available for unexpected and sudden developments that you simply cannot plan for. This means that you should schedule only 6 hours out of 10 working hours or only 5 hours out of 8 working hours! This often requires a rigorous shortening of other activities.

E – (Entscheidungen) = Establish priorities

Make decisions about the priority of your activities! What is most important to you, what is most urgent? Where can you cut back or delegate to others? One way to do this is through the ABC method.

N – (Nachkontrolle) = Notation

Write up the foregoing in a detailed weekly schedule – and note the results! How accurate was your day’s plan? Proceed so that you complete the most important tasks at the beginning of the day, the smaller activities summarized as task blocks or, if necessary, for taking small breaks. Also note that there are times in the day (or week) when you are disturbed very little and times when the phone is constantly ringing, or visitors come by. When using the ALPEN Method, it is important that you also pay attention to the signals of your body and your biorhythm.

Daily planning
A: Task List: note tasks, activities, appointments
L: Estimate Length: time needed for each task
P: Plan Buffer: plan only 60% of your work day
E: Establish Priorities: (ABC Analysis)
N: Notation: Record results, accuracy of the plan

The Performance Curve in Time Management

Our work performance is not consistent; it changes in the course of the day. No one is able to perform consistently throughout the whole the day.

Knowing your performance curve will help you use your working day more effectively and achieve better work results! Discover your personal performance curve and do the most important tasks when you're at your best, otherwise your time management will not be optimal.

Most people reach their peak performance in the morning. This level will not be reached again for the rest of the day. The afternoon is often affected by the well-known after-lunch low. After a renewed intermediate high in the early evening, the power curve drops continuously to reach its absolute low point a few hours after midnight.

The best way to determine your personal performance curve is to spend a week or two closely observing how you work and recording your observations: when you are making good progress, when you feel full of energy, when you are tired and down, when you are best able to concentrate, and when you become rather unfocused.

The Silent Hour in Time Management

Sharpening the saw

A person walking through a forest sees someone struggling to cut a tree with a saw. When he approaches, he sees that man’s saw is quite dull. When asked about the dull saw, the man answers in a very upset tone: "Don’t you see that I do not have time to sharpen the saw now?"

Frequent interruptions and disturbances during work lead to inefficient use of time. After each interruption, it takes some time to get back into the task and continue work where you left off. This loss in time and effort can add up to a total loss of up to 28%.

For the execution of extremely important tasks, it makes sense to work as free of disturbance as possible. To achieve this, experts recommend that you plan at least one hour of quiet in your schedule every day, time when you keep yourself free of all interruptions. This Silent Hour is an appointment with yourself and it should also be firmly entered in your daily calendar.

It makes sense to plan this Silent Hour for a time when you are counting on few disturbances anyway, and then really shield yourself from all disturbances, i.e., you put the phone ringer on mute, etc.

The Silent Hour is suitable for completing A-tasks - see the ABC Method. Cope with less important tasks (C-tasks) during time liable to interruption - the Silent Hour is too precious for that.

Time Thieves in Time Management

Do you sometimes wonder where your time has gone? Or do you often feel like you're wasting time? Then maybe too many time thieves have crept into your time management.

You could have a great time management system, but if you do not get your time thieves under control, then it will be of little use to you. Time thieves steal our most valuable asset - our time.

Who are your time thieves? Is it the phone that often bothers you unnecessarily? Or conversations that take much too long? Are they visitors who are not really important and who want to sell you something you just do not need? Are they ineffective meetings? Is it your putting-it-off-itis? Do you lack clear priorities? Do you have too much paperwork on your desk, so you lose track of where what is and often have to search too long? Does your current way of delegating work waste time?

Find your time thieves - and optimize your time management at the same time.

Time thieves, i.e., interruptions, cannot always be avoided. That's not what it’s about. Your goal should be to reduce these time thieves as much as possible for a certain period during the day. During this time, you can concentrate on your important tasks.

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