Some Classes Stink, or Introducing Mr. Pareto

• January 14, 2008 • Comments (7)

After you’ve chosen a degree, you need to plan your study within your degree curriculum. To do that, we’ll use the 80/20 Principle.

The 80/20 Principle, also known as Pareto’s Law, is an incredibly powerful tool for time and priority management, with thousands of uses. The reality, for instance, that 80% of the work in a church is done by 20% of the people, lines up perfectly with the 80/20 principle. Or that 80% of the money is given by 20% of the contributors.

The basic idea is that of inequality: a few investments will yield the most dividend. A few salesmen will produce most of the sales. The most productivity on a project will come from a small slice of the total time spent on it. The proportions aren’t always 80/20. Sometimes they are 70/30, other times 90/10, or even 95/5.

Richard Koch wrote the classic book defining the 80/20 principle and illustrating its power and usefulness. The book is worth the read…but if you apply the principle, you can get 80% of the value of the book from reading just 20% of its content. I’ve read the book, and will share the most relevant 20% of it with you here. See? This principle is already saving you hours of time!

So back to planning your study. Having chosen a degree program, you need to ask which courses in your degree program deserve the most attention.

Fair Warning: as we flesh this out, I’m guessing that some of you will take offense to the diligent application of this principle. I probably would have, too, when I was in seminary. Not to worry. Remember that all recommendations here are suggestions, which you are free to adopt or dismiss as it suits you. No claims to divine inspiration here.

My M. Div. program was 92 hours. If we take the 80/20 rule, then on average, 18 hours of the 92 will have proved most helpful.

Next: My high value classes

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Category: Academics, Time Management

About the Author

Mark Warnock is the founder and General Editor of Seminary Survival Guide.com. He serves as Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Illinois, and is a Ph.D student in Christian Philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is working with Ed Eubanks on a book on how to survive seminary.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Shaun Tabatt says:

    There will certainly never be enough time in the day to complete all of the things that “need” to be done while you’re in Seminary. It is critical to your survival (sanity) that you come up with a good time management / scheduling system from the start. Another important thing to learn early on is that you don’t always need to get an A. Truth be told, it will be nearly impossible to get an A from some professors. I always strived to do a good job in all of my classes. However, I did commit more of my time and energy to those classes that were core courses for my area of study and a few others that were particularly enjoyable or interesting. Happy studying!

    ST

  2. I will be interested to see how you develop this, but I believe seminary students are in a very precarious position to be judging which 20% is most “important.” We should do our best in every class, to the glory of God.

    I agree that some classes will demand more time and effort, but we really should approach every class with a sense of urgency and spirit of teachableness. My MDiv was 98 hours, and I just don’t think it would have been wise to exclude any of them.

    I would urge every student to select a seminary carefully, and then develop a very high level of trust and respect for its board and faculty. If we don’t trust their curriculum and pedagogical decisions, then we will become frustrated and perhaps even resentful when we wonder, “What is the importance of ___?” or “Why are we wasting so much time on ___?” or “When will I ever apply ___?”

    An MDiv program is designed to expose us to a very broad base of knowledge, so that we will be able to converse and interact and discern and dig deeper later on in ministry.

  3. Mark says:

    Stephen,

    I so appreciate your humility and caution. You’re right: most seminary students are not in a place to make (arrogant) determinations about what is or is not worth their time, so to speak. Seminary curricula are well-designed for the most part, and should be approached with trust and not disdain. I am not encouraging rebellion.

    My fundamental assumption is triage: you can’t do everything well, and some things will have to go, simply because we’re finite creatures. So if we have to cut back at seminary for the sake of our sanity or our marriage, I’m saying that there are ways you can do that without robbing yourself of the greatest value of the experience. I hope I can communicate well enough that this isn’t taken as “10 ways to blow off seminary and still get your degree.”

  4. Thanks for clarifying, Mark. :)

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  6. [...] The Pareto Principle applies here as elsewhere: 80% of the value of a book can be found in 20% of its pages. That means that reading most of the book will be a low-value use of your time, your professor’s insistence to the contrary notwithstanding. So unless, you really like the book, don’t read any book from cover to cover. Try this instead: [...]

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