Using the 80/20 rule and Pareto Principle to Become Productive

“What is important is rarely urgent, what is urgent is rarely important.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Video on the 80/20 Rule

History of the 80/20 Rule and Alternative Names

The Pareto Principle is named after Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). Pareto was an Italian economist who first noticed that “Eighty percent of the wealth is held by twenty percent of the people.” He also noticed that 80% of the peas from his garden were contained in just 20 % of the total amounts of pea pods. 

Since its development it has been coined with multiple names including: 

  • The 80/20 Rule
  • The 80/20 Principle
  • The Pareto Principle
  • Pareto’s Law
  • Pareto Theory
  • Pareto’s 80-20 Rule
  • The Principle of Imbalance
  • The Principle of Least Effort
  • The Rule of the Vital Few

For the purposes of this article, I will refer to it as the 80/20 rule. Simply put the overall concept of the 80/20 rule is:

In most situations, there are actions that have significantly MORE results than other actions, given the SAME amount of TIME

The interesting thing is that this ratio of 80/20 can be found in almost all other facets of life! We will see how we can use the 80/20 rule to manage time but first let’s discuss a little bit about the meaning and real-life applications of the 80/20 rule. 

What is the 80/20 Rule and What Does it Mean?

The 80/20 rule states that the majority of results obtained are usually from just a fraction of the actions. Approximately 80% of the results are due to only 20% of the actions. Conversely, 80% of our actions only contribute to 20% of the results in our life. 

“80% of the results in our life are due to only 20% of our actions!”

Now the caveat is that it truly is a principle and not a rule. The ratio can be different depending on the circumstances where maybe 60% of results are determined by 40% of the efforts or even more dramatically 99% of the results are determined by 1% of the efforts. However, in almost all situations there is usually a significant discrepancy between the efforts performed and the results obtained.

80/20 Rule Examples in Real Life and Applications

If you take a close look at everything going on around you, you will likely see many applications of the 80/20 rule. Below are a few examples:

80/20 rule in business

80% of sales come from 20% of products, 80% of profits come from 20% of customers, 80% of campaigns will come from 20% of your advertising. Application: Focus on the 20% of ideal products, customers, marketing and advertising that brings in the most revenue

80/20 rule in Relationships and Dating

80% of relationships and friendships that add significant value to our lives come from only 20% of people. 80% of the frustrations with our relationships are caused by just 20% of the problems. Application: Maintain relationships with the 20% of people that bring the most meaning in your life. Resolve the 20% of problems that contribute to the most frustration in your relationships. 

80/20 rule in Eating and Diet

Many diets fail because they are too strict. You can apply the 80/20 rule to diet by not eating anymore when you are 80% full (also makes you enjoy the meal more). Eat healthy 80% of the time and relax the other 20% of the time. 

80/20 rule in Language

In order to learn a language, you only need to learn 10-20% of common words that are most useful in 80% of situations. 

80/20 rule in Finances

You only need to learn 20% of finances to get 80% of the results. A great book on how to learn just the 20% you need in your life can be found here.

The 80/20 Rule in Time Management and Productivity

When I started to discover more about this concept it absolutely fascinated me! How is it that the majority of what we accomplish is due to just a minority of what we do? And what would happen if we spent more of our time just focusing on the 20% that actually matters and less on the 80% that has little benefit? How drastically could that change our lives?

It seems like a key difference between busy people vs productivity people is that busy people focus on the 80% that has a minimum benefit and productive people focus on the 20% that has great benefit.

The reason that most people focus on the 80% that has little benefit is that these are the tasks that are usually easy to perform but unfortunately produce little results.

Productive people really try to focus on the 20% of things that matter the most and produce the most results. However, accomplishing these tasks usually requires a very high level of focus. Learn how to create a simple productivity system that helps you focus here in 12 Simple Steps.

Thinking of our Career, Personal Life, and Health using the 80/20 Rule

Most people attribute the high levels of stress in their life to not having enough “time” to complete their work or take care of their personal lives and health. This is the underlying cause of burnout. It’s because most people are focusing on the 80% of their work that has little impact and they feel they are not getting much done because truly they are NOT getting much done. They only have the energy to complete these types of actions because they do not take care of themselves outside of work.

Most people focus 80% of their efforts with Minimal Results

Now compare this to someone who really focuses on the 20% of efforts that produce the majority of the results. By working LESS they can actually achieve MORE results. So despite spending less TIME on work, they are completing more and have extra time to do other things in their lives.

How to Work LESS and Achieve MORE

So this is in essence how the 80/20 rule “creates” time. It allows you to spend LESS time overall on any area of your life while maximizing your results. The amazing thing is that this can be extrapolated to other areas in your life such as your personal life and health.

Just spend the right amount of time to achieve the most amount of benefit in all aspects of your life. This is the KEY to having a successful career with a balanced and healthy life.

Focus on the 20% that MATTERS! Infographic on the 80/20 Rule

Exceptions to the 80/20 Rule:

While the 80/20 rule applies to most situations, some things do require 100% detail and knowledge.

If you need to get something in 100% detail such as performing a surgical procedure or building an aircraft that can affect lives. Those require you to have all details 100% exact. But few things in our lives actually require that level of detail. 

Using the 80/20 Rule to fight Career Burnout

Now I work as a physician and I am seeing an increased rate of burnout among physicians as well as other professional occupations. This is usually due to the fact that we are so career-focused that we forget to spend time on things outside of our careers such as our personal lives, relationships or health. But as you saw from the examples above, what if we just focused on the 20% that truly mattered in our jobs but still was able to produce 80% of the value?

That would save us 80% of time to do things that further contribute more to our lives that are outside of work. What will you do with your time?

The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch

I think the most cited resource on this subject is the book titled The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. I would absolutely recommend this book for people who really want to go into more detail regarding the 80/20 Rule.

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[…] Learn how to figure out the 20% of tasks in your life that gives you 80% of the benefits in this post I wrote describing the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) in great detail. […]

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