You may know about the 80/20 rule, but in case you’ve never heard of it, the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle and the Law of the Vital Few) is a power law named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
This law states that approximately 80% of inputs (causes) lead to a mere 20% of outputs (results) while just 20% of inputs or causes lead to a whopping 80% of results. In other words, the 80/20 rule says that just a few things in life make a big impact while the rest make little or no impact.
Once we understand this revolutionary concept, our mission becomes to discover what those few things are and do more of them while doing less of the rest.
How Pareto Discovered the 80/20 Rule
Pareto discovered this law while studying wealth distribution in Italy. He found that approximately 80% of the land was owned by less than 20% of the population. Finding this curious, he conducted several other surveys on land ownership and wealth distribution in other countries over different periods of time.
To his astonishment, he found a similar 80/20 relationship in all countries and in all time periods he studied.
Wherever he looked, he found that a few people had most of the land and wealth while the majority of people had to make do with the rest.
It’s true today too. A small minority of rich, powerful people still hold most of the wealth while the majority is left with comparatively little.
Pareto finally developed the 80/20 principle after observing the same relationship between majority and minority in his home garden: 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas.
The Pareto Principle was true long before you were born, it holds true today, and it seems like it will always hold true.
So what do pea pods and the 80/20 rule have to do with you?
Everything. The Pareto Principle rule means that a few things you do each day (about 20% of your actions) get you 80% of your results and have a significantly positive impact on your life overall. So most (80%) of what you do is, by comparison, not nearly as impactful. Think about that for a moment.
This law says most of what we do every day isn’t helping us achieve the results we wan. Only a few things really matter in a big way.
Once you realize this, you’ll want to pay close attention to what the good stuff is you’ve been doing and what’s simply frivolous time-wasting disguised as work.
The Pareto Principle: 80/20 Time Management
If you worked for ten hours, two of those hours would lead to 80% of the results you achieved for that day—the good stuff. The other eight hours would only create 20% of the impact. That means you will have spent eight hours working and being busy without any significant results to show for it.
So why don’t we just go to the beach for those eight hours and stop screwing around pretending to be busy?
This is such a shocking revelation that it needs to be said again.
Just a few things you do each day (20% or less) are having an amazingly positive impact on your life (producing 80% of your results), while most of what you do (80% of your time) is essentially a waste of energy and has only a marginally positive impact on your life (20% impact).
In fact, some of the things you’ve been doing make no impact at all, or even make your life worse! This is true for all of us.
The 80/20 rule means just a few things you do each day keep your life going well while the rest could be removed, and you’d still be fine. So, if you want to be a time management ninja instead of running around each day like a chicken with its head cut off, you’ll find out what that top 20% stuff you’re doing is—and then do more of it.
Practically speaking, this means in a ten-hour day, only two hours are really getting you anywhere.
So once you know what the “good 20%” is, you can duplicate it. Now, with just four hours’ work, you could get a 160% increase in results. AND have six free hours to do with what you want.
Would you rather be more productive and have more time off? Or would you prefer keeping your nose to the grindstone and needlessly wasting much of your time?
It’s your call.
Many people know this intellectually, but they don’t act on it. Instead they simply carry on wasting their precious life in low-value work and wonder why “success” never comes.
The good news is you can do LESS and get a better result if you’re smart and figure out what the good stuff is and do more of it every day. This will take a little bit of hard thinking to avoid countless days, months, and years of hard work and floundering around. What’s even cooler is that this bizarre ratio applies to every aspect of our lives.
Here are just a few examples to get you thinking…
80/20 Rule for Relationships
Right now, approximately 20% of your relationships bring you about 80% of your joy, while the other 80% only have a small impact on your life. On the other side, another 20% of your relationships will be the cause of 80% of your unhappiness.
Who are the people who bring you the most joy in your life? How can you spend more time with them?
Who are the other people who screw up your life? How can you spend less time with them, or change those relationships to make them work better for you?
When you know the answers to these questions you can swiftly increase your level of happiness and remove your stress. Is it worth it? You bet it is.
Food and Drink
Approximately 20% of your food and drink choices bring you about 80% of your health, while the other 80% only has a mild impact on your life and health.
On the other side, about 20% of the “bad” or unhealthy food you eat is probably what’s making you fat, sick, and generally unhealthy. So if you give that up, you’ll feel a lot better.
You probably also eat the same 20% of foods 80% of the time. For instance: right now, I’m drinking coffee. I drink coffee about 80% of the time for my morning writing session and have other drinks about 20% of the time.
Certain foods and drinks promote better focus and energy, allowing you to be more focused when you have important work to do. Ginseng and other adaptogenic herbs (rhodiola, chaga, reishi, astragalus, ashwagandha, marine phytoplankton, and many more) all have long track records of helping people holistically balance their lives. You don’t need to do them all. Find what works for you and do that.
There are plenty of studies showing that adding raw plant-based foods to our daily diet brings us more overall health and staves off disease.
Start by adding the good stuff instead of taking away; the bad things will fall away in time. You will enjoy better sleep, vitality, focus, and energy. It is well worth your while to integrate these beneficial lifestyle choices into your daily rituals for short and long-term results.
Work and Money
Approximately 20% of your work activities bring you about 80% of your income, while the other 80% only have a small impact on your cash flow (and may even cost you money). So if you simply focus on that 20%, you’ll make more money.
You probably go to the same places for work and play 80% of the time and other places about 20% of the time.
Are you going to the coolest spots? Or are you going to places that are “okay” but not really doing it for you? Why not find the places you most love to go to and go there more often? Where else could you travel to that would bring you more joy and take about the same time to get to?
Movies and Entertainment
What types of movies do you enjoy? What actors do you like best? How can you watch more inspiring movies? Or give up movies altogether and do something else?
The 80/20 rule applies to everything else you do, including:
- Emails sent to you and emails you send to others
- Clothes you wear
- Stuff you buy
- The quality of your spiritual practices
- The books or types of books you read
- And the list goes on…
If you go to your local health food shop, you’ll see the same people there 80% of the time buying their “healthy” food. If you were to look at the store’s accounting, you’d see that about 80% of their sales will come from 20% of the customers and 20% of the products sell 80% of the time.
80/20 for Business
Many companies are profitable because they focus on the top 20% of the products and services that people want and reduce or scrap the rest.
If you look into it enough, you’ll find this “Rule of the Vital Few” in practice over and over again in every area of your life. It may not be an exact 80/20 relationship, but it will be close. The point is that a few things are having a big impact on your life, and the rest are taking up most of your time and only giving you back a tiny return.
That meager 20% of things you do are not just a little bit better than the remaining 80%. They are, on average, 16 times more effective than the other 80%.
The Good Stuff is 16 Times Better than the Bad Stuff
Has your jaw dropped?
Are you awestruck, unable to speak or move?
If not, you haven’t understood this yet.
Go back and read this again until it hits you. Knowing and applying this will RADICALLY upgrade the quality of your life. Right now, 80% of what you do isn’t nearly as impactful as a small handful of things you do.
I’ll say this again.
80% of what you do with your time isn’t making a big impact.
20% of what you do is keeping your life together. If you did more of this 20%, you’d radically improve the quality of your results (and your life).
So now you have a choice about how you work and what you do. Will you choose Option A or Option B?
OPTION A – THE 80% BS METHOD
The 80% BS Method is like dragging a bull up a hill for six hours and then spending the rest of the day rolling about in his feces and paying for the privilege.
OPTION B – THE 20% EASY SUCCESS METHOD
The 20% Easy Success Method is like flying a private jet plane at 800 miles an hour to a private island to relax while you make money on autopilot.
Which would you prefer?
If this 80/20 thing doesn’t strike you as astounding and revolutionary, you haven’t fully understood it yet. Seriously. If a light has been turned on and this principle has registered with you, you should be in a state of awe and excitement right now.
You’ll have the big Aha! moment and realize that you’ve been wasting 80% of your time and you could be claiming it back by using that time to do more of the things that matter most and produce the greatest beneficial impact in your life.
If the light is on, you’ve just discovered the keys to your freedom. You now have to use this key if you want to unlock the door to your success. When my clients “get it,” they become amazed and eager to start discovering the good 20% and increasing it in their lives.
Knowing this law of life is like being given a magic key to a new reality where you can enjoy life, work less and make a bigger impact. It’s like having a whole new world you never knew existed suddenly open up to you. You’re awakening from a nightmare and creating a dream in which you have control over what happens. Awesome as it is though, it takes courage to stop doing the 80% BS and focus on the gold.
Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Life
Do you have the courage to change?
Are you willing to stop the BS?
Are you willing to get it together?
Now is the moment of power.
Cut out the low value, pointless BS and claim back your life.
With just this one essential mindset you can double your productivity overnight.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Get It Done: The 21-Day Mind Hack System to Double Your Productivity and Finish What You Start.
We highly recommend you buy the book and apply its lessons to improve your life.
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- Time Management for Writers: The Stopwatch Method for Massive Creative Productivity
- 123: Time Management for Writers and Sales Funnels with Craig Ballantyne
- Top 8 Online Time-Tracking Tools: Improve Your Process and Productivity with Accurate Time Management
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.