Ever Thought to Apply the 80/20 Principle to Your Life?

The story goes something like this: Back in 1906 the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto (July 15, 1848 — August 19, 1923) noticed that every year 20% of the pea pods in his garden produced approximately 80% of the peas. This got Vilfredo to thinking about economic output on a larger scale. Eventually, he found that 80% of a company’s production usually came from 20% of its employees. This became known as the Pareto Principle, or what is commonly referred to as the 80/20 Principle.

Historically the 80/20 Principle is most popular when it comes to business management as a tool used to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Businesses often find:

  • 20% of their customers made up 80% of their sales.
  • 20% of their sales reps made 80% of the company’s sales.
  • 20% of their costs resulted in 80% of their expenses.
  • 20% of their time created 80% of their productivity.
  • 20% of their employees created 80% of their value.

Of course, nobody ever actually measured exactly 80% and 20% for all of the above business actions, but the approximate 4-to-1 ratio constantly does appear again and again. Whether it is actually 76/24 or 83/17 is irrelevant.

Have you ever consider applying the 80/20 Principle your everyday life and what the ramifications could be?

For instance:

  • What are the 20% of your possessions you get the most value from?
  • What do you spend 20% of your time doing that gives you 80% of your happiness?
  • Who are the 20% of the people you are close to who make you the happiest?
  • What are the 20% of the clothes you wear 80% of the time?
  • What’s the 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time?

These should be easy questions for you to answer, you have just never considered them before. Once you have answered them you can then easily focus on increasing efficiencies in your life. What would happen if:

  • You spent less time with the 80% of people you spend time with who only add 20% of the pleasure in your life?
  • You got rid of (throw out, sell, donate, etc.) the 80% of the crap you use 20% of the time?
  • You got rid of (again, throw out, sell, donate, etc.) of the clothes you wear 20% of the time?

By identifying the 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time you can pretty much come to the conclusion whether you are eating a healthy diet or not and how healthy your diet is. When you think about it who needs to follow a diet? Just make sure your diet consists of 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time is healthy.

When I first considered how the 80/20 Principle applied to my own life I realized a few things.

  • A few of my hobbies (golf, collecting James Bond memorabilia, watching movies) accounted for 80% of my time outside of work yet only brought me 20% of my fulfillment.
  • A few of my friends whom I spent 80% of my time with I did not always enjoy being around (hence I was not happy in my social life).
  • 80% of what I spent my money on was not useful or healthy for my lifestyle.

Recognizing these things, and a lot more inspired me to make some major changes in my choices and my lifestyle. I dropped collecting James Bond memorabilia (sold my entire collection). I drastically cut back on the number of movies I watch (more selective) and the number of golf games I play (so far this year I have only played golf three times as opposed to 27 by the same time last year). I make more of an effort to identify other friends to spend more time with, and I pay attention to what I purchase with my money.

Of course, the 80/20 Principle can be applied to your productivity at work.

What tasks do you spend 80% of the time doing that bring in 20% of your results (i.e. checking e-mail over and over, writing memos, taking a long time to make basic and unimportant decisions, etc.)?

What is the 20% of your work that gets you 80% of the credit and recognition from your boss or team?

Finally, you can apply the 80/20 Principle to your relationships.

  • What are the 20% of your behaviors that cause 80% of the problems in your relationships?
  • What is 20% of the conversations that create 80% of the intimacy with your partner?

These are important questions most of us never consider.

It rarely, if ever, occurs to us that there’s efficiency to every aspect of our life, to everything we do. Not only is there an efficiency, but we have control and influence over that efficiency; it’s something we can responsibility for and improve.

What changes could you make in your life today based on the 80/20 Principle?

Don’t think of the 80/20 Principle as a rigid rule to live by, think of it as a tool, a lens to view aspects of your life through.

Sit down and think about it, maybe even write it out. I guarantee you will be surprised as the realizations you come to.