Improve Your Life With the 80/20 Rule

Last Updated Jun 29, 2008 2:43 AM EDT

You know how sometimes you suddenly keep hearing the same phrase over and over again? It's been that way for me this week with the so-called "80/20 rule." I keep stumbling over it in the media, and yesterday my friend even mentioned it over coffee. (Actually, she may have been talking about her favored ratio of java to milk, but still -- those same numbers again! It was eerie, I tell you.)

Anyway, as you may know, the 80/20 rule is a principle (sometimes called the Pareto Principle) that holds that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, 80 percent of your revenue comes from 20 percent of your customers. 80 percent of your work is done by 20 percent of your employees. Could be that 80 percent of your calories are coming from 20 percent of your food intake (damn you, blueberry cheesecake!) And so on.

It got me thinking: Is there a way to leverage the 80/20 rule to make yourself more productive or efficient? Turns out I'm not the only one to wonder. Tim Ferriss writes:
80% of your desired outcomes are the result of 20% of your activities or inputs. Once per week, stop putting out fires for an afternoon and run the numbers to ensure you're placing effort in high-yield areas.
Scott H. Young says you can use the 80/20 rule on the personal side as well:
Get rid of activities that don't have a high payoff. Stop spending time in relationships that don't create enough value. Stop wasting money on investments that aren't giving you a greater quality of life.
And Andre Kibbe describes how 80/20 eating can improve your health:
Being too lazy to maintain a real diet, I asked myself, "What are the 20% of foods that are causing 80% of my excess weight?" It took about three minutes to realize that they fell into two categories: candy and pastries. I was surprised by how simple it was to drop these from my eating routine...In six weeks I lost 11 pounds, with nothing to analyze or track.
More than anything, thinking in 80/20 mode can help you focus on what's trivial and what's not. Figure out what 20 percent of your tasks drive 80 percent of your results, focus on those, and trim back the nonessentials. It's another way of streamlining and prioritizing. And hey, now you can hop on the 80/20 bandwagon, too.
  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.