Put the 80/20 Rule to Work for You

The 80/20 Rule (a.k.a. Pareto Principle) says that you are deluding yourself if you genuinely believe that all of your friends have equal value to you; that any customer you deal with at work is as important as every other, or that all published books have an equal chance of being purchased.

Rather, the 80/20 Rule maintains that there is an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs, actions and results, as this 1 minute video shows

More Examples of the 80/20 Rule

At Work

  • 20% of staff produce 80% of results.
  • The most popular 20% of musicians earn 80% of all money spent on concert ticket and music sales
  • 20% of customers bring in 80% of sales.
  • 20% of the most reported software bugs cause 80% of software crashes.

At Home

  • You use 20% of your recipes to make 80% of your meals.
  • 20% of behaviours cause 80% of the problems in a relationship.
  • You wear 20% of the shoes in your closet 80% of the time.
  • 20% of your party guests will drink 80% of your liquor.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Numbers

I’m using the word ‘rule’ because that’s how this work is commonly referenced, but I don’t like it. Rule, to me, implies the synonyms of ‘edict’, ‘law’ and ‘decree’. From there, it’s an easy leap to a conclusion that all instances of the Pareto Principle will work out to the nice and tidy 80/20 of the examples. This is not the case.

The Pareto Principle simply posits that the relationship between cause and effect is unbalanced. The actual numbers may not add up to 100 and, even if they do, may be diverse as 76/24 or 64/36. Rather than the numbers, focus on the takeaway message of the Pareto Principle which is

Not everything you do has equal value. So put your efforts where they will make the most difference.

Focus on the Vital Few, Not the Trivial Many

The phrase “vital few, trivial many” was coined by business thinker Joseph Juran almost a century ago. It is the premise of many books about or based on the Pareto Principle including: The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch; The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss; Influencer by Kerry Patterson et al., and one of my all-time favourite change management books for the workplace – The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney et al.

Why Aren’t We Using the 80/20 Rule More Often?

Despite the attention given to the concept, we are still far from realizing the power of the 80/20 Rule in our lives. I believe that there are three reasons for this.

Some people don’t do well because they major in the minor things.

Jim Rohn

  1. It is difficult for us to accept that effort doesn’t necessarily guarantee results. We also may have trouble with the idea that we can choose to disregard some activities without any negative consequences, at least in terms of results.
  2. Determining which activities are the “vital few” isn’t easy.
  3. Once we know what to do, we are plagued with all of the usual problems that come with implementing any change. We forget to look for the bright spots and replicate those successes.

Five Simple Suggestions for Putting the 80/20 Rule to Work in Your Life

  1. Think about which of your colleagues and friends you are spending the most time with, and whether they are the ones who bring you joy. If you are spending too much time with the complainers, turn that around.
  2. Take the time to master the 20% of the tools you use 80% of the time, whether that’s an app, an oven, or a lawn tractor.
  3. If your wardrobe is crammed with clothes you aren’t wearing, donate, pack up and store the unused clothes, or at least move them to the back of the closet.
  4. If you are trying to improve your finances, recognize that approximately 20% of budget categories are responsible for 80% of expenses. Rather than counting nickels, look at where big chunks of money are going.
  5. Take an 80/20 approach to eating where you eat healthfully 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time.


I’d love to hear your thoughts about the 80/20 Rule. Does it make sense to you? Are there instances where the rule applies to your life? Please share your observations and opinions in the comments section below. 

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  1. The 80/20 Rule makes a lot of sense to me. I never thought about it before but one quick look at my closet tells me the one applying to clothes I wear is bang on! I will have to sort through that closet and find out what to donate. My husband will be pleased to get some of that real estate back. LOL Of course I also find the rule applies to housework. I make 20% of the mess in this house and yet do 80% of the cleaning. Perhaps hubby and I need to have a discussion about that. 😉

    Great information Karen, it is certainly something to think about so that we can make better use of our time and efforts. =) Every time I visit your site I learn something new. Awesome! =)

    1. Wow. That last sentence is a great compliment, Susan. Thank you! I’m loving researching and writing about these ideas. Great learning for everyone. And love your example of who makes the mess and and who cleans it up. So true!

  2. Cold, raw day, and I’ve been thinking about changing my closet over to warmer clothes – who knew about the 80/20 rule! This puts a whole new perspective, not only on my closet, but on what that closet represents! Hmmm – have to think about the recipe aspect of this rule as well. Thanks Karen – thought provoking as usual!

    1. Thank you, Anna. The change of seasons sure is the perfect time to be thinking about how the 80/20 rule applies to our wardrobes. Personally, I’ve decided that this winter is going to be all about a few heavy sweaters and lots of warm socks. It’s supposed to be a long cold one!

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