Notes to Self

Thoughts on psychology, spirituality and soft skill development for personal improvement


Pareto's Principle: The 80/20 Rule

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule and the law of the vital few) states that in many things, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist is credited with it. He observed that 80 percent of the land in England (and every country he subsequently studied) was owned by 20 percent of the population.

Over the years, he and many others observed this rule in action in different spheres. Some examples:

  1. Relationship: Twenty percent of the people you know (friends, colleagues, family) provide you with 80 percent of nurturing support and satisfaction.

  2. Business: Twenty percent of customers will account for 80 percent of profit.

  3. Productivity: Twenty percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your success.

  4. Gardening: Eighty percent of garden peas are produced by 20 percent of the peapods.

How can we put the 80/20 principle to good use?

The Pareto principle is great to increase focus. Don't try to do more. Just do more of the right things. For example, out of our many maladaptive behaviors, twenty percent of it will contribute to 80 percent of all our hardship and misery. So working on just these 20 percent can greatly contribute to our personal growth. Time management is another area where the rule can be very effective. If you have a lot of work to do, break it down to specific activities and figure out what twenty percent of the tasks listed contributes to eighty percent of the results you seek. Second, give your maximum concentration to those 20 percent tasks.

So how do you know if you're working on the twenty percent that really matters?

  1. It makes you feel good because you are doing what you always wanted or you know it'll help with your goals.

  2. You are doing the tasks that you'd like to procrastinate, but know that it is essential.

  3. You delegate tasks to others that you aren't good at.

  4. You are doing something that uses your creativity

Hints that you aren't utilising your time effectively:

  1. You are doing things that other people want you to do.

  2. You are doing things that you aren't good at.

  3. You are doing things you don't enjoy doing (provided that it doesn't also contribute to your goals).

  4. You are doing things that always take you a lot of time and energy.

With a little effort, and the application of the 80-20 rule, we can save a lot of our emotional and physical energy to concentrate on stuffs that really matter and enrich our life.

Seth Godin, author, provides another useful insight in The real 80/20 rule - Most people settle for 80% and move on to the next thing. If "just enough to get the job done" is our goal, the 80% is enough (and for most things in our life "just enough" is good enough). But when you really want to succeed and / or do something exceptional, focus on the remaining 20% too.

(Please note that the 20% and 80% used above are intended as rough estimates since actual proportions are rarely exactly 20% and 80%. However it is a very useful rule of thumb to remember Pareto's principle.)

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