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How To Use the 80-20 Rule To Improve Your Life

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Find out what the 80-20 rule means and how you can use it to increase your productivity.

Most of us have been told that the key to success is hard work, may it be in our education, careers, or relationships. But have you ever wondered why you sometimes get mediocre results despite putting so much of your time and effort into achieving it? Your immediate instinct might be to work even harder and dedicate more of your time and resources to your task. On the surface, this reaction makes sense; the harder you try, the more likely you will achieve your goal. But it turns out, the key to success isn’t working harder, but working smarter.

The 80-20 rule states that the minority of causes have the most impact, whereas the majority have the least. The values of eighty percent and twenty percent aren’t exact values—it could be 70-30 or even 95-5. In other words, a few of the things we do have a huge impact while most of the things we do have very little impact. By focusing our efforts on the things that have a big impact, we can save time and achieve more.

80-20 rule examples:

  • Have you ever driven by a construction site or walked into an office and observed that a few employees were absorbed in their tasks and working diligently while others were just idling around? You might have just seen the 80-20 rule at work, literally and figuratively. According to this rule, twenty percent of employees produce eighty percent of the work output, while the remaining majority produce only twenty percent (Koch, 2011).

  • In another example, approximately twenty percent of a company’s products might be responsible for eighty percent of its sales (Koch, 2011).

  • Eighty percent of the company’s sales might involve twenty percent of its customers (Koch, 2011).

  • In relationships, 20 percent of the people you interact with might cause 80% of arguments.

How To Use the 80-20 Rule

One of the most important things for using the 80-20 rule is to stop doing activities that waste your time. The 80-20 rule can help you determine the actions that waste most of your time, so you can reduce or eliminate them from your schedule and reclaim your lost hours and use them for activities that matter more to you or help you achieve your goals.

Thus, according to the 80-20 rule, one of the best ways to become more productive is to figure out and eliminate the most unproductive activities on your schedule and prioritize the most effective activities.

One method to figure out what to prioritize is by making a list of all activities you aim to tackle that day. Next, you can sort them in order of importance or value. Then you might start tackling them by spending most of your effort completing the vital few activities on top of your list. That way, even if you don’t finish everything on your list, you might still feel productive and accomplished by getting the most important tasks done well.

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  • Koch, R. (2011). The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less: Updated 20th anniversary edition of the productivity and business classic. Hachette UK.

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