It’s An 80/20 World

It’s An 80/20 World

In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto made the famous observation that twenty percent of the population owned eighty percent of the property in Italy, later generalized by Joseph M. Juran into the Pareto principle .  The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor scarcity) states that, for most events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule is very popular with business management people. Businesses frequently discover that about 20% of their customers provided about 80% of their sales. To their dismay, sales managers find that about 20% of their sales reps close about 80% of the sales.

Time management consultants teach us that about 20% of our time creates 80% of the production in a day, with 20% of the employees creating around 80% of the value. The ratio is about 4-to-1 and it comes up over and over again.  The use of this tool, or principal, has significantly increased how well companies run and guides the expectations of sales managers in many businesses.

What most people miss is that the 80/20 rule can also apply to your personal life as well.

Try these examples on for size.

  • What do you do 20% of your time that gives you 80% of your contentment?
  • Do 20% of people you’re close to, make you the happiest?
  • Do you wear 20% of your clothes, 80% of the time?
  • What’s you favorite food? Do you eat 20% of food types 80% of the time?

Odds are those questions aren’t even a challenge for you.  That being said, it is likely you just never looked at your life that way.

The good thing about answering those questions, and ones like them, is that they shine a light on your life in an unconventional way.  Looking at those kinds of questions in reverse can be equally enlightening. For example, consider that 80% of the people you spend time around only give you about 20% of the joy in your life. (Why are they around?) Or try this one: 80% of the junk in your house only gets used 20% of the time (why do you have it all?). If you want to have a healthier life, make sure that the 20% of the stuff you do is healthy 80% of the time.

Here are some questions I asked myself and I would suggest that you give them a shot as well.  It simply amazed me.

1.  Which of my non-work activities (television shows, social media, and video games) accounted for 80% of my time and yet only brought me 20% of my happiness in life?

2.  Which people was I spending 80% of my time with and only getting me 20% of my happiness?

3.    Was 80% of my money on was not spent on things valuable or wholesome for my life?

Once you realize things like this you have some choices in front of you. Do you keep doing the unhealthy or wasteful things, or do you change them? Do you drop the video games, stop following the back and forth election 5 times a day? Do you find people to spend time with that inspire you and start paying attention to where your money goes? Or, do you just keep on as before with the new knowledge that you are not doing what is best for yourself.  In my case, I stopped the gaming, cut out most of the TV, got rid of some toxic friends thus creating room for more time with the good ones. I pitched out a ton of crap and think each time I spend money about which side of the ratio curve the next purchase will fall.

What are the 20% of the ways you act that cause 80% of your problems with people? Where does the 80% of your intimacy with your partner come from…what 20% is responsible for it?

It works for work as well as your emotional life too.  What do you spend 80% of your time doing that yields so little? If you leaned into the 20% that yields so much what would you get done in day?  What will your employer see when you become one of the 20% that performs 80% of the work?

Many of these questions are never considered because we were not taught about Mr. Pareto and his mind-bending rule. For the lack of it we never even give thought to efficiency in the various parts of our lives. The rule suggests, to the open minded, that we have more control than we think in our lives and that it is our responsibility to grapple with the meaning of it all and improve.

Clearly the 80/20 rule isn’t something to rigidly run your life by; consider it as a tool, a prism to see various aspects of your life. With this new tool you might be amazed at what you see.  So take stock of your life, make a review and see what changes you need to make in your life to be happy 80% of the time.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.