Using the 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) to Make the Most of your Life

If you’ve ever felt like you were working yourself to the bone, but making little progress, then you might have been on the wrong side of the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto Principle.

The 80/20 rule is defined as 80% of the results coming from 20% of the causes.

Put simply, a small percentage of what you do (20%) gives you most of your results (80%).

Inversely, a large percentage of what you do (80%) gives you a small percentage of the results (20%).

Pareto Principle (80/20 rule)

Where did the 80/20 rule come from?

The 19th century economist, Vilfredo Pareto, noted the 80/20 rule connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896.

Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

He went on to notice that 80% of the total wealth in Italy was controlled by 20% of the population.

The Pareto Principle is seen in many areas of life and business:

  • 20% of your customers drive 80% of your revenue
  • 20% of your investments give 80% of your returns
  • 20% of your time gives you 80% of your productivity
  • 20% of your design gets you 80% of the views
  • 20% of the employees do 80% of the work

It isn’t always exactly 80/20, but it’s close. It can be 85/15 or 75/25.

The Vital Few vs. The Trivial Many

Pareto Principle 80/20 Rule

When you start thinking of life with the 80/20 rule in mind, you can come up with endless possibilities on ways to save yourself time as well as find where you should focus your effort.

Do the hours that you spend each week cleaning your house make up for the time you lose with your work or family? Maybe it makes sense to hire a cleaner once a week so that you can spend that hour doing something that is of much higher value to you.

What about mowing the lawn? You have invested hundreds of dollars on yard equipment. How many hours throughout the summer could you gain back to spend with your family if you spend a few bucks to have someone else do it?

You could go down this path forever. There are many aspects of life that you could add value to by thinking about where your highest point of contribution lies.

Applying the Pareto Principle to the big 6 categories of life:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Finances
  • Fun
  • Health
  • Work

Each of these categories work together to create a fulfilling life.

Examples of the 80/20 rule can be found everywhere. Here are some examples of the Pareto Principle in each category. The possibilities to refine your life into only the best 20% are endless.

80/20 Rule with Finances

One of the most common bits of advice for saving more money is to “cut out the daily coffee run.” When in reality, that daily coffee run probably only makes up about 1-2% of your budget.

1-2% could be significant if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but, in general, we spend most of our income on 2 things:

  • Housing – 30-40%
  • Taxes – 15-30%

When you look at these huge percentages, that daily coffee doesn’t even really make a dent.

That’s why house hacking has become so popular recently. You can literally figure out a way to cut your housing expenses to zero or near zero in almost every case.

Cutting your taxes takes a significant amount of planning, but it can be done as well.

80/20 Rule with Family

Think about the activities that you do with your family that bring the most joy to your life.

Does that weekly trip to the grocery store cause more stress by bringing everyone along than it would if only one person went?

Do you let little arguments turn into major meltdowns that ruin entire days?

I know “optimizing family time” might sound a little crazy at first, but think about what brings your family the most happiness and fulfillment.

The activities that are the most rewarding are the ones to do more of!

80/20 Rule with Friends

The Pareto Principle with friends could be more about choosing who to be around rather than what do to when you’re around them.

Sometimes we hang around with people simply because it’s what we’ve always done.

Do you really enjoy being around them?

Does your relationship with them bring happiness to your life?

If you take a step back and think about the people who are your “friends” you might realize that you no longer have anything in common with them.

Sometimes having more friends isn’t as enjoyable as having just a handful of really close friends who you love to be around.

80/20 Rule with Fun

Applying the Pareto Principle to your daily hobbies can be a fun way to see how it works.

“Optimizing for fun” isn’t really as life changing as the other categories can be, but it is still important!

Think about how you spend your free time. Is it binge watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram or Twitter, or something else that you might be doing simply to “fill the time?”

You could be spending that time doing something that you actually enjoy instead; like taking a hike, going on a vacation, or walking your dog.

80/20 Rule with Health

A lot of gym goers will have very elaborate workout plans and supplement schedules.

It can be stressful, expensive, and time consuming trying to keep up with everything that feels “vital.”

If you’re a weight lifter, you might break each day down into its own muscle group. And each muscle group will have 3-4 exercises.

Then, you might go home and take a handful of supplements that are meant to help you recover faster.

If you dive deep into which exercises and supplements are actually making a difference, the Pareto Principle suggests that a vast majority of them are not helping much at all.

In fact, many strength training coaches recommend that you only focus on squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pulldown/pull-ups, and overhead press. These compound lifts work multiple muscles at one time.

The Pareto Principle works for diet as well. The 80/20 diet has been popularized because it is so easy to follow, and has incredible results.

The basic fundamental rule with the 80/20 diet is to consume 80% of your diet as “good food” and the remaining 20% can be indulgences.

This works because the vast majority of what you are consuming is healthy.

80/20 Rule with Work

Finding your highest point of contribution can save you countless hours. You could be spending all of your time on the 80% of things that are giving you 20% of your results.

The 80/20 rule shows that you aren’t getting the same outcome from the same amount of effort for everything that you do.

With work, the Pareto Principle is extremely helpful when it comes to managing your time.

If you look at everything that you do on a daily basis, there are going to be areas where you are totally spinning your wheels.

A lot of 1 hour meetings could be emails that take 5 minutes.

Another way to find out what is most important for you to prioritize at work is by using the Eisenhower Matrix.

Eisenhower Matrix

Wrapping it up

The 80/20 rule can give us ideas on how to live a happier and more fulfilling life by getting rid of the unnecessary activities that we do every day.

Learning how to apply the Pareto Principle will take practice. It will take time and effort, but it will be entirely worth it for every aspect of life!

Do you have any ideas on how to apply this in ways that I didn’t discuss? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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