There are a lot of jeans in my closet-ten alone in one pile. Most of the time when I make a conscious decision to wear jeans, I only choose between my two favourite ones. So about 80% of my clothing decisions are made up of just 20% of what I have available. In the other 20% of my time, I wear the remaining eight jeans, which makes me question why I insist on keeping them when they are mostly just collecting dust. They had entered my life long before I heard of the 80/20 rule, obviously.
The 80/20 rule is also called Pareto Principle
The 80/20 rule is also called Pareto Principle or “law of the vital few”, stating that only 20% of your input (i.e. resources, time, effort) lead to 80% of the output, the results. Conversely, 80% of the input nets you the other 20% of the output. The term was coined by Vilfredo Pareto and his observation that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the country’s wealth. Since then, the 80/20 rule has popped up pretty much everywhere, covering a wide range of situations where it can be applied.
Now, this is not about being mathematically exact. Neither is this about the Pareto distribution, which is a related but different topic. You can fake your own statistics, anyway. You might generate only 70% of your productivity in 25% of your time, or actually need 30% effort to achieve just 65% of the desired results. It doesn’t matter! The main point of this rule in your everyday life is to tell you to optimize your time and effort to achieve the most-not the perfect-outcome.
The 80/20 rule can be applied everywhere
You will find many examples for the 80/20 rule in business and economics with little research. This is no surprise, given that the Pareto principle is rooted in economics. But there are many more areas in life where applying the 80/20 rule will change your mindset, how you make certain decisions, or simply how you go through your daily or weekly routine. The following examples and thoughts are teasers which show how you can implement the 80/20 approach in any life situation.
- 80/20 rule for work:
People working in agile environments are at a clear starting advantage here! Basically, remind yourself that “done is better than perfect”. Pay attention to what is really important: Very likely, only 20% of what you produce or of services you offer generate 80% of your revenue. Similarly, just 20% of your presentation slides make up 80% of the impact on your audience. Focus on these 20% most important tasks and products and save your 80% energy for them.
- 80/20 rule for health:
For a healthy life, it is recommended to do 300 minutes of moderate training per week. Here is where a curious ‘all or nothing’ mentality may kick in, and with a goal so high, many decide for ‘nothing’. I’ve been there. Then I decided to start with just 20 minutes a day, five days per week, which could be a fast-paced walk or a small Yoga session at home. That took much less than 20% of my available free time, but gave me 80% of the desired fitness results: I felt happier, healthier, and was 20 pounds lighter after only half a year. I have kept my motivation to this day and improved my training routines, and never would I have managed this if I had started with the 300-minute target.
- 80/20 rule for nutrition:
You would like to betray your veganism and eat a real cheesecake once in a while? Go for it! (Remember, about 20% of the time you can cut yourself some slack-a little more than one day per week.) It is much better for your well-being and your long-term discipline to follow your healthy diet 80% of the time with relative ease and save yourself the struggle and frustration of having to stick to it in the other 20% of your time. There are, of course, people out there who achieve and enjoy a 100% diet. To them, it may not feel like a struggle to stay disciplined and to take care of the groceries and the cooking-they might even feel like they are spending just 20% of their energy on it… which is admirable, but likely an exception.
- 80/20 rule for parenting:
Many parents are obsessed with creating a perfect life for their little ones: an organic plant-based diet, plenty of smart activities, a lot of outdoor action, enough quality time as a family-the list goes on. But there are also household chores, our careers, our other relationships, our personal interests. With all due respect to the mum bloggers whose world seems to perfectly accommodate everything: There are many other realities just as rewarding and just as worth striving for. Find your very own perfect 80% world and don’t lose energy fussing over a 100% life for your children (they will have their own opinion about it soon enough).
- 80/20 rule for hobbies:
You always wanted to learn to play the piano, but cannot afford piano lessons, find a good teacher or have a similar excuse? Buy a keyboard, watch tutorials and just start! That’s 20% right there. No, you will not be a piano player, you will probably not take part in contests or perform on stage. But you gain the other 80%, the enjoyment, the pride of knowing something new, for comparatively little effort and expenses. And yes, this is another example from my personal life.
How the 80/20 rule improves your life
Many things seem to work out only when they are strictly followed: certain recipes, treatment of chronic diseases and other health problems, or restrictions due to allergies. That may also be true for special events like your wedding. (I would argue that the 80/20 rule would help quite a lot of couples here as well-but that’s for a different post.)
Still, for all the situations that are in your control, the 80/20 rule will help improve your life. 80/20 means to be perfect not in everything you do, but in obtaining the best possible result for the least possible effort. This saves you energy for the things that are really important to you. So when you are not exactly a foodie and use simple recipes 80% of the time to minimize your efforts, there will be times when you will feel encouraged and more than ready to give your maximum effort in cooking that one recipe requiring 100% precision. That, too, is living by the 80/20 rule.
Another way to look at it: Unless you happen to cross a time zone or leave Earth, a day has 24 hours. It’s never about our time, it’s about our priorities. Let’s say you need an hour of time to do something that nets you 80% of the desired outcome, but five to make it perfect. Assuming you get a luxurious nine hours of sleep and eating time every day, would you rather use the other fifteen hours to achieve fifteen good results or three perfect ones?
We have only scratched the surface here-and you are invited to discover on this blog how the 80/20 rule can improve your life in a lot of situations, be it work, parenting, health or your personal interests. As for me, I should probably start with the KonMari method and make some space for more important things by donating those eight barely worn jeans in my closet…
What do you think: Is this nonsense or a good approach to hang onto? Where would you like to see the 80/20 rule applied? Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question!