It’s easy to be busy, instead we should aim to be productive.

Most people are probably familiar with Pareto Principle, better known as the 80/20 rule, but rarely use it. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created this principle while studying in France in 1896.

He discovered that 20% of the population in Italy owned 80% of the land. He came up with this principle after noticing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden were responsible for
producing 80% of the peas. This principle can be applied to many areas:

  • 20% of criminals commit 80% of crimes
  • 20% of drivers cause 80% of all traffic accidents
  • 80% of the pollution originates from 20% of all factories
  • 20% of a company’s products represent 80% of sales
  • 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of the results
  • 20% of students have grades 80% or higher
  • 20% of guitar chords enough to play 80% of songs
  • 20% of the words in a language are used 80% of the time
  • Usually, the largest share of the results (output) is produced by just a small part of the work (input). The principle states that 20% of your time and resources goes into 80% of your results.

This principle is so effective, when understood and applied, you will be able to work smarter, increasing the fruits of your labor, without having to work harder. This is achieved by knowing where to apply minimum effort to get the maximum result. In another words, 20% of your effort will yield 80% of the result.
It’s not necessarily always going to be 80/20, it could be 90/10 or 75/25, what’s important here is the proportion of effort versus reward. If you look at your goals action plan what are the 20% of actions that will bring you 80% of outcome?


Sir Isaac Pitman discovered about 700 common words make up two thirds of everyday conversation. If we include their derivatives, this figure rises to 80%: less than 1% of the words in the English language make up over 80% of words we speak. If you want to learn new language, find out the 20% of words used 80% of the time in daily communication. Instead of spending years of learning this language, you can become quite fluent quickly using this principle.

Why is This Principle Important for You? Just imagine: if you cut out time spent wastefully and replace it with an efficient 20% of effort, you will multiply your work results. If you have a business, what are the 20% of your loyal customers generating most of your sales? Focus more resources on these customers so they will bring even higher sales.

Once you commit to producing the best results with the least amount of effort, you need to figure out how to make the most of the time you have.

Limitations of The 20/80 Rule

It’s important to note that this principle is theoretical, and will not always produce the exact 20/80 result in real life. For example, not everyone will be paid 80% of their income by 20% of their clients. 20% of your efforts, no matter how efficiently applied, will not always produce 80% of results, it might produce only 40%, for example. On the other hand, sometimes less than 20% of the effort will achieve more than 80% of the results (like repeatedly getting a strike in bowling).

The point is that the 20/80 rule is not a strict rule in every area you apply effort to, but the essential idea behind it is still powerful and does apply: focussing on the most important elements of anything you’re working on will increase your productivity.


80/20 thinking would recommend you go for quality, not quantity, and focus on deepening your most valuable, meaningful of relationships.

Helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the 20% of people around that are important to me?
  • Where am I spending most of my time?
  • What most contributes to my happiness?
  • What are 20% of learning materials which will enable 80% of knowledge?
  • What are 20% of skills that will bring me 80% of success at work?
  • How can I multiply output ?
  • Look at your long term goals.
    Break these long term goals into 10 short term goals.
    If you were to complete just two (20%) of these goals today, which two would have the biggest impact in working towards your long term goals?
    You now have the 20% of actions that will bring you 80% of your results
    Everytime you come to work towards your long term goals, repeat this exercise, this way you will be constantly doing the most productive actions to bring you the greatest results.
  • Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, came up with an answer that aligns with the 80/20 principle and where placing most effort can reap most happiness from life: “the basic components of a good life are food, shelter, clothes, friends, freedom and thought.”


  • The 20/80 rule states that the largest results come from the smallest, but most efficiently created efforts
  • This means that if you work smarter, rather than harder, you will be more productive
  • Look at what goals you can achieve to give you the greatest impact