“What is the 20 percent of your time when you achieve 80 percent of your results? Do more of it! What is the 80 percent of your time when you achieve little? Do less of it!”Richard Koch
“The 80/20 Principle can and should be used by every intelligent person in their daily life, by every organization, and by every social grouping and form of society. It can help individuals and groups achieve much more, with much less effort. The 80/20 Principle can raise personal effectiveness and happiness. It can multiply the profitability of corporations and the effectiveness of any organization. It even holds the key to raising the quality and quantity of public services while cutting their cost.” [Koch]
So begins the book The 80/20 Principle: The Secret Of Achieving More With Less by Richard Koch, consultant, businessman, and author of the international bestsellers The 80/20 Principle – The Secret Of Achieving More With Less and The 80/20 Individual – The nine essentials of 80/20 success at work.
What is the 80/20 Principle? Around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, an Italian engineer and economist named Vilfredo Pareto developed a mathematical distribution showing that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
Later, in the 1940s, a quality assurance engineer named Joseph M. Juran stumbled upon the work of Pareto and began applying the principle to quality control. He observed that 20% of possible problems were responsible for 80% of defects. Juran called this phenomenon the “Pareto Principle”.
“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” [“Pareto principle”]
The Pareto Principle has been shown to hold true in almost any situation. For example, typically 80% of a company’s profits come from roughly 20% of its customers. Most of us wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. 20% of the carpet in your home sustains 80% of the wear. 80% of automobile traffic travels on 20% of our streets. 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.
Now, it isn’t always a clean 80/20 split and the two numbers don’t have to add up to a 100. It could be 60/40, 70/35, 90/15, 99/1, and so on. The point is that there are a few inputs, or causes, that have a significant impact on the outputs, or results. We have been conditioned to expect a 50/50 split, where any activity is as important as any other in terms of the result. The Pareto Principle says this isn’t the case — a few activities (sometimes only 1) are responsible for the majority of the outcomes.
You can put this to work for yourself. Consider the results you want to achieve in a given area then analyze and reflect on your activities. Identify the “vital few” from the “trivial many” – those few activities that give you the most reward. How can you focus more time and energy on those activities? What could you do to improve the other 80% of activities to make them as effective as the most effective 20%? What could you stop doing — what activities have little or no impact on the outcomes you want to achieve?
Suppose you want to change your eating habits and eat a healthier diet. You don’t have to undergo a complete overhaul of your diet. That seldom works anyway because most of us can’t stick to a diet that represents a major change from what we are used to eating. Examine the least healthy parts of your diet – junk food, sugar, simple carbohydrates – whatever it is for you. What 1 or 2 or 3 things could you cut out that would lead to the biggest improvement in moving you to a healthier diet? Maybe eliminate the candy bar in the afternoon. Skip the sugary dessert after dinner and have fruit and yogurt instead. You don’t even have to do it every day, maybe 4 days out of the week. Or indulge once a week, perhaps on Saturday night. According to the 80/20 Principle, making a few small but significant changes has the most effect in improving your health.
Or consider your work routines. What are the 2 or 3 tasks you typically perform that lead to the majority of your results? Think of all the other things you do that have little effect on the outcome of your work. How can you rearrange your schedule to focus on those 2 or 3 vital tasks? What could you delegate to others to free up more of your time for those vital 2 or 3? Are there things you could stop doing altogether that would have little or no impact if they weren’t done?
I find it helpful to analyze my time to help determine how much I ought to spend on my #1 priority (or the vital 2 or 3 tasks). There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you sleep 8 hours per night (a stretch for most of us, but a worthy aim). That leaves 168 – 56 = 112 hours. 20% of that is approximately 22 hours. If you split that evenly across 7 days, that means you ought to be devoting 3 hours each day to those tasks or activities that will produce 80% of the results you want. If you work full time, you could subtract that time from the 112 hours, leaving 72 hours. 20% of 72 hours is 14 hours or about 2 hours per day that you could devote to the activities that would give you 80% of the outcomes you desire.
One of the key points to consider is the fact that cause and effect is not a 50-50 proposition. Most of us are conditioned by our culture and upbringing to expect that all efforts bring equal results, that one task, activity, or input is as effective as another in terms of the outputs produced. When we really get that there are a “vital few” activities or inputs that contribute results far out of proportion to the resources expended, we become substantially more effective, producing and contributing significantly more with far less effort.
How much time per day or per week are you spending on your BIG -Bold, Important, Gratifying – goal? How much time are you spending with your loved ones, nurturing and building those relationships? How much time are you devoting to exercise and taking care of your body and your health? You see, according to the 80/20 Principle, it doesn’t have to be that much time, but it needs to be spent on the activities that bring the most, best results. It will require some time and effort spent in reflection and analysis, but doesn’t it seem worth it?
The 80 /20 Principle. Use it to intensify your focus and your efforts on the few activities that will bring you the best results. That, my friend, is Excelerating!
Excelerated Accomplishment™ — achieving meaningful objectives — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Koch, Richard. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret Of Achieving More With Less. New York: The Doubleday Publishing Group, 1998, 2008
“Pareto principle.” en.wikipedia.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.,. Web. July 13, 1916.