How to 80/20 your life

18 May, 2015

The Pareto Principle reveals hidden inefficiencies in our everyday lives

A common refrain that I hear from many of you is that you feel inundated with multiple demands on your time. Apart from your responsibilities as a leader, there are a host of commitments that many of us have to grapple with – as parents, as spouses, as children and as friends. Many of us feel that while we make a lot of effort, we sometimes feel that aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.

So, today I want to talk about how you can better leverage the time and energy you have available. How can you focus on things that really matter? How can you make choices to devote your time and effort to the things that will have the greatest impact in your life?

Mark Manson, a noted blogger and author, has a very interesting perspective on this, that I want to share with you. In his blog post called ‘How to 80/20 your life’, Mark talks about the popular Pareto Principle and suggests using it as a lens to apply in your everyday life.

Please read on…

In 1906 there was an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. One day Pareto noticed that every year, 20% of the pea pods in his garden produced approximately 80% of the peas.

This got him thinking about economic output on a larger scale. Sure enough, he began to find that in various industries, societies and even companies, 80% of the production often came from the 20% most productive faction.

This became known as the Pareto Principle, or what is now often referred to as the 80/20 Principle. The 80/20 Principle states that 80% of the output or results will come from 20% of the input or action.

The 80/20 Principle has historically been most popular in business management situations. Businesses often found that roughly 20% of their customers brought in 80% of their sales. They found that about 20% of their sales reps closed 80% of the sales. They found that 20% of your costs led to 80% of their expenses.

In terms of time management, they often found that 20% of their time created 80% of their productivity, and that 20% of their employees created 80% of the value.

The examples go on and on. And of course, nobody was actually there with a yardstick measuring out exactly 80% and 20% for all of these items, but the approximate 4-to-1 ratio popped up constantly. Whether it was actually 76/24 or 83/17 is irrelevant.

The 80/20 Principle became a popular management tool that was used widely to increase efficiency and effectiveness within businesses and industries. It’s still widely taught today.

But few people thought to apply the 80/20 Principle to every day life or the ramifications it could have. For instance:

  1. What are the 20% of your possessions you get the most value out of?
  2. What do you spend 20% of your time doing that gives you 80% of your happiness?
  3. Who are the 20% of people you’re close to who make you the happiest?
  4. What are the 20% of the clothes you wear 80% of the time?
  5. What’s the 20% of food you eat 80% of the time?

Chances are these are easy questions for you to answer. You’ve just never considered them before. And once you’ve answered them, you can easily focus on increasing the efficiencies in your life. For instance, the 80% of people you spend time with who only add 20% of the pleasure in your life (spend less time with them). The 80% of crap you use 20% of the time (throw it out or sell it). The 80% of the clothes you wear 20% of the time (same thing).

Identifying the 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time will probably explain whether you keep a healthy diet or not and how healthy it is. Hey, who needs to follow a diet? Just make sure to switch to where the 20% of food you eat 80% of the time is healthy.

When I first considered how the 80/20 Principle applied to my own life, I instantly realized a few things.

  • A few of my hobbies (television shows and video games) accounted for 80% of my time only brought me 20% of my fulfilment.
  • I didn’t enjoy a few of my friends who I spent 80% of my time with (hence I was not happy in my social life).
  • 80% of what I spent my money on was not useful or healthy for my lifestyle.

Recognizing these things eventually inspired some hefty changes in my choices and my lifestyle. I dropped video games and television for one. I made efforts to identify other friends to spend more time with, and I paid more attention to what I bought with my money.

And of course, the 80/20 Principle can still be applied to productivity at work. What tasks do you spend 80% of the time doing that bring in 20% of the returns (i.e., checking email over and over, writing memos, taking a long time to make basic and unimportant decisions, etc.)?

What is the 20% of your work that gets you 80% of the credit and recognition from your team or boss?

And finally, you can apply the 80/20 Principle to your emotional life and relationships as well. What are the 20% of behaviors that cause 80% of the problems in your relationships? What are 20% of the conversations that create 80% of the intimacy with your partner?

These are important questions that most of us never even consider.

It doesn’t occur to us that there’s an efficiency to every aspect of our life, to everything we do. And not only is there an efficiency, but we have control and influence over that efficiency. It’s something we can take responsibility for and improve. What changes could you make in your life today based on the 80/20 Principle?

One of the most obvious answers, of course, is possessions. It’s highly likely that 80% of what you own brings you a small amount of your pleasure or happiness. An obvious place to start 80/20’ing yourself is with all of that extra stuff laying around.

Obviously, the 80/20 rule is not necessarily a rigid dictum to live by (don’t let the 80/20 rule become the 80% that gives 20% of the results!). But think of it as a tool, a lens to view aspects of your life through. Sit down and think about it, maybe even write it out. You’ll likely be surprised with the realizations you come to.

The Pareto Principle was not new to me when I first read this article. Like it probably isn’t for many of you. But I found this seemingly simple exercise of using it as a measure of everyday life, surprisingly revealing. I strongly recommend that you give it a shot this week. It is straightforward enough – look at your average day life through an 80/20 lens. But make it a point to be truly honest with yourself. Where are you spending most of your time and effort? What is it translating into? Is this what you want? Is it making you happy? To borrow from Abraham Lincoln, “in the end, it isn’t the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years”.

Becoming more efficient leaders and team members, is something that we discuss quite often.

What I find particularly interesting, is Manson’s emphasis on how being efficient cannot really be bucketed. It is not something that you restrict to your ‘work life’. This needs to be your approach overall, for your whole self.

More importantly, you owe it to yourself to make this effort.

And as he demonstrates, the 80/20 principle could lend itself to pretty much anything. Given that we are almost halfway through the year, maybe a starting point could be reflecting on where you stand against your new year resolutions. How much of what you do every day really contributes towards them? Take a pause. Think it through. And course correct, if need be.

As always, it would be great to hear your perspectives on this. And if there is something along similar lines that you have found helpful, then do share it with our team. We would love to hear your stories.

P.S. If you like this article by, you will enjoy reading Manson’s blog:


  • Sanjiv Save says:

    I eagerly wait for the Monday8am blog every week. I also share it with my teammates at Godrej Properties.

    I strongly believe such messages make great changes in our attitude, and help us reach higher altitudes. I would like to contribute too.

    Sanjiv Save

  • Manoj Sarkar says:

    Really inspiring, I liked it. Will definitely try the 80/20 formula. Thanks & regards.

  • Sunita Devrani says:

    This is so well timed for me. As I am settling at a new organisation and transitioning from an entrepreneur to a corporate role…..getting pulled and stretched in different directions was posing a challenge. Must say I am managing well so far, however this insight has provided a lens through which each activity can be reviewed and assessed.

    I am also a firm believer of “Don’t manage your time, manage your focus”


  • Balakumar says:

    Great stuff. Has inspired me to take a shot at trying it out. Thanks !

  • Dilip Pawar says:

    In this era where time is the most limiting factor, Pareto principle is of great help to increase efficiency. Thanks for this great stuff!


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