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How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Everyday Life


It’s Vital to Prioritize the Right Things in Life!

By Alexandria Chun, Staff Writer

In the early 1900’s, an Italian scholar named Vilfredo Pareto was picking peas from his garden when he noticed that not all his pea plants yielded the same amount of peas. What’s more interesting is that 80% of his peas were produced by 20% of his plants, consistently. This observation later proved to be more than just coincidence. When Pareto looked at the economics of his country, he found that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population.

These two percentages came to form the basis of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, after the scholar who first noticed the distribution. The 80/20 rule is simply the idea that 80% of effects are produced by 20% of causes. Forty years after Pareto, economist Dr. Joseph Juran generalized this idea, proffering that there’s always a “vital few and trivial many.” Both propositions ultimately center around the fact that things in life aren’t distributed evenly.

To put the 80/20 rule in perspective, let’s apply it to management, an area where it’s often used. Basic rules of thumb in management include “80% of sales are made by 20% of your sales force,” “80% of sales come from 20% of clients,” and “80% of complaints come from 20% of clients.” As you can see, a large percentage of results (sales and complaints) comes from a relatively small percentage of cause (sales force and clients). Addressing the vital 20% of an issue removes the bulk of the problem and is therefore more efficient than addressing the non-vital 80% that may solve only 20% of the problem.

The 80/20 rule isn’t just limited to economics. It can be applied to everyday life too. As a student, there are undoubtedly many things you have to juggle: school, work, family, a social life, hobbies…the list goes on. So how can you get the most out of what precious time you have and minimize stress? Apply the 80/20 rule.

Generally speaking, 20% of the activities that fill your day have a greater impact than the other 80%. On any given day, how much of your time is truly productive? What activities have less of an impact? If you focus on that vital 20%, you can increase how efficiently you use your time. It’s okay to get sidetracked during the day. Things come up unexpectedly – your bus gets delayed, your computer crashes, your professor hands out a surprise assignment. Just don’t let it take away from the vital 20% you had planned to get done.

Here’s an example of how you can put the 80/20 rule to use. Say you’re behind on a stack of readings and have only a couple of hours to complete them. You could start at the top, regardless of the content, and risk missing the key readings. Or you could apply the 80/20 rule, skim through all the readings, identify the 20% that seem to hold the bulk of the information, and focus on them. Reading that 20% has given you 80% of what you need to know.

In addition to saving time, the 80/20 rule can also help you save your energy. People tend to stress over a lot of things, but worrying about every little thing in your life is a major drain. And 80% of things aren’t even worth worrying about because they don’t have much impact in the long run. Focus your energy on what’s important, on the vital 20%, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Now, you might ask, “How do I know what activities make up the vital 20%?” Unfortunately, there’s no formula or set of activities to automatically increase how effectively you use your time.

  • Aidan

    At any one time 80% of the worlds adult population are idiots. 20% are not. The beauty of it is that the 20% are not immuned from falling into the 80% and vice versa.
    First rule of buisness ‘appeal to the idiots’ as then you’ll always have the majority on your side.

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