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The Pareto Principle in action a.k.a. how to 80/20 your life

The Pareto Principle is one of those oldie but goodie theories that we have all heard of and understand at a high level. It is comforting to know that a smart guy (namely Alfredo Pareto, an Italian economist), figured this stuff out over a hundred years ago and that it has been successfully used by many companies and businesses since then.

In essence, the principle states that 20% of any effort or input produces 80% of all outcomes or results. We understand how this is used in businesses, for example, 80% of all revenue comes from 20% of the customers, or 80% of the most valuable work is produced by 20% of all the activities employees do. But how about applying this principle to our day-to-day life?

If you are like me, you try to get away with the minimum effort to produce the outcome you want. When I was in school, I worked out what classes to attend, what books to read, and what topics to study in order to get straight As. I was an overachiever, you might think, but in fairness, I was also just lazy. I didn’t want to waste time or effort on anything that didn’t get me the results I wanted in an efficient way.

During my last year in High School, I took this to another level when I opted into a ‘private study’ option, meaning I only had to show up at exams and not spend my days in the classroom which, at the time, I considered to be a waste of time. I used the time to focus on my university application and entry exams and to get into the best shape I have ever been in my life.

You might not be as extremes as I am (or rather, used to be), but if you think about it, you might already be doing this 80/20 rule in some aspects of your life. Do you dedicate the first few hours in the morning to do your most valuable work? Do you limit your circle of friends in order to have high-quality relationships? Do you stick to the type of workout that gets you the best results fast?

If we were to get more specific about the principle in our lives, we could probably agree on some of the following:

  • 80% of the most valuable output comes from 20% of our time spent on work

  • 80% of our diet is most influenced by the 20% of the food we eat

  • 80% of our relationships contribute only 20% of our happiness and fulfillment

  • 80% of gadgets that we have we use about 20% of the time

  • 80% of media we consume adds 20% of value to our learning and personal development

...and so on, you get the gist.

By now, you probably know that I often write about high performance, which is a concept that can be approached in many ways. My take is less about efficiency, although I love a good hack every now and then, as it is more about the quality and effectiveness that we can create across the various aspects of our lives.

Yes, I know that you, overachieving people like me out there, want to focus on the work stuff, and how to get more done in less time, however, I believe that there are six pillars of high performance that are equally important. Feel free to check out my blog post on that if you want to dive into the topic.

The best way to reflect on your life and how you could use the 80/20 principle more is to ask yourself some insightful questions across the six pillars of high performance (CIRCLE):

1. Career:

  • How do you currently spend 80% of your time? What do you do?

  • What tasks or projects could you do that would be 80% responsible for your success in your job? What would help you succeed / get promoted?

2. Impact:

  • What is the 20% of your life (whether it is part of your job or not) that creates the most impact in the world or for the people around you?

  • If you only had 20% of your work week (1 day) to create something meaningful and build your legacy, how would you spend it?

3. Reward:

  • What is the 80% of the stuff in your life (clothes, gadgets, etc.) that you only use 20% of the time? How about getting rid of some?

  • What 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of your income?

4. Connections:

  • If 80% of people you interact with gives you 20% of all meaningful connections, can you increase the time spent with the other 20% of people?

  • What 20% of your conversations or interactions create the most quality time with the people you care about?

5. Love for Life:

  • What activities bring you joy 80% of the time? Can you make more time for them?

  • What are the things that you are the most grateful for 80% of the time (it is easier if you keep a gratitude journal)?

6. Energy:

  • What situations, tasks, or people are responsible for your stress 80% of the time? Can you remove them from your life?

  • What healthy habits make the biggest difference in your mental, emotional and physical health?

Every once in a while, but at least annually, I revisit these questions and make some important choices. For example, I am rather deliberate when it comes to how I spend my time, how much news I follow and from what sources, what exercise I do, whom I spend time with, etc.

I believe that people who get the concept of high performance are, in fact, thinking and working in the spirit of the 80/20 even when they don’t call it out explicitly. Tim Ferriss is a good example (The 4-hour Work Week, The 4-hour Body), Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying), or Adrienne Herbert (Power Hour) to pick a brand new author as well.

Of course, I am not saying that you have to 80/20 everything in your life. That would be silly, and we are not machines after all. What I would suggest though is that whenever you feel like you are putting a lot of work and effort into something, whether it is work-related or not, and you aren’t getting the results you think you should, pause and reflect using the 80/20 rule.

Similarly, when you are missing the quality in your days and you feel like you aren’t using those 24hrs in a way that is energizing and fulfilling to you, it is probably a good time to do this 80/20 exercise as well.

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