How To Use Pareto’s 80/20 Principle To Streamline Your Life

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What would you say if I told you that there was a simple, yet effective way of streamlining your productivity without affecting your results? You’d call me nuts – I get that, I am a little bit.

Wait up – don’t shoot the messenger, I didn’t come up with the Pareto principle (for starters I’m Jamie, not Pareto) but it’s a great little tactic to use, especially if your life is jam packed full of activities and you are struggling to find the time to fit everything in.

You see, most of us are inefficient when it comes to planning something. We tend to dive right in and make it up as we go along – Playing video games, putting together that hideous Ikea monstrosity, setting up the TiVo – all activities that take a lot longer than they should because we ignore the instructions and end up doing a lot of work that isn’t needed.

We tend to upscale this to more important matters too like our working life, our studies and our workouts – all areas where the Pareto principle can be applied to cut out a lot of unnecessary effort.

Who or what is Pareto?

vilfredo pareto 80 20 pareto principle

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who, in 1906, observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population. He also discovered that 80% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

He started applying this theory to various areas of economics and business and his ideas and principles are still in use today – especially those regarding democracy and distribution of wealth.

For example, in 1992 the United Nations Development program report suggested that the richest 20% of the world’s population controlled 82.7% of the world’s income.

Obviously this principle isn’t restricted to the numbers 80 and 20. You may have heard slight deviations of this using the ratio 95/5 or 90/10, but the basic premise remains the same.

Later in the article I will show you how you can maximise the Pareto principle and start using it in your everyday life – but first I will show you some examples of this in action followed by some of my own examples.

Real world examples of the Pareto principle

  • A successful salesperson will realise that 80% of their sales will come from just 20% of the customers they speak to. To save time and to maximise their earning potential they will focus on speaking to these people first and will only move on to the other 80% if they have time.
  • Anyone who regularly trains at the gym will understand that there are only a few exercises that really pack on the muscle. They are squats, deadlift, overhead press, bent over row, bench press, overarm pull-ups and dips. There are of course many other exercises to choose from but these 20% will pack on 80% of the muscle you will gain during any bulking up phase.
  • In the workplace roughly 80% of that company’s success will come from just 20% of the employees.
  • Regarding how long you spend online, most people will find that 80% of their internet usage will come from just 20% of the websites that they visit. Try adding the Time Tracker app on Google Chrome to see if this holds true for your own internet activity.
  • There is no doubting that 80% of the average person’s everyday stresses, worries and frustrations boil down to the same few life situations – money, relationships and work being the 20%.

Personal examples of how I used the Pareto principle

  • I realised quite early on that 80% of my guitar students found me through my website via Google search. I also advertised on a few classified style sites and of course word of mouth helps but my main focus is always in maintaining good rankings within Google and to keep maximising this area whilst trying to improve the other methods.
  • I am currently doing an Open University degree in Computer Programming. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s basically a degree that I do from home via the internet and dvd’s/books. Like any degree it is time consuming so thankfully we can see our assignments in advance so I simply look through the questions and figure out what I need to learn to pass the next assignment or test. 80% of my degree comes from 20% of the workload – so I’m focusing on that 20% more than anything else.
  • The majority of my happiest memories and adventures from the last 5 years stem from the same small group of friends – so I consciously choose to see these people more often. 20% of my friends = 80% of the good times.

As you can see, you can use the Pareto principle in almost any area of your life that you think needs a bit of streamlining. It works with almost anything so get creative.

How you can get started

If we choose an area that hasn’t yet been covered, such as diet, we can develop a plan of action to use the Pareto principle to start living a healthier life.

Most of us are probably getting 80% of our daily nutrition from only 20% of the foods that we are eating. That doesn’t mean that we can discard most of the other 80% as that would drastically reduce our calorie intake and we could be in danger of missing out on the final 20% of our nutritional needs.

You don’t want that.

It can however be used to help us make better nutritional choices and to leave out a lot of the unnecessary food that we shove into our mouths, often without thinking about it.

Now, already the Pareto principle is in action – 80% of your diet coming from 20% of your food intake is efficient and we don’t need to change that. Instead, we can use this ratio to help us to filter out more of that unhealthy food that we don’t really need and to replace it with healthier alternatives – therefore getting 100% of our nutritional intake from a much smaller food selection.

Grab a pen and paper (or use your computer) and make a list of all of the healthy and nutritional food that you eat regularly and separate it from the food that you would probably class as processed or junk. Immediately cut out 80% of that ‘bad’ food from your life and replace it with similar foods from your healthy list.

Your new ‘menu’ should now be a lot healthier and nutritional than before and yet still allows room for a little junk food to keep you sane.

What else is there?

Here are several questions and suggestions to help you figure out where else in your life you could start applying this principle to.

  • Which 20% of your possessions do you use 80% of the time? – throw away or sell your unwanted junk
  • What are the 20% of the actions that cause 80% of the arguments in your relationship? – try to figure out what they are
  • What are the 20% of the distractions that cause 80% of your procrastination? – eliminate these for a more productive environment
  • Which 20% of your practice regime gives you 80% of your results? – Don’t waste time playing to your ego, work on improving your ability.

Be careful

There are a few things to remember about the Pareto principle and the first is that this isn’t a one size fits all approach for your life. Just because you are have figured out a way to reduce your workload or to eliminate a lot of unnecessary clutter doesn’t mean that you should look for a shortcut in everything.

Ultimately success in any area will always require hard work and instead of thinking ‘what can I do to make this easier for me?’ you should always ask yourself ‘how can I do this right?’

The right way is always the best way and while it’s a bonus if you can apply the Pareto principle to something – there is no substitute for putting the hours in.

80% of your favourite album was written in just 20% of the time, but it was that other 80% where the details, dynamics and the finesse were added to make it a masterpiece.

Also don’t make the mistake that the numbers 80 and 20 are set in stone. They are just a guide, a theory, a rough estimate that should never be taken as gospel. It is merely used to demonstrate that most things in life are not distributed evenly.

Which area of your life could do with a little dose of the 80/20? Have you ever used the Pareto principle before? If so what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.

About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. The Pareto Principle is a powerful one . . . precisely because it’s so true. You did a great job illustrating it’s value in our everyday life. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing how many of our results fall right into the 80/20 proportion.

    As for the application bit, like you say Jamie, it’s all about finding that 20% that’s gonna bring 80% of your results. It’s not always such an easy thing to figure out, but when you do you’ll find your productivity skyrocketing.

    Good stuff Jamie.

    Trevor recently posted..Death Is At Your Doorstep. How Will You Answer It?My Profile

    • I really do think that you can use this principle for almost anything. It’s fun to be creative and to think about how we can use it. The next time a project comes up or we have to do something for a deadline – that is the perfect opportunity to work out what the 20% is. Thanks for your comment!

  2. That’s a really tough question you posed at the end, Jamie. I sort of naturally use the principle when tackling something new, but I know for sure not everything in my life is streamlined. Hm, I honestly can’t think of anything right now I need to streamline with the Pareto Principle. Perhaps I could take another route and say that there are some locations where I can’t get any work done but I only spend 20% of my time in physical locations that I get 80% of my work done.
    Vincent recently posted..40 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner (The Compact Guide to Life)My Profile

    • Hi Vincent, I’m sure you can think of something you can use this principle with, unless you’re just naturally good at figuring out how to get your results that much quicker. I agree with the location thing though – I know that I spend 80% of my time in the places where just 20% of my productivity is created. I need to reverse that so thanks for the reminder.

  3. I also like to apply the 80/20 rule in my life…as long as I am good for 80% of the time I don’t beat myself up for being ‘bad’ for the remaining 20 🙂
    Scott Torrance recently posted..Let’s hack Personal DevelopmentMy Profile


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