We’ve all surely heard of the 80/20 Principle, or Pareto’s Law as it’s more formally known. It goes something like this:

80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.

It’s often thrown around in business as nothing more than a buzzword. Few actually do a full 80/20 analysis of their business and almost no one I’ve come across has applied the same to their life as a whole. Other than two people that is: Richard Kock and Tim Ferriss–and the people who have since followed in their footsteps (me included). The 80/20 Principle is the source material for what Tim wrote in The 4-Hour Work Week. It took me reading it a couple times to grasp the simplicity and life-altering implications of the principle. The time saved and gained will blow your mind.

The amazing thing is that the studies in this book show the principle working in just about every possible scenario. Of course it’s not always 80/20. Sometimes 90/10 or 95/5 or even 70/30. But the point is it works–without fail.

Richard’s purpose was to explain this ancient principle in a way that would inspire action and application to every part of life. When applied to work, productivity will go through the roof, but when applied to your life outside of work, happiness and fulfillment do just the same. All it takes is a shift in thinking. Try the following for a few weeks and the time in your life will never be the same.

5 ways to apply the 80/20 Principle to enhance your life:

1. Do the 20% of your work that leads to 80% of your results: Track all the time you spend on projects each hour of each day for a week. How many of these things were necessary? How many got you closer to your goals? How many were a waste of time? How many could someone else have done? Pick the 20% of your tasks that yield 80% of the results and outsource or simply discontinue the rest. Wondering what to do with your remaining time? Enjoy life. I outsourced a significant portion of my work to two very reliable virtual assistants in India starting in 2006. Ravi and Vikash now do that 70 or 80% for me. At $3-5/hour it is very hard to beat. Check out eLance.com if you’re looking to out source. Search “Virtual Assistant”. Once you start outsourcing, you’ll never go back.

2. Locate the 20% of your customers who drive 80% of your profits: Find your top 20% customers (by profit, not revenue) and fire the rest. Yes, fire them. The goal is not to work your life away. It is to make a good living to enjoy your life. If you must work more, then list out the characteristics of your 20% customers and go out and find more of them. You will not believe how liberating it can be to fire a customer who’s been a real pain in the ass.

3. Prioritize the 20% of your friends who provide 80% of your support and enjoyment: If you apply 80/20 to your relationships you will surely find that a few people in your life provide the majority of your support, excitement, laughter and feelings of connection. On the other side, there is likely another 20% group of people who account for most your sleepless nights, tears, anger and frustration. If you don’t want to feel this way, stop spending time around your bottom 20. Fire them and work on duplicating your top 20. This may sound a little callous, but it’s not. It’s practical. The quality of our life comes down to the quality of the people and experiences that fill it.

4. Fill your life with the 20% of your experiences that provide 80% of your happiness: As humans, our two biggest priorities are to move towards pleasure and away from pain. As mentioned above, find the few people, things, places and experiences that provide 80% of your happiness, fulfillment, pleasure and excitement. Also find the things that cause you to feel the majority of your negative emotions. Focus your time on the top 20% and avoid the bottom 20% like the plague.

5. Do the 20% of your workouts that lead to 80% of your physical gains: The majority of fitness results come from a small portion of most workouts. 80% of the muscle is built in the last 20% of the reps. Crossfit is a great example. The workouts are 7-14 minutes long on average but they provide more physical benefit than most hour-long workouts. Spending more time on something is not always a good thing. If you believe your workouts must take an hour then you’ll likely miss a lot more of them. What if they only took 7 minutes, but that seven minutes really tested your limits? You’re likely to show up a lot more often.

I know this sounds simple. But few people stop to actually do it.  It is truly possible to spend the majority of your time doing the things that you love. The only way to get there is taking Pareto’s 80/20 principle seriously. It will make all the difference.

Do not let more than 3 months go by without performing a full 80/20 breakdown of all areas of your life (especially your personal life). It will only take a couple hours and those hours will likely save days before you know it… 80/20 in action yet again.

Somewhere along the path of life, most of us were taught to associate fulfillment and worth with the number of hours spent–thinking the more the better. This has lead many of us to working aimlessly just to say we filled the day. This IS NOT the goal. The goal is be fulfilled, happy, efficient, effective and more than anything else, to enjoy life. Happiness is a daily right. It is not something we need to work our ass off for years to finally achieve. That is what Pareto stumbled on all these years ago. I encourage you to do the same.

What is the most creative way you’ve applied the 80/20 Principle? What surprised you? What experience can you pass along to the rest of us? Please share in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

22 Responses to “Living the 80/20 Life: 5 Ways to Achieve More with Less”

  1. I feel motivated man, I just wanted to let you know that I read your post today and I went and picked the 80/20 book this afternoon. so thanks, I’m happy to look for that 20%

    • Scott says:

      That book will rock your world Alejandro. Seriously! So glad you picked it up. Let me know what you learn, and more importantly what you do with it…


  2. Gerard says:

    I have the read the book. It is a good book. And Scott, you did a very good job summarizing its contents.
    However, the book is lacking one key ingredient. Despite all the talk about doing the 20% that matters most, it seems to never show you how to identify that 20%.

  3. Praha says:

    His last name… is Koch.. I enjoyed reading though!

  4. Chad says:

    Time management is something I’ve absolutely been struggling with– there never seems to be enough time in the day to do all the many, many things I want to do. I’m working on utilizing this principle to focus on what’s most important, fully immersing myself in each activity I do during the day, and making sure to enjoy the process as I go… and I think this will help me get the most I can out of learning and life. Great post man, thanks for helping to clarify this incredible principle.

  5. Matt B says:

    Interesting application applying 80/20 to friends. I had not thought of that one! does seem a bit mean though. Good luck and thanks for the post. Enjoyed it.

  6. Kaleb says:

    I plan to use the 80/20 daily now. Its really (guess you can say), what i needed to hear. Thanks. Im going get the book ASAP.

  7. Kyle B says:

    Scott, thanks for the advice on performing a full 80/20 breakdown of all the areas of my life. I’ve seen the 80/20 principle work wonders in my business life and I’m stoked to see my future progress when applying the same principle with my health, personal relationships, etc.!

Leave a comment