How to get more done in less time (The 80/20 Rule)


“For many phenomena, 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes.” – Joseph M. Juran

Why it works

According to the 80/20 rule, roughly 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. The rule is related to the Pareto principle, which goes back to Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (pictured above). Pareto first observed this phenomenon in the early 20th century while studying the distribution of wealth in Italy. He found that approximately 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population.

In the 1940s, Pareto’s observation was generalized by management consultant Joseph M. Juran. Recognizing its broader applicability, Juran coined the term “Pareto Principle” and popularized it as a tool for quality control. In this domain, 80% of product defects are often caused by 20% of production problems, so addressing these issues is crucial. 

The Pareto Principle also applies in many other domains of business. It has become an adage in the corporate world that 80% of a firm’s revenues come from 20% of its customers, which is why focusing on a few key customers significantly boosts profitability. As it turns out, you can use the 80/20 rule in every domain of life. Here are 10 ways to get started.

How to do it

1) Tasks
Prioritize your tasks and tackle first the 20% that will give you 80% of the impact. The best way to do this is to set three goals each morning before timeboxing your day around them. In this wildly popular article, I explain how.

2) Strengths
Focus on the 20% of your strengths that generate 80% of your positive results and delegate or outsource the rest. According to The Economist, being able to focus deeply is the “killer app of the knowledge economy”. If you want to develop this superpower, read this.

3) Activities
Identify and eliminate the 20% of time-wasting activities that consume 80% of your time without contributing to your goals. For most of us, mindless phone scrolling is the prime contender. If that’s you, try intermittent digital fasting. Here’s how.

4) Decisions
Streamline your decision-making by focusing on the 20% of factors that influence 80% of the outcome. Entrepreneur and writer Derek Sivers has a brilliant rule for doing just that: when deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Hell Yeah”, say “No”. Learn more about the “Hell Yeah or No” rule here.

5) Learning
Optimize your learning by identifying the 20% of skills that will give you 80% of the desired results. Once you’ve determined what those are, use this approach by Stanford professor Andrew Huberman to nail the three non-negotiables of learning.

6) Habits
Analyze your habits and double down on the 20% that bring you 80% of the positive outcomes. If you don’t know where to start, read this article on the 7 habits that will give you the most bang for the buck.

7) Relationships
Identify the 20% of your network that provides 80% of the value and nurture those relationships. Get started by reading this article on the seven social fitness keystones proposed by Prof. Robert Waldinger, the director of Harvard’s 85-year study on happiness.

8) Wardrobe
Streamline your wardrobe by investing in the 20% of high-quality, versatile pieces that you wear 80% of the time. Personally, I’ve been wearing the same jeans, shirt or t-shirt brands for many years. If you don’t know where to start, do a quick Google search for “capsule wardrobe”.

9) Health
Focus on the 20% of your health habits that make 80% of the difference. In his instant #1 New York Times bestseller Outlive, Dr. Peter Attia identifies three pillars of physical health: nutrition, exercise and sleep. If you want to learn how to 80/20 all three pillars, read this.

10) Possessions
Identify the 20% of your possessions you use 80% of the time and declutter the rest to simplify your life. Owning more things won’t make you happier. Having a few great things – and getting rid of the rest – probably will. Clothes are an obvious place to start (see #8). Then, apply it to other categories of things you own (technology, accessories, jewelry, etc.). Less is more.

    Apply the 80/20 rule to every area of your life. 

    Make every decision count. Small efforts, big results. Achieve more with less.