Twenty Unique Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule Today

Lever

I’m sure most people are familiar with Pareto’s principle, developed by an Italian economist and most commonly known as the 80/20 Rule. While Pareto originally used the rule noticing that 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the population, the rule has applications in almost every area of life.

There are many ways you can use this rule. Here’s twenty:

  1. Work Tasks – Write down all the broad categories of tasks you do at your job. You can make a little table that shows the amount of hours spent at each category (say, 1 hr for E-mail, 1 hr for contacting clients, etc.) and on another column write down a value estimate for what percentage you believe it contributes to your productivity. Eliminate, simplify or delegate low %’s and focus on high %’s.
  2. Food – Record your eating habits for a week. Calculate up the calories of the different items of food. I’ve done this before and I’ve found it surprising how some treats contribute a high percentage of your calorie pie for no nutritional value, when other vices consumed in smaller portions take up only a sliver but still offer a tasty treat.
  3. Daily Time Log – Do a time log on your activities for an entire day. Record the stop and start point for any activity. Then broadly shuffle the different activities into categories. Figure out what parts of your day aren’t contributing to either productivity, entertainment or personal happiness and cut them out.
  4. Reading – Look at the last few dozen books you’ve read. Rate them according to the amount of useful info or entertainment value. Look for trends and use that info to skim or skip future books to save time.
  5. Relationships – Look at your social circle and friends. Do a rough estimate of the amount of time and energy you invest in each relationship. Compare that to the amount of stress or satisfaction. You might find that certain relationships are toxic and others are valuable and should be invested in more.
  6. RSS Feeds – Look through your feed list. Write down the percentage of articles you enjoyed out of the last ten in the feed. Eliminate the lowest %’s. You may want to take into account article length or posting rate, but quality is probably the best measurement of all.
  7. E-Mail – Group the types of e-mails you answer into basic categories. Consider developing a template for the most common e-mail responses that contribute the least potential value for answering personally.
  8. Magazine Subscriptions – Same as RSS feeds. Go through all your subscriptions and give a percentage scale of what you perceive to be the value of the last several editions. Cancel subscriptions to the bottom and leave the top.
  9. Television Shows – Record your television watching habits for a week or two. After watching give a subjective rating of the television show. After your done, total up the amount spent on different shows or channels. If you have a special subscription service, cancel the channels that you don’t watch or have little value. Otherwise, consider eliminating live television entirely and recording the shows you feel are valuable to watch later. I’ve done this before and it can be a big time saver while still allowing you to enjoy some passive entertainment.
  10. Web Surfing – Record your web usage for a day or two. Write down the sites you visited or tools you used to get there (StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.) Figure out sites took up the most time and which had the least value. You’d be surprised how often they are the same thing.
  11. Spring Cleaning – Although it’s only a few weeks from summer, you can use this on any organization attempt. Go through your items and trash all the items that you haven’t used recently (except for important documents). Just because you have storage space, doesn’t mean it should be filled with garbage. Eliminate clutter and it becomes far easier to find and use the things you actually need.
  12. Clients/Customers – This one comes from Tim Ferriss, in the Four Hour Workweek. Figure out which customers contribute the most complaints and the least revenue. Notify them that things will need to change and set down some guidelines. Then fire the ones that don’t comply. Goes against the doctrine that the customer is always right, but some people just aren’t worth the trouble they cause.
  13. Hard Drive – Sort through your computer documents, comparing the last modified date for various major folders. Create a separate folder system where you can move these rarely used files. This will eliminate your computer clutter and make it far easier and faster to find the stuff you actually use.
  14. Desktop – Same thing as the hard-drive, but I do it every week or two. Just go through your desktop and delete any short-cuts or move documents that haven’t been used in the last two weeks. You don’t have to completely eliminate everything, but it will make your desktop a more efficient workspace.
  15. Applications – Go through all your computer applications. Figure out which ones are distracting and are either rarely used or contribute little value. Uninstall those. If this seems like too much work, a complete computer reformat can get rid of the trash.
  16. Home Appliances – Determine which appliances cause the most frustration, stress and break down the most. Once you’ve done this you have three options: learn to use the tool better to understand it and prevent stress, buy a new one or find a substitute that is less damage prone. Save yourself the headache and 80/20 your lawnmower.
  17. Budget – Calculate all your discretionary expenses (after taxes, food and necessities). Now compare the money value of each expense with the utility of the purchase. If you wanted to compare different entertainment items in your budget, you could value each expense on the pleasure it brought you. If you wanted to compare different investments or tools you could compare return rates or productivity gained.
  18. Blogging – Classify the types of posts you write into different categories. I’ve done this grouping by, post length, subject, format, style, images, etc. Multiply each by the amount of time to write each type of post. Then compare that data to your estimate of traffic gained from each. Use this as a guide for future writing.
  19. Habits – Figure out which behaviors (or lack thereof) contribute the most to your life. Exercise? Rising Early? Family Dinners? Use this as a basis for making new habits.
  20. Goals – It doesn’t matter whether you have them written down or just in your head. Look at all your goals and compare the resources required to accomplish each (time, money, energy, etc.) with the benefits gained. Benefits could be physical rewards, purposeful work or emotional quality. Pursue the goals with the highest value.

Do you have any unique uses of the 80/20 Rule?


  • Steven Aitchison

    Hi Scott

    This is a great list I especially liked 2, 12, 16 and 18.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Steve,

    Keep up the great work on your blog.

  • ZHereford

    What an interesting and creative way to use this concept!

  • Will

    Hi scott, this last post maybe going a little too far in to the world of productivity. You may never get out.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments.

    Will,

    You’re confusing maximizing everything to maximizing productivity. Productivity is just one use of the 80/20 rule, usually in the area of work. Maximizing everything includes maximizing your happiness, entertainment, relationships, joy and passion.

    I hope I never do get out. 😉

    -Scott

  • ST

    The hard thing is – you can hardly do 80/20 in some occasions, like before I read these 20 ways, I cannot tell which belongs to the 80, which belongs to the 20! 😛

  • Scott Young

    ST,

    80/20 my list? Great idea. All you have to do is figure out which four are better than the other 16.

  • Erik

    “All you have to do is figure out which four are better than the other 16.”

    – So did we actually get anywhere? Circular logic.

  • Kim Roach

    Excellent article Scott! These tips gave me some completely new ways to think about the 80/20 rule. I have always tried to apply Pareto’s Law to my work, but this article really shows how to apply it to every area of your life.

    Thanks for the great tips. I will be trying them out this week.

  • Editer

    80/20 my list? Great idea. All you have to do is figure out which four are better than the other 16.

    Which Steven Aitchison did (for him, anyway). Thus, of the five comments so far besides Scott’s, that one’s probably the most useful.

    See, you can even 80/20 the comments.

    P.S. All kidding aside, great post.

  • bone

    Set 125% target and finish up 100% with 25% effort.

  • Flow

    I guess that is what was meant by the first comment.

  • Peter k

    Interesting article you wrote, it is often necessary to apply that rule to time sensitive issues, however, applying that to relationships and suggesting essentially an spreadsheet comparative of one relationship to others is ludicrous. Follow yer heart maaaan.

  • Jo

    12, 17, 19 & 20. After you’ve got some feedback on which 20% are perceived as “better”, will you reorder the list to put them at the top, thereby making your list more productive?

  • Tjerk

    Isnt the 80/20 rule from computer science, in fact it is the 90/10 rule there: 90 percent of the time is spend executing only 10 percent of your code.

  • syahid

    nice post steve. i am thinking 80/20 now.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    As for whether you should be analyzing relationships with a spreadsheet that’s up to you. My point isn’t to get so mechanical with human interactions but to get you to apply broader theories of maximization towards other areas of life.

    -Scott

  • noname

    The point is that u still have to read em first (right ST?).
    Furthermore I read somewhere else (forgot where) that its not possible to kill the 80% low-outcome items because you can always devide the rest into 80/20 again.
    Think about it! 😉

  • Scott Young

    noname,

    Not exactly. The point of the 80/20 rule is to prioritize. It basically assumes that resources are more limited than the tasks, people or circumstances that would consume them. Furthermore, the 80/20 rule makes the assumption that some of those tasks will have a greater reward than others. Basically, do the things with the greatest rewards for your resources.

    Your goal is to eliminate everything that isn’t an efficient use of resources. This can often mean using the 80/20 rule on your existing pile of 20%. Turning it into a 64/4 rule. Or you could do it once more turning it into a 41/.16 rule.

    The numbers aren’t important, it is the process of prioritizing that is.

  • Mary Ellen Merrigan

    Thinking about 80/20 requires just that: thinking. You categorized it for us in a way that makes Monday morning planning all the easier. Nice framing.

  • matias

    Hi, All this stuff with the pareto rule has a problem.
    Recursiveness. If you reapeat this proccess to the infinity, you may be have a trend towards zero. And that’s means, Zero productivity.
    You may cut 80% of your Ineficient task. And you get 20% of the original task. Now that becomes the 100% and you cut 80% of it. You will end with almost nothing. And a lot of in your income.
    Sorry dude, but that is not real. You must consider the Fixed cost of doing things. This principle is based in the idea that all the things are variable.
    This Pareto rule is good as a general idea, but is not practical.
    Get the work done, you know what is that work that makes the difference. And if you don’t, you don’t need the pareto principle eiter.

  • Scott Young

    matias,

    I think your misusing the analogy of the 80/20 rule. The idea is that there are an almost infinite number of things that you could do, each with a disproportionate amount of value offered. You can continue to 80/20 the available tasks until they fit within your resources. I see no reason why the recursive nature of 80/20 should interfere with the practicality of it.

    The amount you progress in the recursion depends on your resources available and the amount of tasks.

  • matias

    HI Scott,
    My english is a disaster, so maybe the message is lost in translation.
    If I understand well, in your post you talk alot about cut those things that don’t get a great outcome. In the pareto principle, your interpetration is to cut those activities that belong to the 80% that don’t generate the optimus outcome. Is my interpretation correct?
    Ok with that in mind. My understanding of the pareto principle in the beginning is a Proportional way of seeing things, not absolute.
    Is like the law of the half. If you advance half the distance to a objective, and still keep advancing half chunks, You can make that infinite times, without reaching the total distance. You get that?
    What I mean with the pareto principle is the same.
    If my 80% of income comes from the 20% of my clients. let’s say, I have 1200 clients and my total income comes from the 1000$. Then if i cut 80% of my clients becouse the 20% remaining generate the 80% of my income.
    So now I have 240 clients that generate 800$.
    Now if i cut the 80% of the 240 clients, then I get 4.8 clients, that generate 640$.
    if i Cut that again the I end with a less than a client, to get 512$.
    So as you see, this not applicable. Becouse there is no rea numbers when you repeat that.
    Also you need the 80% to get the 20% that is higly efficient to generate the 80% of the income. Becouse of the natural inneficiency of the reality.
    You can’t optimize the sistems to get 0 inneficiency.
    So maybe is better to concentrate on the things that makes the maximun income, and relax and enjoy the 80% inneficient part, that makes you get that 20%.
    There is another example in the comment’s. They picked 4 bullets of 20 on the post. If you make only one bullet, then you can pick only a word. And that’s doesn’t generate as much as the 4 bullets.
    So maybe you must do much more things, and you will get more efficient results.
    LOOOONG post…. sorry dude.
    Hope this explains better my view.

  • Scott

    Great post. I have known about 80/20 for a long time, and I have tried to apply it to my personal life, these suggestions will go a long way.

    I really like the idea bout the food. One help with that is to use an online Nutrition Calculator such as simpleweight.com to assist yourself with watching you food.

  • Scott Young

    Matias,

    The thing that stops you from continually progressing with 80/20 is your resources. Because what you eliminate gets filled again, 80/20 is more like a process of refinement than elimination.

  • Jose

    A broader gist of what you are saying –
    http://spiritize.blogspot.com/

  • syahid ali

    cool article. really justifies the digg above.

  • Dan Blows

    Interesting, but you describe it like you’ve discovered ‘perpetual motion’ of productivity. I don’t think there is one person alive who could work out what contributes to ‘productivity’ – and especially not to happiness, friendships, etc.

    To paraody a rather clichéd phrase, 80% of my life is probably wasted with no return, but I don’t know which 80%.

  • Scott Young

    Dan,

    The 80/20 rule is only a guide, not some recursive machine designed for infinite productivity as yourself and many commenters were concerned I suggested.

    The basic principle is that different areas contribute different amounts of value. Sometimes you don’t know which ones are important, but sometimes you do.

  • Thom Quinn

    Scott,

    Awesome List. 80/20 works on so many activities that 80/20 thinking should be part of daily life. Last year, I posted on my 80/20 Kitchen which you might find interesting as I detailed some other sub-rules to determine exactly how to streamline it.

    Here is the Link: http://qlog.typepad.com/the_ql

  • Scott Young

    Thom,

    Another interesting application, thanks!

    -Scott

  • Gary

    Extremely interesting comments & observations. I’ve been using 80/20 analysis since 1985. I became a true believer early on because of the freaky but, right on the mark correlations. My advice for best results is, don’t over think it. Just use it to focus your efforts where they are going to give you the biggest return on you investment. Applications are only limited by your imagination or lack there of.

  • rechelle

    hi everyone.very interesting tip this 80/20 principle. what i know is steven covey’s 90/10 principle.

  • Whatever-ishere

    thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful…

  • Fitness Guy

    I am amazed as I read your post just how much time I waste.

    I am going through my year end planning and surfed around a lot and this is probably the best post I have read today. This is not just becasue the content is good, which it is, but it reminds me of the hundred or so bad pages I had to go through to get here.

    Using this 80/20 rule everywhere is great and I think that if you plan your ideal day you will also decide that 80% of your current day is a shambles and should not be done again tomorrow.

  • Summy

    Good list.

    I especially liked the “Daily Time Log”. This corresponds to my principle Do more of what you like and less of what you don’t

  • p5max

    Scott,

    I have been following your blog entries for quite sometime now and i am becoming a fan of yours.

    All,
    This 80/20 rule that you are talking about is more like a first-step approach of ‘doing things’ than a refining step for ”doing things’.
    There is no point to reduce these ‘things to do(ttd)’ to zero.
    This rule can be applied to the list of things only once i.e. the first time. After that, you actually have to ‘do’ things to complete the ttd list.

    When you have a lots a ‘ttd’ and not much time and resources, 80/20 rule gives a Quick, Efficient and effective way to reduce the ‘ttd’ to approximate of 1/5th of the original list, which now acts as a good motivator(also) when you look at the list again. Besides that, other advantages are mentioned/obvious.

    Cheers!!

  • Daniel DiGriz

    Here’s an 80/20 project: a group of orphans needs to buy food sources that will keep producing food all year long (chickens, plants, fish, etc.). But what funds come in at such a slow rate, spread out over time, that they’re forced to eat them in them in the form of rice (only rice) as the funds trickle in. If they could get funded all at once, it would change their ability to feed themselves.

    How much do they need? $1000. Yep, a thousand dollars for the whole project. So, if 20 people sat down and figured out the cost of one night out: dinner/movie/coffee/dessert, and gave that amount this week, the project would be funded immediately, and these kids would be able to learn with full bellies, and keep on producing their own food. We’ll never get 100 people to give $10 each. But if we can get 20% of those people (20 people) to give $50 each, they’re funded.

    Here’s the project. I know it well, and have given to it before. Care to join me? http://www.givemeaning.org/pro
    or http://www.givemeaning.org/project/ne...

    Oh, and pssst. Pass it on.

  • Pankaj

    too many applications do cause a distraction. thats why i look for “integrated” productivity solutions – everything in one place – no distractions. i settled for HyperOffice for this purpose because their web application offers integrated messaging (mail, contacts, calendars, tasks), collaboration (intranet and extranet workspaces, document management, forums, wiki) and conferencing (web conferencing)

  • cherry

    its rather interesting to see this model applied to multi-faceted areas such as given above. thanks for putting into a modern context.

  • Shallie Bey

    Scott, I enjoyed your post. It is a wonderful example of the ways that the 80/20 rule can be applied in all areas of life. I particularly want express my agreement with you that it is about prioritizing things like action steps far more than it is about the exact ratio.

    In my work with entrepreneurs, I find myself often discussing the 80/20 rule. And like your other reader suggests, the 80/20 rule can be applied to the 20% to further develop priorities.

    For example if it will take 100 actions to produce the desired results, then 20 actions will produce 80% of th benefit. Now applying the 80/20 rule again, 20% of the 20 actions, 4 actions, will produce 80% of the 80%. So the math tells us that by picking the top 4 actions, we can accomplish 64% of all the work to be performed. That is the process of prioritizing that makes the 80/20 rule so valuable. It helps us figure out where to begin. And often, that one step makes such a difference that we don’t need to take anymore steps.

    Shallie Bey
    Smarter Small Business Blog

  • shelly

    Here’s a great post with some ideas on how you might be able to apply this to your work environment: World’s Best Productivity Hack – the 80/20 principle. Here’s another one from Scott Young that’s a little broader but has some good ideas: Twenty Unique ways to use the 80/20 Rule today

  • kb

    I wish I was part of the 20%, I could really do with some of that wealth lol.
    Thanks for the insightful article! Great read.

  • Christoph Dollis

    Yet another spot-on article.

    I wouldn’t say everyone needs each of those suggestions. We can each grab the ones which resonate with us, which would have the most effect.

    For me now it’s food, relationships, web surfing, and habits… including implementing the 80/20 principle itself.

  • lakshman

    Extremely useful and knowledgeable – probably i would have been happier had i seen a similar mail 10 years ago to transform myself. Thanks a lot mate !!!…

    Lakshman

  • Jim

    Scott,

    Great post on the universal application of a proven principle. One of the keys to getting the most from it is knowing what your objectives are and eliminating everything possible that doesn’t contribute to accomplishing those objectives. Focus is power; and when we focus on what’s important to us we conserve our precious time, money, and energy and get more of what we want in all areas of life. Again, great post on a principle that unfortunately isn’t on most people’s radar.

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