How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle?

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The 80/20 Principle has been one of the most important guiding success rules in my career.



How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle?*


Simon Pucko

In the 19th century, Vilfredo Pareto had written a mathematical model for income distribution in Italy that stated that 80 percent of the land was owned by 20 percent of the people. Wealth was not evenly distributed. In fact, according to Pareto, it was actually concentrated in a highly predictable way. A pioneer of quality-control management, Juran had noticed that a handful of flaws would usually produce a majority of the defects.

This imbalance not only rang true to his experience, but he suspected it might even be a universal law and that what Pareto had observed might be bigger than even Pareto had imagined.

Pareto’s Principle, it turns out, is as real as the law of gravity, and yet most people fail to see the gravity of it. It’s not just a theory it is a provable, predictable certainty of nature and one of the greatest productivity truths ever discovered.

How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle? Richard Koch said in his book The 80/20 Principle: “The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.” In other words, in the world of success, things aren’t equal. A few causes create most of the results. Just the right input creates most of the output. Selected effort creates almost all of the rewards.

 How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle?

The 80/20 Principle says the minority of your effort leads to the majority of your results.



Pareto points us in a very clear direction: the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. Extraordinary results are disproportionately created by fewer actions than most realize.

Don’t get hung up on the numbers. Pareto’s truth is about inequality, and though often stated as an 80/20 ratio, it can actually take a variety of proportions. Depending on the circumstances, it can easily play out as, say, 90/20, where 90 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your effort. Or 70/10 or 65/5. But understand that these are all fundamentally working off the same principle.

The 80/20 Principle has been one of the most important guiding success rules in my career. A few ideas gave me most of my results. Some clients were far more valuable than others; a small number of people created most of my business success; a handful of investments put the most money in my pocket. Everywhere I turned, the concept of unequal distribution popped up. The more it showed up, the more

I paid attention- and the more I paid attention, the more it showed up. Finally, I quit thinking it was a coincidence and began to apply it as the absolute principle of success that it is- not only to my life but also in working with everyone else, as well. And the results were extraordinary.

Pareto proves everything I’m telling you- but there’s a catch. He doesn’t go far enough. I want you to go further. I want you to take Pareto’s Principle to an extreme. I want you to go small by identifying the 20 percent, and then I want you to go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few. The 80/20 rule is the first word, but not the last, about success. What Pareto started, you’ve got to finish. Success requires that you follow the 80/20 Principle, but you don’t have to stop there.

 How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle?

No matter how many to-dos you start with, you can always narrow it to one.


Keep going. You can actually take 20 percent of the 20 percent of the 20 percent and continue until you get to the single most important thing! No matter the task, mission, or goal. Big or small. Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential one.

Now, again, stop and do the math. One idea out of 100. That is Pareto to the extreme. That’s thinking big, but going very small. That’s applying the one Thing to a business challenge in a truly powerful way.

The inequality of effort for results is everywhere in your life if you will simply look for it. And if you apply this principle, it will unlock the success you seek in anything that matters to you. There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most. Internalizing this concept is like being handed a magic compass. Whenever you feel lost or lacking direction, you can pull it out to remind yourself to discover what matters most. 

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 How to work smarter with the 80/20 Principle?

  • Go small. Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most to drive your day.

  • Go extreme. Once you’ve figured out what actually matters, keep asking what matters most until there is only one thing left. That core activity goes at the top of your success list.

  • Say no. Whether you say “later” or “never,” the point is to say “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done.

  • Don’t get trapped in the “check off” game. If we believe things don’t matter equally, we must act accordingly. We can’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done, that checking things off our list is what success is all about. We can’t be trapped in a game of “check off” that never produces a winner. The truth is that things don’t matter equally and success is found in doing what matters most. Sometimes it’s the first thing you do. Sometimes it’s the only thing you do. Regardless, doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.  

*Adapted from a Book One Thing from Gary Keller.


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