Have You Heard Of The 20-80 Rule?

14 October 2011, by A. Cedilla

You know the 80/20 rule. You even know the formal designation for it: the Pareto principle.

“80 percent of the best results, or most meaningful changes, come from 20 percent of your actions,” and so on and so forth.

80/20. Eighty-twenty. 80/20. Eighty-twenty.80/20. 80/20. 80/20. 80/20. 80/20. Bored now?

You see 80/20, you get it instantly — then you move on. Just flipping the deal to 20/80 made you stop, didn’t it?

So by now you know that there hasn’t been any new discovery to the Pareto principle, only a restatement of the issue. In this case, restating a problem also re-frames it.


When you put the focus on the 20 percent, you put the weight on the actionable parts, not on their most probable outcomes. Yes, you also lay the groundwork towards getting “the most beneficial results,” etc. etc, but putting the onus on the acting gets things in motion. You look at what you’re going to do, the changes you’re going to make, and the things you’ll have to release to get the results you want. You don’t get the results without the action. 20/80 shifts the focus to just that.

You see that the 20% comes first — when you put it first, the bigger number moves out of the picture, and you can get down to identifying your 20% — what things occupying your energy, time and focus makes the biggest difference?

The other 80% of your actions –not results, remember what the percentages stand for — gets streamlined, all those lower priority bits which can resolve themselves without as much impact, or be offloaded, systematized, outsourced or automated.

For example, while some would say that it’s a bad idea, Seth Godin gave the advice to “fire your customers,” and explained that if some of your clients are giving you a hard time, it would be better if they find someone else who’s willing to give them what they want.

The people who choose to stay with you then create a synergy — you and your customers are working together as partners and supporting each other — and doing so keep the relationship strong and mutually beneficial.

Anything else?

  • At different stages in your life, the things that make up the 20% will shift with changes and important events (personal and professional), so keep track of your changing priorities and adjust to fit them. There will always be things that won’t work out – plan accordingly.
  • Lest you think that you have to prepare for everything bad that can happen and trying to circumvent Murphy’s law, remember that sowing seeds with abandon on fertile ground isn’t enough, unless you’re into observing the Darwinian culling that results from unsupervised growth. You need to prepare the ground, lay the foundation — THINK, before you ACT, and when you act, think beyond the action to its consequence.
  • Then you look at what happens – OBSERVE. Look at what works, what isn’t, and suss out the factors – WAIT for the results while you attend to other things. When new data comes in, tweak your processes – REFINE.

What happens then is that you forge better habits. You streamline a lot of unnecessary stuff out of your life and things go smoother with the awareness you paid towards the infrastructure of your life. You get to learn new things about yourself and the world.


See, what commonly happens when you change things is that you experience discomfort until you see the merits of the change. When you keep going, you develop a tolerance for change and the unease that inevitably accompanies it. You learn to roll with it.

You build a center by living according to your priorities, which come from your core. Your 20% should cover what’s important to you in the various areas of your life . What small changes can I make here (where here is: work, family, finances , health, etc.) that will make the biggest impact over time?

  • ID the heavy hitters. These aren’t always obvious because some of the biggest changes can come from small things done on a steady, consistent basis.
  • ID the niggling pain in the butts, the small irritations that wear you down.
  • Assess the small things and break them down according to how they affect you – which ones give you energy? Which ones deplete your energy?
  • List the best courses of action you can take.
  • Either adjust and make the changes, or live around the things that you can still tolerate.

Don’t just look at the numbers as absolutes. Things change all the time. You also need to know what they mean for you: if you work to have your top priorities covered by the 20%, you get the 80% most meaningful changes covered, and the rest won’t matter enough in the long run to give you any real problems.

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