The Pareto Principle, also known as the Pareto Efficiency and the 80-20 Rule, states that in many areas of life approximately 80% of your effects (results) are derived from roughly 20% of your causes (efforts). For a more extensive definition of this principle, you may take a look at Wikipedia’s discussion of the topic.
Assuming the accuracy of the Pareto Principle, there is an obvious opportunity to “hack” our lives in order to achieve far more results with considerably less effort. That is what this website is all about – “efficient living.”
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the Irish writer:
“I am not young enough to know everything.”
Many commentators would require a page or more to expound on how we (mistakenly) think we know everything when we are young. We are equally convinced that older people are out of touch and just don’t get it. Mr. Wilde, on the other hand, subtly drives the thought home in one pithy, mildly humorous sentence.
This is not pointed out as an indictment of young people, but as an observation of the natural process of maturation. It is a rare young person who doesn’t go through the phase of “knowing everything.” As we gain experience, we become educated with regard to how little we actually know.
In the context of the Pareto Principle, our goal is not to “know everything” but to know the 20% of information that has the potential to produce 80% of the results we seek. It would be a mistake at a young age to conclude that we have already achieved that goal. Continue to search out the best information available on subjects of interest to you, and always run that information through the 80-20 filter. There is no shortage of information available in the digital age, but 80% (dare I say 98%) of it is not particularly useful in designing and living our lives.
Time management is a very popular subject among people interested in productivity and personal development. The concept is that by increasing the efficiency with which you “manage your time” you are able to make more time available with which you can, presumably, produce more of whatever results you are seeking to achieve.
—What’s Really Happening?
Does it really work that way in the real world? True, we may be able to manage our time better and free up some time for other purposes, but what happens next? Don’t most of us feel obliged to use that “extra” time to squeeze more of the same kinds of frenetic activities into our already over-crowded schedules? Is that really going to improve the quality of our lives?
Typically the time which has been freed up through time management is not invested in the 20% (result/happiness producing) activities, but rather in more of the 80% activities that really contribute very little to our productivity or happiness. Given this fact, have our time management efforts really produced desirable result?
—Beware the Carrot and the Stick!
There is a “carrot and stick” thing going on here. We are sold on the idea that if we just work a little harder and a little longer we’ll somehow reach a point where we can live the life of our dreams. Meanwhile, our “real” life is slipping away.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
— John Lennon (1940 – 1980)
Perhaps a periodic “step back” from the work-a-day world is in order. Is there a better way to manage our time? The answer is “yes,” and that way is to live the 80/20 life.
The 80-20 Rule (the Pareto Principle) is not just some abstract, statistical analysis that only applies to mathematicians and statisticians. No, this rule has very practical applications to everyday life for almost everyone.
–Living the 80-20 Life
If you stop and think about it, you’ll notice in almost every area of your life, 80% of your results are derived from 20% of your efforts. It’s true in your work, your relationships, your finances, and even your efforts to get in shape and stay fit. Although the principle has always been in play in your life, if you’re like most people you have just never noticed it, or taken time to consider how you could harness the rule to dramatically improve the results you are getting in life.
There is a way to get relief from your stressful lifestyle, enjoy your life and at the same time accomplish more. That “way” is to learn to harness the power of the 80-20 principle. The key is learning to focus almost entirely on the things that matter most and produce the best results for you – the 20% – and to carefully avoid giving too much of your time and effort to the rest – the 80%.
For some odd reason, we humans almost inevitably default to the opposite approach – spending most of our time and energy on the 80% of things which are least likely to produce the results we are seeking. It is only by becoming mindful of this fact that we are able to avoid the fate of investing 80% of our lives in activities which are not likely to be productive.
–A Quick Pareto Experiment
As an exercise, consider just observing how you spend your time for the next two days. Don’t make an effort to change anything. Just observe. Then decide for yourself whether learning more and applying the 80-20 rule to your own life would be advantageous. I expect that the 20% (or less) effort which you expend on this exercise will easily produce more than 80% returns for you in the future if you follow through.
–A Resource for Further Study
There is an excellent book, Living the 80/20 Way, by Richard Koch which I urge you to read. Mr. Koch shows step-by-step how to harness the power of the 80/20 Principle to make a good life and not just a living. Living the 80/20 Way applies Koch’s “less is more” and “more with less” philosophies; ultimately, enabling you to obtain work you enjoy, to build stronger relationships with family and friends, and to harness money issues. His proposition is that we can achieve more if we focus on the few things that really matter to us most as unique individuals.