The Pareto Principle holds that, for many events, 80% of the effects can be attributed to 20% of the causes. Also known as “the 80/20 rule, ” or “the law of the vital few, ” the Pareto Principle has been found to apply to a surprisingly wide variety of things in everyday life.
Examples of the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who observed that 80% of the land in Italy was controlled by just 20% of the population. Intrigued, Pareto looked to other countries and found similar ratios. More recently, a 1992 United Nations study revealed that 80% of the world’s wealth (actually 82.7%) is controlled by 20% of the population.
Looking more broadly:
- It’s been long recognized, or at least assumed, that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients (or 20% of salespeople).
- Microsoft has noted that, by fixing the top 20% of bugs, they could squash 80% of errors and crashes. (Note: I wonder when they’re planning on doing this…)
- In 2000, 20% of taxpayers paid 81.2% of US income taxes. (Note: This is perhaps not surprising given the large share of wealth that they control.)
- 20% of employees account for 80% of absenteeism.
- It appears that fellow blogger J.D. Roth wears 20% of his shirts 80% of the time (if not more). 😉
And the list goes on.
Why the Pareto Principle matters
To see how this principle can help you in everyday life, it might be best to turn it around…
What would you do if I told you that 80% of your efforts are (in many cases) largely wasted, producing only 20% of your results? I’d be willing to bet that you’d take a closer look at how you spend your time and make some changes.
While it’s arguable whether or not the numbers really work out to 80/20 in any particular case, the larger point still stands… The majority of your productivity typically comes from a minority of your efforts.
By looking critically at how you spend your time/effort, you can dramatically improve your productivity. Try to identify the things that produce the most results and focus on doing them. Likewise, try to shun (or at least streamline) activities that don’t produce much in the way of results.
The same principles can, of course, be applied to things like spending. While you may have certain critical things that are indispensable, yet only used rarely, I’d bet that you only regularly use a small fraction of your “stuff.” If you can learn to look at your purchases with a more discerning eye, your money will go further, and you’ll wind up with far less clutter.
Have you ever evaluated how you spend your time/efforts/money in this way? If so, what did you find? And what (if any) changes did you institute?