The 80/20 Rule is Your Friend

One of my favorite concepts in life is the 80/20 Rule. What is it? A.k.a. the Pareto principle, it comes from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto having observed, in 1906, that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

But why do I like it so much, and why it is your friend? Because it can help you make decisions, and not worry so much, and get stuff done!

Here are some examples:

Clothing:  You wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time. To prove it, turn all of the hangers in your closet around backwards. Turn each one back right-side around only after you have worn that item of clothing.  After a few weeks or months it will be obvious which clothing you aren’t actually wearing.  It doesn’t really matter why. (Doesn’t fit, doesn’t flatter, needs repair?) What matters is that you can safely donate them and create more space in your closet.

Filing:  You only ever refer back to 20% of the papers in your filing cabinet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t file papers, but it does perhaps free your mind to get rid of the other 80% in your annual purge, realizing you didn’t need them after all. Look for duplicates, outdated policies, and such. Think twice about what you are filing. Keep a shredder and a recycle bin handy.

Garage, Pantry, Craft Room, etc.: You use 20% of what you store there on a regular basis (or, 80% of the time). So why keep all that other stuff? You could probably get rid of 50% of it and still have 30% left for occasional use or I-might-need-it-someday purposes. And think of the space you’d free up in the process!

Business: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. Knowing this makes it possible to determine the clients on which to focus your advertising and customer service efforts.

Time Management & Productivity: 20% of your time yields 80% of your results. So choose wisely what you spend your time on! The corollary is that the last 20% of a project takes 80% of the time spent on that project, which is a good reason to avoid perfectionism. Usually (I’m gonna say 80% of the time) good enough is just exactly that — good enough.  As Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” (It’s also the enemy of DONE.)

Random Example:  I recently watched a documentary on the Appalachian Trail which stated that the first 80% of it (if you’ve gone south to north) takes only 20% of the effort. Which means you might want to rethink that last 20%.

Rules I am making up as I write this:

80% of the benefits of cleaning your home come from cleaning the most-used 20% of the space (including kitchen and bath). Same goes for a de-cluttering and organizing project (which room, or rooms, bother you most?), and for tidying up for last-minute company (which spaces are they most likely to see?).

If you spend 20% of your time planning your activities, the other 80% — DOING the things you planned — will be SO MUCH EASIER!

You spend 80% of your time with 20% of your friends (in person, and online). Don’t you?

Related concepts and awesome resources:

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile.” (Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project)

“Eighty percent of everything you do tends to get done in the last twenty percent of the time available! If you don’t create a concrete deadline, that last twenty percent never seems to arrive… and you’re always living in the eighty-percent time that says, “some day … ” (Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge)

What applications can YOU think of in YOUR life for the 80/20 Rule?

Please share them in the comments below!

Copyright 2013 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.


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  1. My VA group did an “ideal client” exercise at our last meeting, and came upon the fact that 80% of our income comes form 20% of our clients. It’s pretty amazing how this rule applies to so many things. I wonder if it’s ever been proven?

    • It’s probably safer to call it a useful “principle” than a “rule” that begs to be proven. But examples are seemingly endless!

  2. Hi Hazel,

    This is a super article and I’d love to share it (whole page) on my blog. Do you mind?

    Hope to see you in New Orleans next month!

    Becca Clark
    NAPOVC member

    • Thanks, Becca, I’d be honored if you shared it! You could just write an introductory paragraph and link directly to this page, or you could cut and paste and include this statement at the end: “Hazel Thornton is the owner of Organized For Life, and the creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection and Custom Branded Clutter Flow Charts — for professionals who want more business!” with links to website and both flow chart pages.

      • Hi Hazel,

        I didn’t get this before, so thanks for following up and for allowing me to share it with my clients and friends.

        See you in New Orleans!


    • Great minds think alike! (I am the author of your related post, The 80/20 Rule is Your Friend.)

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