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Pareto Principle… Apply It Everywhere

Posted by on Sep 30, 2010 | 2 Comments

This is one of the ideas from Ferriss’ book “The 4 Hour Work Week“.  The Pareto Principle is named after the originator, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.  The idea is pretty simple… 80% of the outcomes flow from 20% of the causes.  Ferriss gives these as some examples:

  • 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers,
  • 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your activities,
  • 80% of your problems come from 20% of your acquaintances, etc.

In the spirit of efficiency and effectiveness, Ferriss recommends a ruthless culling process be applied to every aspect of your life.  Identify that 20% of causes that make you unhappy and eliminate them.  Find the 20% that makes you happy and replicate them, and so on.

I’ve been using this process lately, and it has made a significant difference in my life.  The most notable area has to do with time management.  Between working a full-time job, running BRU, and spending time with Shelly and our three kids, I felt like I never had enough free time.  I was on the fast track to burn-out.  Besides, it left little time for running.

After observing my own behaviors for a few days, I recognized several activities that took A LOT of time but contributed little to my happiness.  A few:

  • Spending time engaging in debate with random strangers on the Interwebs,
  • Spending countless hours responding to every email I receive,
  • Researching a variety of things I would never use, or did not have an immediate need,
  • Watching the daily news,
  • Following the Detroit Lions (always a futile activity),

Since dramatically reducing or eliminating these time-wasters, I have more time to do what is really important.  I’m able to spend more quality time with Shelly and the kids, run more often, and complete the really important business tasks in a timely manner.

I have applied the principle to other aspects of my life, too.  Here are some examples:

  • When teaching- I identified which 20% of my activities lead to 80% of student achievement, then eliminate the rest.
  • When running- What 20% of my mileage results in 80% of my improvement?  Repeat that 20%.
  • In book sales- What 20% of promotional items result in 80% of sales?  Repeat those promotional items.

The concept is brilliant.  Give it a shot.  If you have some success, let me know by posting a comment below!

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  1. rob
    October 1, 2010


    the Pareto Principle is an excellent model to improve efficiency, sales, happiness, etc. Just keep in mind that once you eliminate the 20% of the ‘bad’ and start to expand on the 20% of the ‘good’, you immediately start generating a different 20% of the bad. The Pareto Principle is one of those circular conundrums that never ends. for example, if you expand on the 20% of your running that give you the 80% improvement, it’ll immediately (relative term) stop providing 80% improvement.

    I know that no ‘improvement/efficiency’ model is a once and done proposition and that they all require revisiting your activities to see what needs to change. I wish you much luck and enjoyment in your simplification and they chance that you will ‘beat’ the Pareto principle!


  2. Ryan
    September 30, 2010

    I TOTALLY understand the 80% of your problems come from 20% of your acquaintances… (Don’t worry you’re not one of them!)