The Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, states that for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, if you can hone in on the most effective 20% of your efforts in any area of your life, you can minimize your efforts and maximize your results. It applies in business, economics, personal relationships, health, fitness, and basically any area where one expends energy to achieve any kind of outcome. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples.
For many organizations, around 20% of employees account for 80% of its productivity. 20% of customers are responsible for 80% of many companies’ sales. 20% of the world's population today controls 80% of the wealth. You probably have dozens of friends and acquaintances, but regularly spend time with the 20% who bring you the most joy. You spend most of your money on a few big expenses like housing, food, and transportation.
So what does this mean for you? It means that you can “work smarter, not harder” and maximize your output. In your life, there are certain activities you can do (20%) that will account for the majority (80%) of your satisfaction. Once you know what 20% you should be focusing on, you can create goals and accountability plans for yourself. Start by setting a SMART goal for yourself: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound. It should be both ambitious but feasible - a stretch but not an impossibility. A simple example is a goal of a casual jogger to run a marathon. It’s specific because it’s a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. It’s measurable because that distance is exact. It’s achievable because this person already runs sometimes. It’s results-focused because it will be a race run on one specific day, with others holding the runner accountable. And it’s time-bound because the runner will sign up for a race with a time and date attached.
Here’s where the 80/20 rule comes in. If the runner sets her SMART goal to run a marathon, she might think, “I already run 3 miles 3 times per week. I will just slowly increase that until I can run 26.2 miles.” She might do that for months and not see results. So she changes her plan to increase muscle tone in her legs and begins weight training at the gym. After a few months of that, she sees increased definition but still isn’t running close to 26.2 miles. Next, she changes her dietary habits, and so on and so forth. These are all examples of the 80% of energy that is having absolutely no effect on her goals. It feels like she’s working so much harder but seeing no results. She may finally discover a running program online, in a group, or with a coach that teaches her the specific strategies she needs to run a marathon. She runs a few times a week instead of every day, learning more about rest days and intermittent training. Focusing her energy on this running plan, she starts to increase her distance and decrease her time. Before she knows it, she’s crushing this marathon. Apply this principle to your own life, and soon you will be crushing it, too!