Use the Pareto Principle to Be More Productive

· July 1, 2017

A famous American army veteran and politician once said, “there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” When you think of this quote, perhaps the Pareto principle loses its meaning. After all, this sociologist seemed to endorse achieving goals with minimal effort.

While Vilfredo Federico Pareto, born in Paris to Italian parents, postulated his famous principle more than 100 years ago, there are many people who continue to believe in it as if it were law. Let’s take a look at what it is.

The Pareto principle

The Pareto principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. This is because the Italian philosopher and sociologist stated that 80% of the benefits you receive come from 20% of the effort you put in. This can be attributed to any area of life, including personal, professional, and social success.

Pareto, who was also known during his time as a famous economist, really banked on productivity. He didn’t believe in putting in effort all the time (continuous), but in effort that really produced good results (selective).

While it’s an oversimplification to say that the Pareto principle a way to achieve success without effort, it does involve being truly productive and focusing directly on relevant tasks at every level. 

Pareto advocated for reducing effort in many areas of life. He believed that we should simply reinforce things that really result in a large benefit. Despite the 80/20 simplification, his experiments led him to conclude that by putting in 15-25% of work, you can achieve 75-85% success.

How to look at the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle has clear real-life applications. It simply stipulates that 80% of the consequences of what happens to us originate from 20% of the causes. The sociologist discovered some unique situations; for example, 20% of the population of a country holds 80% of the total assets. This, along with other discoveries, led him to propose that:

  • 20% of clients tend to generate around 80% of a business’s income.
  • 80% of your personal satisfaction comes from 20% of the people in your immediate circle. They’re the ones who give you love, friendship, understanding, etc.
  • When you do physical exercise, only 20% of the activity gives you 80% of the benefits you receive.

So it makes sense that Pareto believed 20% of your effort, if it’s well-focused, can be 80% of your success. By contrast, if the effort is poorly managed, the level of success will be much lower, even with the same amount of effort.

“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”

-Benjamin Disraeli-

How to apply the Pareto principle

As a sociologist and economist, Vilfredo Pareto obviously based his research on real examples. He postulated how to take advantage of his principle, since we all do it unconsciously anyway.

man working on chair

We’re not all aware that we’re working under the Pareto principle, but there are ways to find out. You might already be following this law if:

  • You delegate the tasks that you know aren’t that important.
  • You do what you like, but don’t spend most of your day on it. 
  • You do what other people want you to do, but you always spend more time on fulfilling your own desires.
  • You’re working or living the way you really want to and with the people you really want to be with.
  • You do activities that require a lot of effort, but you don’t take a lot of time out of your day for it, just the necessary amount.

“If A is success in life, then A = X + Y + Z. Work is X; Y is play; and Z is keeping your mouth shut.”

-Albert Einstein-

As you can see, the Pareto principle can have interesting practical applications. While it requires effort and tenacity, it also indirectly implies the need to distribute your time effectively. It’s certainly a great law that you can apply in your daily life. It’s simple, it reinforces what you’re really good at, and if you’re able to optimize that 20% of effort, you’ll see results immediately.

I Don’t Have Luck. I Have Perseverance, Effort, and Sacrifice