We have only limited resources, be it our time, money, or attention. So to get the most out of them, it’s important to invest your resources in only the most profitable places. The 80/20 principle can be very useful here. The principle says that for many events, 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. As such, it’s important to invest your resources in that top 20% causes.

Of course, the 80 and 20 figures here are not fixed (and the sum doesn’t have to be 100 either). In some cases, maybe 10% of the causes gives 85% of the effects, or 15% of the causes give 75% of the effects. The bottom line is, a small portion of the causes gives majority of the effects. For simplicity, in this post I will just use the 80 and 20 figures.

To use the 80/20 principle to boost your life, there are essentially two things you should do:

  1. Identify the causes which are in the top 20%.
  2. Move resources away from the causes in the bottom 80% to the ones in the top 20%.

These can be applied to practically every aspect of your life. Here are some ways to apply them:

1. Spend most of your time to nurture the most important relationships

Reason: 20% of the relationships gives 80% of the value

From all our relationships, only a small portion of them gives the most value to us. These are the few people with whom you have strong emotional bond. Usually these people are your spouse, your family, and a few close friends. You should spend the majority of your time to nurture these relationships.

2. Focus more on creating memorable moments in your relationships

Reason: 20% of the time in a relationship gives 80% of the memories

Well, the figures here are actually more like 5%-90% than 20%-80%. From all the time we spend in our relationships, there are only a few moments which give us unforgettable memories.

Can you identify the moments that are most touching and memorable in your relationships? What special things did you do to create such moments? You can focus on doing more of those to improve the quality of your relationships.

3. Allocate much more time to read and reread a few important books

Reason: 20% of the books gives 80% of the value

Some books give you much more value than the others, so they deserve more time and attention. These are the few books which could significantly improve your life. While for most books it is enough to read them just once, for these important books you should reread them until you can effectively apply their lessons. I call such books most important books.

4. Read only the important parts of a book and skip the rest

Reason: 20% of the content of a book gives 80% of the value

This is an important lessons if you love to read. There are so many interesting books to learn from and yet so little time. But, if you master this skill, you can extract value from many books in much shorter time.

What you need to do is identifying the critical parts of a book which make its top 20%, read them, and skip the rest. The same principle can be applied to other kinds of reading such as articles.

5. Pack unused stuff or simply throw it away

Reason: 20% of the stuff is used 80% of the time

Only a small portion of the stuff you have is used often. The majority of it is rarely used, if ever. While you do need some of it to anticipate certain situations (for example, first aid kit to anticipate if someone got injured), most of it is practically useless. So identify the useless stuff and pack it or – even better – throw it away.

6. Invest time to better learn the tools you use most

Reason: 20% of the tools are used 80% of the time.

Take your computer for example. 20% of the software installed is used 80% of the time. Since you spend most of your time with these tools, why don’t you invest time to better master them? You can read the manual (who knows you could discover some useful features you are not aware of), learn the keyboard shortcuts, or find tips and tricks on the Internet.

7. List unproductive or meaningless activities and eliminate them

Reason: 80% of the activities give only 20% of the value

List and look at all your activities. Only a few of them give the most value and meaning. So do you need the rest of them? Can you eliminate those activities so that you can focus your effort on the most rewarding ones? Be ruthless; don’t be afraid to say no if you need to.

8. Focus on your strengths

Reason: 20% of your skills give 80% of the returns

The few skills that give you the most returns are your strengths. It’s important to identify them so that you don’t waste time working on things which give you only small return. To be effective, you should do only a few things, the things you are very goot at.

9. Focus your saving effort on some major expense categories

Reason: 20% of the categories makes 80% of the expenses

While trying to reduce your expenses on the small expense categories is good, you will get the most results if you focus your effort on the major categories. With personal finance software like Quicken you can easily see what your major expense categories are. You can then think of ways to minimize your expenses there.

10. Eliminate unproductive income sources, unless they are passive

Reason: 20% of the income sources gives 80% of the income

Building multiple income sources is good, but some of them may not give you comparable returns for the effort and time you invest in it. Of course, you can experiment with new income sources, but if after some time you could not get comparable return,are they worth it?

So identify these least productive income sources and eliminate them. This way you can focus more on the productive income sources to make them even more productive. The exception is passive income sources which do not need any active effort from your part.

11. Find your productive time/condition and make the most of it

Reason: 20% of your work time gives 80% of the results.

Everyone has different energy cycle which determines when they will be most productive. Some people are most productive in the morning while some others are most productive in the evening. Also some people are most productive when they are in solitude, while some others are most productive when they are in a crowded place (such as a cafe). Whatever the time or condition is, try to identify yours. Then try to create more it (for example by eliminating some other activities) and use it as good as possible.

Photo by jurvetson

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29 Responses so far.

  1. Bob Roomy says:

    Great post! #4 is one that struck me since I don’t know how many books or reports or what have yous I’ve read cover to cover only hoping to find the kernels inside. Most would have you believe you must read up to that point (what you went looking for in the first place), but yes, it saves time to just cut to the chase. Thanks again!

  2. Thanks, Bob! I used to read books cover to cover myself, but I then realized that I won’t be able to read many books that way. Not only it is slower, I often got lost in details as well.

  3. etavitom says:

    awesome post! thanks once again for providing some inspiration and wisdom… all the best, brad

  4. Brad, I’m glad you find it useful. I thought hard for this post to find as many applications as possible. Though I could only find eleven, hopefully it could give some fresh ideas.

  5. #5 reminds me how easy it is to become a slave to our possessions–especially if you fall into the trap of collecting antiques, toy trains or any other kind of item.

  6. Richard,
    Yes, it’s easy to become a slave to our possessions. Many people love to collect stuff without thinking whether or not it’s really useful for them.

  7. […] Life Optimizer – The 80/20 Principle: 11 Ways to Boost Your Life […]

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  12. Kulwinder says:

    This is really helpful and this is practially possible. Thanx Donald for sharing this list of doable things to bring the desired change in your life.

  13. Kulwinder,
    I’m glad you find it useful :)

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  20. Zack says:

    Good one! I like all of these! 80/20…nothing truer…

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  24. Thanh Tung says:

    GREAT !
    The only word i can use to express my thought.
    Thank Donald a lot. I will read it carefully & recommend my friends.

    Tung

  25. Chelsea says:

    This article really opened my eyes! I made note of every point made and I will use them to better my life right away. I feel like I would have more control over my issues and be able to live a more fulfilling life. Having an anxiety problem, it makes life harder for me to focus on even the simplest of issues as well as enjoying great moments in life. Great article! Thank you so much for this :)

  26. Jhay R Milano says:

    the post is so simple and yet practical. And of course so helpful. All the principles are true and worth to follow. More power to you.

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  28. mahadevan says:

    80/20 principle – a yardstick / measuring rod .Useful tool of analysis – a learning exercise