Despite having the best intentions for our body, mind, and productivity, we often struggle to maintain a healthy balance in our lives. We can't seem to strike a balance not because we are incapable, but more because we constantly see and experience the pressure of the “all-or-nothing” mindset that runs the risk of failure in the long run.

What is the 80/20 principle?

The Pareto Principle outlines that 20% of our focus and attention delivers 80% of the results. In essence, it reminds us that we need to prioritize the limited time that we have on what is most important. The 80/20 rule also allows for space to give yourself small indulgences, so that you aren't moving through a space of constant deprivation.

The Pareto Principle: 20% effort and 80% results.
The Pareto Principle: 20% effort and 80% results.

The Pareto principle was first discovered by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. After realizing that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, and having observed this very pattern in other different situations, he thought about the mechanics uneven distributions and discovered that different industries. The generalization then became a universal truth; about the imbalance of inputs and outputs.

In 1997, entrepreneur Richard Koch published "The 80/20 Principle" in which he defined the 80/20 principle as "the principle that asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards." He goes on to further explain that it points to the fact that 20% of causes produce about 80% of outcomes.

80 20 rule by Richard Koch
Photo by Yosef Futsum / Unsplash

As Koch continues to explain this, “80 percent of what you achieve in your job comes from 20 percent of the time spent. Thus for all practical purposes, four-fifths of the effort—a dominant part of it—is largely irrelevant.” What this means is that not only does a small proportion of your efforts generate the great majority of your results, but also, the majority of your efforts are essentially useless.

In his book, together with outlining the Pareto phenomenon in detail, he also demonstrates how it can be applied not only in your career or business ventures, but also in one's personal life. Ever since, he has been credited with popularizing the Pareto principle or 80/20 principle.

How Do You Apply the 80/20 Principle?

To apply this principle in multiple areas of your life, you can start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What are the 20% Of activities that I do that produce 80% of results?
  • Which of my actions have a larger impact on achieving the success that I want?
  • Am I investing in less important areas and neglecting the key skills, knowledge, or abilities to get me where I want to be in life and work?
  • Am I spending too much time on things that produce results below my expectations?
  • Which activities should I focus more of my efforts, energy, and resources on to get me closer to achieving the goals or outcomes I want in life?
  • What activity brings me the most results?
  • Which activities bring me the least amount of results?

For example, if you're embarking on health and fitness journey and one of your goals is to shed some weight, instead of thinking, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds in the next two months,” shift your focus and tell yourself, “I am going to increase my work out by 5 minutes each day.”

These practical and manageable mini wins will keep you motivated, and it has been proven that the act of crossing an item off your to-do list releases dopamine in your brain and makes you happier.

When implementing the 80/20 rule in your life, keep these two overarching principles in mind as well:

If 20% of causes/inputs/efforts create 80% of the good things in your life, increasing the amount of time/energy/attention you give to that 20% will have a disproportionately large effect on increasing the positive quotient in your life.

If 20% of causes/inputs/efforts create 80% of the bad things in your life, minimizing the time/energy/attention you give to that 20% will have a disproportionately large effect on minimizing the negative quotient in your life.

How To Create A Balanced Self-Care Routine with the 80/20 Principle

Here are 5 ways to help you create a balanced self-care routine with the 80/20 rule.

1. Engage in proactive scheduling and time management with Journey's templates

Not being able to take note of the time commitment of a particular activity or item on your to-do list, or not having a clear understanding of how long it will take for you to achieve a goal can affect your mindset and throw off your intentions when it comes to your wellness and self-investment. Taking some time to plot and map out your self-care routine at the beginning of each week will take the doubt, guesswork and the stress out of your headspace.

If you're looking for a place to plan your week, you can explore Journey. This digital diary and journaling app is a one-stop solution to your planning, reflecting, and recording needs. Amongst other templates that are available, the 80/20 Principle Template can help to amplify your effort for personal productivity. With the template, identify the 20% of activities that are yielding most of your results in the template and use this as a guide to channel your energy and focus into these activities.

Journey's 80/20 Principle template to help you manage your focus and energy.
Journey's 80/20 Principle template to help you manage your focus and energy.

At the same time, identify activities that have not been the most productivity, and create "to do" and "not to do" lists respectively. With this template as a stepping stone, you can adopt this principle in multiple aspects of your life for productivity and efficiency.

Take 30 minutes on Sunday nights to plan the week ahead by scheduling your exercise, self-care, and meal plans in a planner for the week. Together with Journey's 80/20 Principle template, Journey's Weekly Planner template can help you along your weekly planning sessions with ease. Sort out your priorities, to-do's, appointments, and reminders with the template. By planning weekly, you set yourself up for and allow yourself to experience the smaller wins across the week. Planning weekly will also help you to stick to your plans better, not having to worry about anything longer than a week, and face your challenges in more manageable time frames.

2. Communicate intentionally

It may not seem like it, but the 80/20 rule can be applied to how you choose to invest yourself and how you spend your time communicating with the people around you.

In a day, you may find yourself sending out empty "lol" texts and memes to your friends. While connecting frequently is important in building strong relationships, we tend to sacrifice depth of connection for quantity.

To build deeper connection, consider making one phone call at night versus sending multiple texts—the texts are just filling time and not necessarily helping to build stronger connections. Having an honest phone call and holding a good conversation would do a lot more.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

When you can find the time, do an inventory of your relationships. It is almost certain that you would find that just 20% of your relationships produce 80% of your overall happiness. Put in the effort to spend more quality time with these few people.

3. Focus on 2 or 3 things at a time.

It is hard, when you're constantly faced with things that could distract you, but you will be able to get more done if you can concentrate better. And you can do this by narrowing down what you want to focus on as well.

Focus on your two or three key areas for improvement instead of trying improve everything at the same time. Get the most important things done first, and use whatever remaining time you have left, if so, to turn your attention to other tasks. When you focus on key areas for improvement, you will better manage and prioritize what needs to be done first. Make sure you are getting the most important things done first so there is more time to fit in some fun and downtime.

4. Prioritize, and Create Action Items

Making priorities is a step ahead, but they’re not enough to get you over the finish line. You need to create specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed goals; or SMART goals. After which, you need to hold yourself accountable to them as well. These specific action items are the real 20% of the 80/20 rule; the things you’ll spend 20% of your time doing that will yield the best results.

5. Declutter for clarity

Out of all the things you have purchased or collected, about 20% are the likely ones that actually get used most of the time.

Pay attention to what you use the most, and chuck the rest. For example, only a handful of items in your closet would probably be worn regularly. Make it a point to go through your closet every few months and ask yourself, “Have I worn this piece of clothing in the past year?” If not, get it packed up and donated.

Misconceptions About The 80/20 Rule

​​There's a common misinterpretation of the Pareto principle that with 20% of effort, you can achieve 80% of the results. This is not necessarily the case. The 20% and 80% numbers don’t refer to the amount of effort you’re putting in, but the causes and consequences you’re working on. The goal is not to minimize the amount of effort, but to focus your effort on a specific portion of work to create a bigger impact. You do still have to put 100% of effort into that 20% of focus to achieve 80% of results.

Another downside of the 80/20 rule is that sometimes you might get too focused and lose sight on other tasks. If you only focus on the important tasks and put aside the less important tasks, things can get lost. The challenge is finding the right balance of using the 80/20 rule, and getting through the rest of your tasks—even if they don't result in 80% of results.

With templates such as the Weekly Planer Template, the 80/20 Principle template, and other templates such as the Weekly Review template and the Weekly Reflection template that enable you to further re-evaluate and improve your routines and weeks, incorporating guides like the one the 80/20 principle puts on the table would be made easier. The 80/20 principle is an important one to take note of, especially when you want to improve your life. It's a great way for you to identify what's important to you and where you should spend your time. It's also a great way to identify if you're spending too much time on something that isn't worth it.

The 80/20 principle, as explained by both Richard Koch and Vilfredo Pareto, demonstrates that we can achieve much more with comparatively less effort, time, and resources. We can do this by identifying and focusing our efforts on the 20% that really matters. The truth is that little of what we spend our time on actually counts. By concentrating on those things that truly do matter, we can unlock the enormous potential of the magic 20%, and transform our effectiveness and productivity in our lives, our careers, and our mental health.