How to use the 80/20 rule in your work

written by  Ryan Seamons

In 1896 Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, made a unique observation while harvesting peas. He found that 80% of his peas came from 20% of the pods.

Pareto observed this same pattern in wealth distribution. 80% of the land in Italy was held by 20% of the population. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle teaches that the majority of results come from a minority of activities.


This applies across multiple domains: 

  • 80% of sales come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of crime is committed by 20% of criminals
  • 80% of donations are given by 20% of donors
  • 80% of revenue come from 20% of products
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of clients

And beyond business results and societal trends, this can apply to the way your team works:

  • 80% of productivity comes from 20% of the tasks on your todo list
  • 80% of responsibility is shouldered by 20% of employees
  • 80% of issues are caused by 20% of bugs

Don’t get caught up on the exact number (it’s possible in some places that you have a 30/70 or 10/90 split). But the concept that inputs and outputs have an unequal relationship can help you make decisions about where to focus.

Finding places where an imbalance of effort can lead to outsized results will reduce stress and maximize time for the right things. Firefighting is a common symptom of not correctly apply this principle.

You maximize results by focusing on the most critical inputs. 

It’s easy to get stuck in peanut butter mode where you spread your time evenly across every activity. Spend more time thinking about where to focus!



Questions to consider


  • Where do I see 80/20 applying in my work?
  • How much time do I spend figuring out my 20%?
  • What 80% activities can I stop doing, delegate, or defer?


From the Patterns Newsletter, edition #068. Learn more.

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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