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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule

Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule

Eighty percent of the output comes from twenty percent of the input. That is basically a summary of the Pareto Principle, or as it is more commonly known, the 80/20 rule. The rule comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population[1].

The 80/20 rule points out the imbalance of effects. Just as one person might have several times the wealth of another, one hour spent on a critical project might be worth $10,000[2] while another might only be worth $20. The goal when using the 80/20 rule is to maximize the small and powerful twenty percent and reduce the wasteful eighty percent.

Despite the popularity of the rule, few people seem to understand it. I’ve seen hundreds of misapplications and confusions spouted throughout the web and in print. Some of these errors are due to simply not understanding what the rule means. Others are just my opinion of unfair attacks on an otherwise useful principle.

Here are the worst attempts at using the 80/20 Rule:

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1. 80 + 20 = 100

I’ve seen a few times where people try to create a diagram explaining the 80/20 rule with a pie chart. One fifth of the pie chart is labeled 20% and the rest is labeled 80%. While those of us with basic math skills can see how this adds up to 100%, the calculation undermines what the rule is about.

The 80/20 rule argues that 20% of the input creates 80% of the output. Inputs and outputs aren’t the same thing and, therefore, can’t be put into the same pie chart. The 80/20 rule could just as easily be called the 55/3 rule, if 55% of the results were created by 3% of the inputs.

Don’t get caught up on the numbers. Both 80 and 20 are just examples of one type of uneven balance. The fact that they add up to 100 is a coincidence.

2. 80/20 Applied Recursively

One argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule goes like this: “If you keep applying the 80/20 rule, eliminating the wasteful 80%, eventually you’ll end up with nothing.” I suppose the people who argued this point felt they were being clever by using a literal, mathematical interpretation of the rule.

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Once again, the numbers here aren’t that important. The actual applications are less mathematical. When you have a limited amount of time, you won’t be able to perform every task possible. The 80/20 rule suggests you look through all the tasks you normally could perform. Pick the top 20% that create the most results and focus on them. Whatever time you have left can be spent on the less productive 80%.

3. 80/20 to Perfection

Another way I’ve seen the rule misapplied is when building skills. It might take two years to become 80% proficient. But in order to get that last 20% of skill, you need to invest another 8 years. While this is a fair use of the rule, the advice with skills often goes against the 80/20 rule. Instead of eliminating the need for that last 20%, you invest most your time to master the last 20%.

The point of the 80/20 rule is that you should downplay or minimize the inefficient 80% of inputs. There are times, of course, when this rule doesn’t apply. Mastering a skill can be one of those areas where the 80/20 advice is faulty.

However, by recommending the opposite of the 80/20 rule, you can’t really claim the 80/20 rule is in practice here. That would be like saying “haste makes waste” is the same advice as “he who hesitates is lost.”

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4. “But I Still Have to Do It…”

An argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule frequently goes like this, “Sure, some tasks are less valuable than others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to get done.” Answering e-mails, making phone calls, or having meetings may appear wasteful, but they still need to get finished, right?

This argument has an element of truth, but it conceals a bigger lie. The truth is that, yes, there are things that need to get done even though they aren’t wildly important. If I stopped answering e-mails, I might miss opportunities, have my network degrade, or lose important messages.

The bigger lie is that you have no control in adjusting where time gets spent. If e-mail isn’t that important, your goal should be to reduce the time you spend on it. If meetings aren’t contributing to the good of the company, you should have shorter meetings. If your hands are really tied and you have no control over how your time is spent, what’s the point of reading productivity blogs like this anyways?

How to Really Use the 80/20 Rule

Pick an area of your life where you feel there is an imbalance of effects. This won’t be true of all areas, but many situations are out of balance (money, time, health, and possibly even relationships).

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Next, try to identify the key 10, 20, or 40 percent of inputs that are creating most of your results. This could be the 10% of time that creates the most returns. It could be the 40% of relationships that create the most happiness for you.

Once you’ve done, this, find ways to emphasize the key percentage. Spend more time on those activities. Place them first in your schedule. Meet up with your key friends more often. Invest more of your money in things that will offer you the most comfort or joy.

Finally, Find ways to downplay or eliminate the rest. Get rid of activities that don’t have a high payoff. Stop spending time in relationships that don’t create enough value. Stop wasting money on investments that aren’t giving you a greater quality of life.

More Tips on Using the 80/20 Rule

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

Why You Need to Say No! More Often

Why You Need to Say No! More Often

It’s so hard to say “no”.

Why?

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It makes us feel selfish, guilty, embarrassed even. We don’t want to upset people. We don’t want them to think badly of us. Sometimes it’s simply easier to say “yes,” than to deal with our angst or other people’s reactions. But what is this behavior costing us?

When we give a “yes” when there ought to be a “no”, we give away a little piece of ourselves. We relinquish our power, our control and disrespect our needs by making them less important than the needs of others. We disrespect our needs or wants by making choices that don’t support us. We justify it; it’s just this one time, it’s for a good cause, it won’t take too long, it’s not that big a deal. It is a big deal. Every time you do this, you are making a choice to ignore what your heart, your mind, or your gut is telling you.

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The Benefits of “Say No”

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  1. The Stress Factor. Saying “yes” when you really want to say “no” is a major stressor for your mind and body. It causes anxiety, tension, aches and pains, often causes us to lose sleep as well. It’s unquestionably not the lone cause of stress, but it might be among the easiest to control.
  2. Get Rid of Toxic People. You don’t really want these people in your life anyway, do you? These are advantage takers, the leechers, the complainers, the gossip-mongers, the responsibility-duckers. They are master manipulators who use guilt and manipulation to pressure you into a “yes.” If you consistently give a firm “no” they’ll eventually go away and find some other, weaker target.
  3. Save Time. We only have so many hours in the day. We can’t do anything about that, but we can control how we use that time. Don’t let others determine your to-do list or set your set agenda. You are giving away your precious time! It’s important to use your time in the way that honors your priorities, helps you reach your goals and serves your needs. You decide what’s worth your time and what’s not.
  4. More Energy. Taking on things that you don’t want to do or don’t have time for, wastes valuable energy that you could be spending on those things you do care about. Pour that energy into doing a better job on those activities that you really must do or choose to do. More energy helps you feel better, be happier, and have greater productivity.
  5. Increase Focus. Say “yes” to people and things that are relevant to your goals. Say “no” to those things take you away from your goals and make you lose your focus. Focus on those things that help you learn and grow both personally and professionally, things that spark your interests or speak to you in some way.  Whenever it’s possible, say “no” to everything else.
  6. Gain Strength. Every time you say “no” to others, you’re saying “yes” to yourself. You’re taking back control of your life by not allowing others to make decisions for you. You gain confidence when you stand firm and honor your boundaries. Surprisingly you also gain the respect. When you’re clear and firm about you will and won’t do, people actually respect you more. They may be unhappy with you, but they’ll respect you.
  7. Enjoy Life More. Life is so much more enjoyable when you begin to say “No” to things that drain you. The same is true in your work life. If you make an effort to try to limit your time and effort to work activities that enjoy or that you actually are responsible for, you’ll find that work is much more fun.

It gets easier to give the “no,” the more often you do. It’ll probably be uncomfortable for a while. We squirm at the thought of disappointing others, even when we’re letting ourselves down in the process. Your needs, your time, your goals, and what’s important in your life have to be your decision-making guides. It just takes some getting used to.

Repeat after me: “NO.” You can do it!

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Featured photo credit: Isaiah Rustad via unsplash.com

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