The 80/20 rule — explained

A rule for effective prioritisation and beyond.

I first came across 80/20 rule when reading Tim Ferriss’ book. It’s not overcomplicated and its simplicity really struck me. The rule was invited by an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher Vilfredo Pareto.

What is it?

The 80/20 rule says that, as Harvard Business Review explains, 80 per cent of effects come from 20 per cent of causes. The rule has its origin in economics. Pareto in 1896 noticed that 80 per cent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 per cent of the population, as rule’s Wikipedia entry states.

But there are many more uses of this simple rule, beyond economics.

How can I use it to improve my time management?

First and foremost, the 80/20 can be a brilliant addition to the time management techniques we can use at work. Being well-organised is such a big part of many careers, and especially public relations, that mastering it can be beneficial.

Each day in the office will bring a variety of tasks. All of them need to be done. Although some are more important than others and if the more important task gets done, the outcome will be bigger.

Imagine you’ve a massive client report to finish and a press release to write. This is all topped up with room booking and formatting notes from the last meeting. We can see that all of these tasks are important for the team and they have to be done. But on the second glance, press release and report are much more important. These can be classified as 80 per cent. Admin-oriented activities will be 20 per cent.

Identifying which tasks fall under the 80 and which ones under the 20 mark is crucial for your prioritisation. Try doing more demanding tasks before you get into the less important ones. Another significant thing to remember is that you should never let the 20 per cent distract you from doing the 80 per cent.

Other examples

The 80/20 doesn’t have to be limited to time management. Tim Ferriss in his book also hints asking the below questions.

Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?

Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?

Investing education and financial news website Investopedia also mentions other examples.

20% of a company’s customers are responsible for 80% of the sales
20% of the employees are responsible for 80% of the results
20% of effort put in on a project yields 80% of the project’s results

I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule. It can not only make time management process much more efficient, but it’s also a sentiment to the fact that brilliant ideas and concepts can be simple.


If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at], tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!