5 different ways you can use the 80/20 Principle in your life


The Pareto Principle, more commonly known as the 80/20 Principle, is named after the nineteenth-century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. In 1896, Pareto discovered that approximately 80% of Italian land was owned by 20% of the population.

Since then, the Pareto Principle has been re-imagined in "The Principle of Least Effort", "The Rule of the Vital Few" and IBM's incorporation of the 80/20 Principle in developing computer systems in the 1960s and 1970s, which influenced the likes of Apple and Microsoft, who made cheaper and easier to use computers.

The 80/20 Principle has influenced many important achievements, especially in the world of business, computer science, and quality engineering.

However, very few people apply the 80/20 Principle to optimize their everyday life. As a result,  they miss out on some important ramifications it could have on their health, happiness, and success.

Applying the 80/20 Principle to life

I first learned about the 80/20 Principle in Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek and furthered my understanding by reading Richard Koch's The 80/20 Principle.

Although both books primarily apply the 80/20 Principle to business, they also suggested a broader application to life.

For instance:

  • What are the 20% of your possessions you get the most value out of?
  • What do you spend 20% of your time doing that gives you 80% of your happiness?
  • Who are the 20% of people you’re close to who makes you the happiest?
  • What are the 20% of the clothes you wear 80% of the time?
  • What’s the 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time?

These might be easy questions for you to answer, you just haven't considered them before.

Once you've answered them, you'll realize how simple it is to apply the same formula to other areas of your life where you increase efficiencies.

At its core, the 80/20 Principle is about leverage. What are the small things that you can do in your life that give you the biggest bang for your buck?

Here are 5 different ways you can apply this simple concept to your daily experience:

Eating Healthy

Applying the 80/20 Principle to what you eat enables you to enjoy most of the benefits of eating healthy without taking draconian measures!

To maintain a mostly clean diet you can make small adjustments to your eating habits to achieve the majority of the benefits associated with healthy eating.

Start by taking stock of where you are right now. Identify the 20% of foods you eat 80% of the time. This will give you a good idea about whether or not you're currently eating healthy and how healthy your food choices are.

Now that you know you're starting point, you can identify where changes need to be made.

  • First, make a list of all your favorite unhealthy foods - haribos, donuts, crisps, and pastries, etc.
  • Second, make a list of your favorite ingredients and the simple healthy meals and snacks you can prepare using these ingredients. The easier they are to prepare the better.
  • Third, commit to eating these healthy meals and snacks 80% of the time and give yourself permission to indulge in the unhealthy the other 20% of the time.

Eating an 80% healthy diet is much easier to maintain than a perfect diet. You don't need to deprive yourself completely to be healthy, so give yourself permission to indulge from time to time.

I've been using this approach for over 5 years and it has served me very well. My weight has stayed pretty consistent and my food choices have improved significantly because I'm more mindful of what I eat.


Getting into shape and staying fit is important for your long-term health and longevity.

Most people default to going to the gym and train using isolation exercises when they start their fitness journey.

Traveling to and from the gym and waiting to use gym equipment are two of the main reasons people stop going.

There is a simpler way involving compound exercises that you can do at home.

Using compound exercises - movements that target multiple muscles - to workout, saves a lot of time and delivers multiple benefits like burning more calories, improving muscle efficiency, increasing flexibility, and increasing strength.

Even better, you save commuting and waiting time and workout out quicker by staying at home and exercising in your personal space, whether that's a spare room, the garden, or the garage.

To make the most out of compound exercises, you want to incorporate them into a workout.

The purest application of the 80/20 Principle when it comes to fitness is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

HIIT workouts involve short periods of intense exercise alternated with recovery periods. One of the biggest advantages of HIIT is that you can get maximal health benefits in minimal time. You work harder in a short space of time, take in more oxygen and burn more calories & fat.

Big results with less action - the 80/20 Principle in practice.

The best way to start is by identifying your top fitness priority - do you want to burn fat or build muscle?

Then research the compound exercises that support your top priority and create a short HIIT workout routine based on those exercises.

I've been training this way since 2016 when I decided to quit the gym. One of the best decisions I've made! Since then, I've been using a combination of Freeletics and Youtube to develop a training plan focused on bodyweight exercises that I can do anywhere.

Family + Friends

"Without relationships we are dead to the world - or dead."
- Richard Koch

Relationships enrich our lives. Unfortunately, most people allow their most significant relationships erode due to lack of attention.

I've definitely been guilty of this.

Being happy and content doesn't come from having a lot of relationships. It comes from cultivating and nurturing the right relationships.  

A small number of our relationships will account for a large proportion of our emotional value.

This being the case, we should optimize the time we spend with loved ones and the friends who are important in our lives.

You can apply the 80/20 Principle to make sure that these crucial connections are your top priority.

With family:

  • Be purposeful and recognize that 80% of the interactions with your family are trivial. They don't count as quality time.

    20% of our family interactions constitute all of the heavy lifting when it comes to cementing the bonds you share with them.

    When you communicate with your family, practice active listening and take the time to answer thoughtfully. The better your communication, the deeper your connection.
  • Ignore your Phone. Realize that 80% of the messages you receive are unimportant and can be ignored without consequence.

    When you do spend quality time with your family, turn your phone on airplane mode or commit to creating a "No Phone Zone" during family time.
  • Ignore 80% of the things that annoy you. As much as we love our family, they regularly annoy us.

    Figure out why you get annoyed and recognize that 80% of the things that annoy you are inconsequential. They're small things that don;'t really matter, so treat them as such. Remind yourself that "this moment will pass" and recognize that whatever irks you is temporary in nature.

Before you can apply the same approach to your friends, you need to determine your most important friendships, the ones you find most rewarding.

You can do this by making a list of your friends, noting how much time you're spending with them on a monthly basis, and identifying the good friends who you're spending less time with than friends who offer less value.

Focus your time on the most rewarding friendships, even if that requires you to pare down the number of friendships you're trying to maintain.


Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy. Reading these books prevents you from moving on to others you find more rewarding.

Here is how you can apply the 80/20 Principle to streamline your reading:

  • Choose books that align with your interests. I love reading about personal development, lifestyle design, productivity, and business, because that's what I'm interested in.

    That doesn't mean you can't explore other genres, but to maximize the pleasure you get from reading, stick with your preferences.
  • Commit to quitting a book once you've read 25% in and it fails to engage you. If you're not engaged after reading a quarter of the book, the rest of it won't engage you either. Take the Naval Ravikant approach to reading:
"I don't actually read a lot of books. I pick up a lot of books and only get through a few, which form the foundation of my knowledge."
  • When you find a writer you enjoy, stick with them. Read all of the books that they have published and check out any blog posts that they have written.

    I did this with Ryan Holiday, host of the Daily Stoic podcast and an acclaimed writer. I started off reading The Obstacle is The Way, which turned me on to his podcast and made me subscribe to his newsletter. I've read all of the books he's published and I'm committed to reading those he publishes in the future as well.

Speed reading also compliments your reading process and has the double benefit of enabling you to read more books and read books in less time.

I learned how to speed read last year using a combination of Jim Kwik's Speed Reading Masterclass and Tim Ferriss' Scientific Speed Reading.  The benefits have been significant because I'm able to read 5 x faster than before, which allows me to consume more of the content that I enjoy reading.

You can also use the 80/20 Principle if you're reading study material or your main purpose is to learn something from what you do you read, by using this 4-step method:

  1. Read the back cover and the flaps (if any) first. This is where you'll find the summary argument or premise of the book. It's also helpful to read the ‘blurbs’ or short sentences of praise on the back of the book. These will tell you half of what you want to know about the book.
  2. Read the Conclusion or Last Chapter. This allows you to determine what the author thinks they have established in the book. As you read, use a highlighter to highlight key passages that either encapsulate the argument or provide excellent examples.
  3. Read the Introduction. The introduction should set up what the author is trying to test or what they think the book is about. Because you've already read the last chapter, you know where the author will end up.
  4. Dip into the rest of the book selectively. Near the end of the introduction, there's usually an explanation of what’s in each chapter. This allows you to decide your strategy for the rest of the book. You can:
    a) Read almost none of the rest of the book, since you already know what it says.
    b) Read the one or two chapters where you are looking for evidence to back up the book's argument
    c) Dip into most or all the chapters because the material is original and highly interesting.

Using this method to read a book selectively is a serious mental exercise. By highlighting the key passages, you can re-read a great book many times, saving a lot of time and effort.

Home Cleaning

Cleaning your home is one of the most time-intensive chores that need to get done.

You can have a home that's 80% clean with 20% effort by accepting that good is good enough. All it takes is a mindset change and the willingness to let go of your obsessive tendencies.

To apply the 80/20 Principle to home cleaning, start by limiting your cleaning time.

Give yourself a pre-determined time for completing the cleaning task and stick to it. Once that time is up, the task is finished.

This is where Parkinsons' Law comes into play, which states that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion." If you give yourself 3 hours to clean your home, you'll take 3 hours.

Giving yourself a shorter timeframe means that you speed up the time it takes to clean.

Here are three steps that you can use to clean your home faster:

  1. Focus on the areas that receive the most use. Usually the kitchen + bathroom as the most heavily used at home. Clean those areas regularly and reduce how often you clean the lesser-used areas of your home like the spare bedroom.
  2. Set a time limit for cleaning each room. For example, allow 20 minutes to clean the kitchen & bathroom and 10 minutes for the bedrooms, 5 minutes for the lounge and hallway, and another 20 minutes for hoovering and mopping.
  3. Get rid of stuff you no longer use. We all like hoarding stuff for a rainy day or just in case, but the reality is all this stuff just takes up space. Having less stuff makes your home quicker and easier to clean. We also derive most of our enjoyment from a small proportion of our possessions - so get rid of the rest! I started using the Konmarie Method last year to get rid of stuff I no longer use and it's been a revelation.

Embrace the fact that your home won't be spotless enough to feature in the next issue of Good Housekeeping. It will, however, look great to the casual eye and you'll have more time on your hands to focus on things that matter.

This was one of the first applications of the 80/20 Principle in my life. When my daughter was born,  I started looking at ways to create more time and this was a very quick win. We clean our home in a 20-minute burst Monday through Friday, leaving the weekend free to relax and have fun.

Final Thoughts

What changes could you make in your day-to-day life by incorporating the 80/20 Principle?

Identify when you are happiest, where you find the most fulfillment and what brings you the most success.  

Doubling down on these elements while reducing your exposure to the rest is a surefire way of designing a lifestyle that's optimized for you to be your best.

Trouble is, most of us never spend any time considering these things, never mind acting on them.

"It doesn’t occur to us that there’s an efficiency to every aspect of our life, to everything we do. And not only is there an efficiency, but we have control and influence over that efficiency. It’s something we can take responsibility for and improve."
Mark Manson

It might be impossible to rigidly apply the 80/20 Principle to everything in your life. However, it can be used as a useful tool to help you make choices that lead to better health, greater happiness, and more success.