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The 80/20 Principle

Lately I have been pondering the 80/20 principle.


I am sure those of you in the business world have heard of it...and others of you too.

Here is some history behind this concept (thanks to Wikipedia!):

In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the people. He became somewhat obsessed with this ratio, seeing it in everything. For example, he observed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of his pea plants. The 80:20 ratio of cause-to-effect became known as the Pareto Principle.

Bottom line: The 80/20 Rule is that 80% of results are produced by 20% of the effort.

Ok, great. That's pretty simple. So how does that apply to my life?

Personally, the spring seems to be one of the busiest times of year for me. It starts with the spring cleaning both inside and outside of my house, then it goes to all my kids’ spring sports schedules and school activities, my writing and speaking opportunities seem to multiply in the spring as well. Yes, it is time, growth and renewal...but often it is overwhelming.

How do I make good choices? How do I decide when to say yes and when to say no? Are there guidelines or principles I can use to help me?

I think that is where the 80/20 principle comes in.

Just like my Italian ancestor, Pareto, I started seeing the 80/20 principle in my everyday life.

Like his peas in his garden, I started looking at the ordinary stuff as well as the bigger picture.

  • Most of us wear 20% of our clothes, 80% of the time.

  • Most people spend 80% of their time with 20% of their friends.

  • We all have stacks of recipes, but probably use just 20% to make 80% of our meals.

  • When the mail arrives and I weed out the junk, I’m left with 20% that requires the remaining 80% of my attention (this applies to emails and texts too!).

  • Although my pantry and fridge are usually well stocked, I eat 20% of the food 80% of the time.

  • On any given day in my house, 20% of my kids cause 80% of the drama.

  • 80% of what we worry about has about a 20% chance (or less!) of happening.

  • 80% of volunteer work is done by 20% of people.

  • 80% of what you achieve each day comes from 20% of your effort (which adds up to LOTS of procrastination and wasted time). Think about this in terms of your exercise, work, eating habits, relationships, spiritual growth, etc.

This is kind of mind blowing, right? At least it is to me...


So how am I going to practically apply the 80/20 concept to my life this spring?

I think I will start by asking myself these questions:

  • What are the 20% of my possessions that I get the most value out that I can consider donating or selling some of the 80%?

  • What do I spend 20% of my time doing that gives me 80% of my joy and fulfillment?

  • Who are the 20% of people who I am closest to that provide 80% of my support, encouragement, fun and love? (I need to invest in these people.)

  • What are the 20% of the clothes I wear 80% of the time (time to clean out the closet!)?

  • What 80% of healthy food choices can I make so that I can indulge 20% of the time?

  • Which 20% of my workouts lead to 80% of my physical health & strength?

  • Which 20% of activities are causing 80% of my stress?

  • Which 20% of work activities are causing 80% of my work results?

  • Which 20% of my skills, gifts and qualities are responsible for 80% of my success?

  • What 20% investment of my resources (time & money) can I give to charities/ministries/causes to achieve 80% or better results?

So now it’s your turn! Try seeing the 80/20 Principle in your life and ask yourself some questions. I am sure you will see it everywhere if you start looking.

Trust me; it's not only kind of fun, but very enlightening.

When not teaching, writing or speaking, Carla is most herself as a wife and mom living in Hudson, Ohio with her four very active children (ages 19, 17, 15, & 11). She married, Michael, her childhood friend and high school sweetheart, almost 25 years ago and feels very fortunate to have such a loving, generous and level headed partner and best friend. She writes and speaks about the messy, ordinary, and unexpected ways her life and her faith intersect. She is a work in progress, seeking fellow travelers on this journey of life.

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