80/20 rule (and how it could kickstart your career)

Sometimes, productivity really is a numbers game…

We know that it’s not always easy to prioritise a busy workload. But what if we told you that there’s one simple rule that can help you drill down on your focus areas? One which, if applied correctly, will not only make you more productive, but could also make a huge difference when it comes to your workload.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 80/20 rule, and how using it could help maximise your productivity – and progress in your career:


What is the 80/20 rule?

The general idea of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, is simple:


80% of your results will come from 20% of your output.


Initially proposed at the start of the 20th Century by the eponymous Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, it was intended to explain the unequal distribution of wealth in his country at the time. In other words, the top 20% of people earned 80% of the money available. 

However, it has since been adopted by a number of prominent economic thinkers, business leaders and strategists, and applied to business principles. 


Examples of the 80/20 rule

While the 80/20 rule may seem like a bit of a generalisation, you’ll be surprised at how many times it rings true.

Some examples of the 80/20 rule in business include: 

  • 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of your customer complaints will be about 20% of your product/service
  • 80% of your site traffic comes from 20% of your pages
  • 80% of your team’s output comes from 20% of the team members

These examples will obviously vary depending on your business. However, there are also a number of examples of the 80/20 rule that you probably see in your life outside of work too:

  • 80% of the things you wear make up 20% of your wardrobe 
  • 80% of the time you talk to 20% of your friends and family 
  • 80% of the time you spend on your phone is dedicated to 20% of the apps you have downloaded

Of course, it won’t always be an exact science. But starting to think about the Pareto principle, and how it applies to your life, could have a huge impact. Especially when it comes to maximising your productivity at work.


Can the 80/20 rule help productivity? 

The 80/20 rule can absolutely help you increase your productivity.

For example, you might be prioritising the wrong tasks. This may be because you’re choosing to work on the simplest things first, or because you don’t fully understand the impact or importance of each piece of work.

By applying the 80/20 rule to your to-do list, you’ll be able to easily identify which tasks are likely to bring you the best results. That means you’ll spend more time working on the things that really matter. And you don’t need to do this alone, work with your manager or another colleague to help identify the 20% of tasks to focus on.

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Advantages of using the 80/20 rule

Although you don’t necessarily need to apply the 80/20 to every aspect of your life, there are many ways it could help you maintain focus. Both personally and professionally.

Some advantages of using the 80/20 rule include:

  • Learning which tasks provide the best results
  • Improving your time management
  • Looking at your direct reports more objectively
  • Improving your delegation skills
  • Helping you prioritise your workload

How to: Prioritise work

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How to start using the 80/20 to help your career

Start by writing down all the goals you currently want to achieve and a realistic timeframe in which you want to achieve them by. Whether they’re tied to your job, your own personal development, or anything other aspect of your life. 

Next, work out the individual actions that will help you meet these goals. 

Of these actions, identify and spend more time on the 20% which will yield the biggest results. While deprioritising, but still giving adequate time to, the remaining 80% on your list.

Here are just four examples of where you could use the 80/20 principle in your own career:


  • If you’re a freelancer: Identify which 20% of your clients contribute the most to your revenue – and prioritise them. You can still give your other clients great service, but they shouldn’t necessarily be your top priority. Furthermore, avoid taking on too much new business which may distract you from these key clients 
  • If you’re managing a large project: Identify the overall objective, then work backwards to see which tasks will contribute to this goal. The main areas (your 20%) can then be prioritised, allowing other items to be delegated out to your team, or filed as ‘nice to haves’ 
  • If you’re working towards a promotion: Work with your manager to identify and agree what is needed from you in order to take the next step. Which key bits of work or training (your 20%) will lead to the biggest results? Then work out what actions you need to focus on to get there. 
  • If you’re developing a new product: Because you know that 20% of the bugs will account for 80% of your development problems, prioritise fixing these first (and downgrade the smaller issues)


Remember: the 80/20 rule doesn’t mean you should forget about the other 80% completely. But once you identify what 20% of your work will drive the majority of your ideal outcomes, you’ll be much more likely to hit your goals. 

Both in life, and in your career.


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