The 80/20 Rule

August 19, 2021

There’s a rule that states 80 percent of a given effect is caused by 20 percent of possible causes. In other words, 80 percent of benefits come from only 20 percent of possible sources.

For example, 80 percent of business revenue gets generated by just 20 percent of clients. Or, 20 percent of products result in 80 percent of sales.

This is a powerful rule. It shows us that by focusing our efforts in one area, we can make a significant impact in another.

Yet, many of us choose to focus on the other 80 percent. Making the argument that it provides benefits, however small.

This argument misses the point.

All activities, regardless of importance, consume the same limited resources—time and attention.

By choosing to focus our attention on the 80 percent of low-impact activities, we’re taking time away from high-impact activities. Activities that produce substantially more benefits per time invested than their low-impact counterparts.

By dismissing low-impact activities, it’s easy to believe we’re missing out on their potential small benefits. However, it’s low-impact activities that distract us from the opportunities high-impact activities afford us.

The more time spent on low-impact activities, the lower our overall benefits. It’s a zero-sum game.

To focus on high-impact activities, therefore, isn’t to miss out on small benefits, but is instead a choice to focus on activities you know offer the largest benefits.