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What if you knew that most of the things you do don't matter? I bet it would search for the things that do matter. The 80/20 rule is a perfect example of how we focus too much on things that don't produce the results that we want. Our society has fallen in love with being busy vs. being productive.

We want life to be fair, and we want to believe that all things have the same output if the input is similar. That is just not the case. Once you know this, it changes how you work forever. When you focus on the 20% of that gets results, you get even more of the consequence that you like. Let's start by understanding this 80/20 rule.

“80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. A few things are important; most are not.” –Richard Koch

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What is The 80/20 Rule or The Pareto Principle?  

The 80/20 rule was discovered by Vilfredo Pareto, which is why it also called the Pareto Principle. He was an economist, mathematician, scientist, and just an overall smart dude.

When he was looking around his garden one day in the 1800s, he discovered that only a few pea pods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. He wondered if this unequal distribution happened in other areas of life. His first discovery confirmed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people in Italy.

He saw these same patterns, proving that a small number of people produced most results. 

Discovering this means that every person should be asking what the 20% that matters is? If you spend yourself focusing on the 80% as most people do, you will never get to partake in the most significant rewards.

When he was looking around his garden one day in the 1800s, he discovered that only a few pea pods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. 

Winner-Takes-All Makes Things Unfair 

What you begin to notice is that the winners do take all, and it can seem unfair. A small percentage of people in the world own most of the wealth, which creates inequality. No one notices this principle and find it to be fair.

You can't ignore the problem in hopes of keeping things fair because life does not work that way. If you ignore the 20% that matters, you will lose in the end.

Seth Godin talks about this in his book The Dip. You want to be one of the best in your field because the winners get the best rewards. When people are in trouble, they want the best lawyer. If you urgently need surgery, you want the best at the procedure.

You don't have time to waste on 2nd or 3rd best. This creates a system where the winner takes everything, and not much is left for the rest.

You can't ignore the problem in hopes of keeping things fair because life does not work that way. If you ignore the 20% that matters, you will lose in the end. 

The Power of Small Advantages Over Time 

How does this happen? The reality of the 80/20 rule is easy to understand by details of what makes it all tick is a bit harder to grasp. I will use my beloved sport of track and field as an example since its an individual sport.

Let's say two 10-year old children both go out for the 100m dash. One is an early bloomer, and the other is a late bloomer. The early bloomer is kicking the crap out of the later bloomer. As a result of this, he is awarded trophies, increased self-confidence, gets invited to more meets, and more coaches want to train him.

By the time both students are 14, the early bloomer has now had four years of better coaching and people telling him that he will be great. The late bloomer is trying just as hard, but he has not been exposed to the same races, coaches, and opportunities.

By the time these athletes are 16, the later bloomer quits in favor of other things where he feels closer to the food chain's top. Even though the talent was there, it was never appropriately fostered. 

While the early bloomer keeps winning and taking more and more of the rewards in life, he eventually sets his sites to get a scholarship and finally make it to the Olympics.
He gets a scholarship and gets to go to school for free and on the story goes.

He keeps building up the advantages in his favor. The second athlete keeps getting further and further behind. It starts just as being in track and field and eventually becomes about life in general. 

Advantages start small, but they grow over time. This is the power of building good habits. You are giving yourself small benefits in life that seem insignificant at first, but over ten years makes it impossible for others to catch you.

Advantages start small, but they grow over time. This is the power of building good habits. You are giving yourself small benefits in life that seem insignificant at first, but over ten years makes it impossible for others to catch you.

How to Use the 80/20 Rule to Your Advantage

The first thing you need to remember is that if you don't use it to your advantage, others will. Here is how you use it to your advantage.

1. Study success in the areas that matter

Success leaves clue everywhere. If you want to be a great musician, study what they are doing. Buy their books, watch their documentaries, and shadow people—learn everything you can about success. 

2. Figure out what matters the most

When you have spent an adequate amount of time studying, you will begin to notice trends. The most successful people all do these things. It will become clear that you don't need to do 100 items a day to be successful. There will be 1-3 things that matter more than anything else.

3. Build Habits that support the areas that matter the most

You discover that to be good at basketball, the things that matter most are your jump shot, rebounding, and health. You want to build daily habits that help to make sure that these areas are always in check. Your best friend is accumalitve progress over a long period of time. 

You may put up 400 shots a day, grab 400 rebounds, and stretch and ice daily. As long as you get these habits done each day, you will know that you're focusing on the most critical areas for success. 

4. Stay focused on the areas you identified

One of the hard parts about the 80/20 Rule is sticking with it. Many people realize that there are areas that matter more than others, but it's easy to get distracted. There is always something shiny and new to chase after.

You want to build daily habits that help to make sure that these areas are always in check. Your best friend is accumalitve progress over a long period of time. 

Conclusion of the 80/20 Rule

Take the 8/20 rule seriously. Too many people dismiss as if its some myth with no statistical backing. If you look for it, you will see it everywhere. A small % of the people take all of the rewards. 20% or less of what you do each day will produce most of the results.

The call from here is to focus on the things that matter. Don't just do something to be busy. Take action because it moves you forward in a meaningful way.


Ian Warner

About the author

I went from a broken leg to a 2012 Olympian. I have spent the last 15 years building positive habits as a track athlete and entrepreneur. I founded Habit Stacker and dedicated my life to helping people to develop winning habits. I have helped over 5,000 people...

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