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The 80/20 Rule – a great way to reduce life’s clutter!

80/20 rule


The 80/20 Rule – a great way to reduce clutter!

Life is full of clutter. There are things that always get in the way of us trying to achieve things.

Also, the things we actually choose to do (ostensibly as part of our path to achieving our goals) can create clutter when we don’t focus on the most essential actions we need to take in order to move us closer to our goals.

Is this something that happens to you? Does it sound familiar? Are you overloading yourself?

I’ve felt like this many a time myself. Its so easy to get bogged down with detail and hyper-bole when pursuing our dream.

Very often, we comfort ourselves by saying that getting on top of the clutter will eventually lead us to a better and less hectic life. We will eventually achieve that goal of the ‘four-hour work week’, as described in Tim Ferris‘  famous book of the same name: ‘The 4-Hour Work Week.’

What can be done to combat this clutter?

The answer lies with a principle first proposed by an Italian economist called Vilfredo Pareto. I first encountered 80/20 whilst reading Ferris’ book and ‘Focus: the power of targetted thinking‘ by Jurgen Wolff (both of which I could highly recommend.) Pareto developed his theory whilst observing the pattern of land ownership in Italy. He observed that 80% of land resources were owned by 20% of the population. After studying this aspect of his theory relating to economics, he then started to apply it more widely to just about anything. For instance, he found that 20% of pea pods in a garden contained 80% of the peas!

Now, for quite a long time Pareto’s ideas were forgotten. However, they have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years as time-management enthusiasts have resurrected the principle as a means of increasing and maximising productivity.

It works something like this: 20% of your activities will produce 80% of your results. In other words, if you look at all your projects and your activities in general, 20% of what you actually do will be the most productive in terms of the return on investment of your time. So, all you have to do is select the 20% activities that will provide you with the best results and concentrate on those for the majority of your time. (80% tasks should generally be put to one side and dealt with as and when you have completed your 20% tasks.)

Sound easy?

Well – yes and no.

On the plus side, it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify what is 20% and what is 80%. All you have to do is list your projects with their related activities and pick what is the 20 and what is the 80. Fine, so far so good.

Try implementing it by prioritising the 20 then doing the 80.

Sometimes, this is isn’t as easy as it sounds. The reason for this is that some of the 80% tasks you’ve identified are actually important and have to be done. So you can’t afford to put them to one side just like that – even if they are chores that you might wish to forget about. What if your 80% task was to pay a particular bill? If you put it to one side then forgot about it, you may come a little unstuck later on!

The main point is to make sure that important tasks in the 80% section are dealt with at the appropriate time (everything has its place!) and that the time spent on them are kept to the necessary minimum. This is so you have more time for you results-orientated 20% tasks. If it helps, use a timer when you’re doing these. At least, then, you are disciplining yourself to get with what you need to do.

So how does it remove the clutter again?

You’ve probably realised by now that not all your 80% tasks are necessarily clutter. Some of them are likely to be highly important and still need to be done. The point is, not to spend to long on them although sometimes its prudential to prioritise them and get them out of the way first!

However, a lot of the stuff you do that comes into the 80% bracket is likely to be things that you could probably remove or reduce drastically in your life. 

For this to work effectively, you’re going to have to be totally honest with yourself. How much time do spend on things that are not actually very crucial to your goals and which firmly come into the 80% bracket? Do you send a lot of time watching TV, for instance? What about spending time randomly surfing the web? Reading onerous articles in newspapers or magazines? Or maybe reading other trivial stuff on Facebook etc?

Now I’m not saying for one minute that you shouldn’t do any of these things. Sometimes, reading a relevant article in a news paper or magazine might be highly crucial to your project. Or maybe watching a TV programme. For instance, I remember sitting to watch a TV programme that was highly beneficial in terms of research for my novel, ‘Dragon Line’. 

Also, sometimes it necessary to do these things as a form of relaxation whilst winding down from a hard day’s work. For instance, I’ve often liked relaxing on the sofa to watch Mr T’s ‘World’s Craziest Fools’ on BBC4 on a Friday evening. Superb!

Down-time is important and you should make sure that you’ve factored some in to your day or week. Otherwise, you’ll reach burn-out!

However, it should also be borne in mind that all these things – if done in excess – can lead to procrastination. And procrastination can seriously damage your prospects of success!

This is why its important to include all these things in your 80/20 audit, making sure that you place them firmly into the 80% bracket.

All you need to then do is decide how you’re going to deal with these tasks. As stated above, the 80% tasks that need doing should be prioritised and completed as necessary, but in the fastest possible time. What you don’t want to do is spend more time on them than is necessary, as you might not have time for the 20% tasks. As for the rest of the 80%, either reduce them as much as you can or, if possible, eliminate them completely. 

This is where the 30-day challenge can help. If you want to cut down something in your life (or even eliminate it), turn it into a 30-day challenge Matt Cutt’s-style and aim not to do that task for thirty days. It’ll then become second nature to avoid it in future (see the article to see what I mean!)

Once you’ve done this, you will then have more time to spend on the 20% tasks each day. These are the ones that are going to give you the 80% results. Master this, and you’ll have a heck-of-a-lot of focus going on in your life!

Use the 80/20 rule to declutter yourself! (Tweet this!)

Action Step

Apply the 80/20 principle to your success goals as described above. In keeping with the Success Psychology tradition, you can use the following exercises to assist (which can you can print-off using the ‘print this’ button below).


Use the first sheet to make a snap-shot of all your activities at any given time. You may need to revise/update this from time-to-time:

80% ACTIVITIES (Write all your 80% activities here, i.e. all those things that are not relevant or majorly pertinent to your goal(s)/project(s).)              













20% ACTIVITIES (Write down all the activities which are directly relevant and beneficial to your goal(s) or project(s).              















Use this to identify what things you need to get done based on your audit.

80% TASKS YOU NEED TO PRIORITISE (In this section, list the 80% activities you need to do today as a matter of priority. Make sure you do these first or when appropriate, but don’t spend too long on them!) 

















20% TASKS YOU WANT TO ACTION TODAY (In this section, list the 20% activities you need to do today as guided by your audit. Allocate as much time as you can spare to each one so that reap the maximum possible 80% benefits.) 

















You can also download these worksheets as a word document here

What do you think? Have you found these exercises useful? If so, or if you’d like to add some other feedback, enter a comment in the boxes below.

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