The 80-20 Rule (aka Pareto Principle): What It Is and How It Works

Irina Tsymbaliuk

What is the 80/20 rule? The Pareto rule states that 20% of our effort produces 80% of the results, and vice versa. Such statistics are observed everywhere: in macro- and microeconomics, in the distribution of resources, in psychology, and in politics. This rule was first derived as a theory yet quickly found practical application. Using it allows you to increase the productivity of almost any activity, including business processes. In the article, we’ll talk about the principle of Pareto efficiency: what it is, how to apply it, and how it can benefit you.

Understanding the 80/20 Principle

What is the Pareto principle? As we’ve mentioned already, the Pareto distribution highlights that most applied forces and resources (80%) will give a minimal return (20%), while a small but correctly selected part will provide greater efficiency. It is on these postulates that the Pareto theorem is built.

Interestingly, Pareto optimization works in almost every field. Look around, and you will notice that the entire world follows this ratio. But the trouble is that it is impossible to cut off the less productive 80% altogether. To collect the cream, you must fill the entire bucket with milk. For example, it has been observed that 80% of visitors look at only 20% of the content on a website. But this does not mean less popular pages and blocks can simply be deleted. There are many subtleties and paradoxes in the Pareto effect, which does not allow it to be used thoughtlessly and recklessly. 

That’s basically what the 80/20 rule is. Next, we will tell you in detail and with examples how you can apply this principle of the least effort in life and business.

Applying the 80/20 Rule in Finance

First, you should understand that these figures are not indisputable, and they may change depending on the circumstances. For example, a properly organized business makes a profit thanks to 40% of the efforts made. However, in all cases, efforts always influence the result to an unequal extent. With that in mind, let's look at the 80/20 principle application in the financial sector.

Pareto Rule and Finance Niche

The rule derived by the Italian economist is perfectly applicable to finances:

  • It’s statistically likely that the majority of any company's resources are spent on maintaining unproductive employees and organizing ineffective business processes. Avoid unnecessary links in workflow chains and specialists who do not want to work efficiently. It will free up resources for the modernization and expansion of the project.
  • The bulk of the profit comes from a small percentage of regular customers. Focus on this part of the client base and develop effective retention strategies with bonuses, promotions, and gifts. This approach is far more profitable than constantly investing in attracting new visitors.
  • A minority of the team ensures the implementation of most of the necessary business processes. Highlight positions and specialists without whom the company cannot exist. Reassigning unimportant functions, increasing wages, and firing economically unprofitable employees makes sense.

Based on such patterns, it is possible to adjust any company's regulations and operating mode. It will help improve labor productivity, optimize the resource base, expand the scale of activity, and reach new markets.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using the 80/20 Rule in Business

Knowing what the 80-20 rule is, you now need to know how to implement it. However, the algorithm for using the principle isn’t a rule that you must follow unquestioningly. It can and should be modified to suit your unique circumstances. Still, it's a great starting point whether you need to apply it to your business or personal life:

  1. Make a detailed list of your current tasks. It should include all the things you usually do. Don't overlook even the most obvious responsibilities.
  2. Highlight the priority 20%. Guided by the Pareto law, highlight those 20% of cases that create the main result. For businesses, it means using analyzing tools and identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that directly relate to your goals.
  3. Shift your focus. Now, as you clearly see which routine duties provide 80% of the results, you can start focusing your attention on them. Allocate most of your time and resources to those tasks.
  4. Review other responsibilities. The remaining items on your list are less important, as they only contribute 20% of the overall result. However, this does not mean that they can be completely abandoned. But you can outsource them or somehow automate these processes so that they take less time and effort.
  5. Analyze the results. Over time, the effectiveness of various actions and strategies can change, so it's always good advice to regularly monitor your KPIs to determine what brings you the most at the moment. Just go through this guide from time to time to see if you need to distribute your resources differently.

So, understanding and applying the Pareto principle will help you do more things while spending less time and money. After all, that's why we strive to increase our productivity, isn't it?

Benefits of the 80/20 Pareto Principle

The Pareto effect has many practical advantages. Let's look at what areas of your life and work will improve after integrating this principle.

Time Management

First of all, you will spend your time more efficiently. Once you learn to prioritize the important tasks and spend the majority of your resources on them, your work efficiency will increase dramatically. Pareto's Law teaches us how to properly distribute responsibilities and successfully balance work and personal life.

Optimizing Resource Usage

All of the above applies to material resources as well. Since you focus all your efforts on solving 20% of priority tasks, the resources invested will give the maximum return. At the same time, this increases the cost efficiency of your projects because resources are spent rationally.

Effective Leadership

Thanks to the Pareto rule, you can distribute tasks among your team members more efficiently. In addition, you will be able to teach your subordinates proper time management and a practical approach to solving problems.

Common Misconceptions about the 80/20 Principle

Despite all the advantages of the 80-20 rule, it is still not a one-fits-all solution to all the life’s problems. In fact, people tend to misunderstand how to apply this distribution in real life. Let's look at the most common misconceptions:

Pareto's law can be applied in any field 

The 80/20 principle can be very useful in time management or everyday financial life. However, in some situations, this rule is useless. This is especially true for relationships with other people. For example, you might decide that 80% of issues are caused by 20% of the people around you. It would seem that you just need to get rid of them. But more often than not, these are the people closest to you who also bring the most positive emotions. Also, the Pareto rule is just plainly difficult to apply in systems with many variables.

The 80/20 ratio must be strictly followed 

These are just approximate figures that show general trends. In real life, it could be 70/30, 90/10, etc. Try to take into account the notable patterns of the situation, and don’t rush to squeeze everything into the strict framework.

You can focus on 20%, ignoring the other 80% 

In an ideal world, it would be enough to identify priority tasks and devote all your time to them, refusing to bother with unimportant ones. However, in reality, this approach will inevitably lead to failure. Fulfilling remaining responsibilities is also important to the overall outcome. For example, even if 20% of the goods you sell bring you the main profit, this does not mean that you should stop selling the remaining 80%.

Final Thought

In general, the Pareto principle is a handy tool for optimizing your strategies and resources. Still, to make it useful in real-life scenarios you need to apply it carefully, and take into account the characteristics of each specific situation. As the saying goes, everything is a poison, and everything is a medicine; the dose determines both.


How does the 80/20 rule apply to financial decision-making in business?

You get 80% profit from 20% of your efforts. Knowing this rule, you can properly distribute responsibilities and resources, leading to higher efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Can the 80/20 principle be applied to day-to-day financial decisions?

Sure! Identify the 20% of your activities that bring maximum results and focus on these tasks. Not only will this increase your profits, but it will also free up your time for new projects.

What steps can I take to implement the 80/20 principle for financial success?

Carefully analyze your current work using Pareto analysis to identify high and low priority goals. After that, give maximum attention to the essential tasks, while automating or outsourcing less important ones. Also, be persistent in creating the proper working habits.