What Do We Mean By The 80/20 Rule?


From Damien a couple of weeks ago, in response to one of my recent blog posts:

“I’m just wondering what’s meant by the 80/20 rule. It sounds quite interesting and good to keep in mind.”

I should know better than to assume the term is universally known – we all have a first time for new knowledge.  Thanks for asking, Damien.

In 1906 Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, observed that 20% of the population in Italy owned 80% of the property. His discovery was later popularised by Joseph Juran, one of the pioneers of modern quality management. Basically, Juran and Pareto realised that:

20% of our activities will generate 80% of our results, while the remaining 80%

of our activities will only generate 20% of our results.

Juran, looking at the idea from his quality improvement focus, also noted that 80% of a problem is caused by 20% of the possible causes. Over time the concept became known as the 80/20 rule.

A Few Examples:

  1. For many businesses, typically 20% of their clients will be the source of 80% of their income. Conversely, 20% of their income will be generated by 80% of their clients.
  2. Another angle – the clients who take 80% of ourtime will usually only generate no more than 20% of our profit.
  3. Consider your wardrobe. You probably wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. (Unless you’ve just had a clean out!)

Of course there are variations, and of course it doesn’t hold true all the time. In some cases the ratios are more like 90/10 or 70/30.

However, from the perspective of how we make time choices, it’s a really useful filter.

So How Does It Help Me Plan My Time?

Imagine if you will, what the impact would be if you spent 20% of your week (including those precious off-work hours) engaged in proactive actions – activities that would make a long-term difference to your life.

Just think – over a year, what difference would that make to your results?

You may be reading this and thinking, ‘That’s all very well for the business owners and managers, but my work is to support others. I’ve got very little control over what comes at me during a day, nor discretion about when it’s done.’

What about putting some of your personal time and money into learning new skills? If your present employer doesn’t recognise them, another will. Chances are very good that you’ll end up with higher pay. At the very least it makes you more marketable or better qualified to start your own business.

Many activities in our life can be impacted for the better by applying the Pareto Principle, more commonly known as the 80/20 rule.


Robyn Pearce CSP

[email protected] 



Robyn Pearce is a researcher, author, international speaker, business woman and time management specialist. She is also a Past President of The National Sperakers' Association of NZ and immediate Past President of IFFPS - the international body for professional speakers based in the USA.

You may also like:

And Death Came Third
By Andy Lopata
$5.00 USD NORMALLY $22.50
Find Out More

Filed under Business Coaching. Posted by The Corporate Toolbox on