Apply 80/20 to Your Life Now in 3 Simple Steps

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This is the last part of a 3-part series on achieving more with less in your life using the 80/20 principle.

80/20 principle

If you look closely, 80/20 can be seen in action all around your life, your career, relationships, health, habits, goal achievement, productivity, emotions, and even daily life. Many people are already applying the 80/20 principle without even realizing it.


For example, do you try to cut away meaningless work at your workplace? Do you try to spend more time with people you enjoy being around? Do you make goals and priorities in your life so you can focus your efforts? Do you try to set aside more time for little moments in life which you relish so much in (walk in the park, going to the beach, catching up with friends, etc)? Do you try to improve on the diet by focusing on the few habits that matter, such as drinking more water and eating more vegetables and fruits? Do you reduce negative thoughts and emotions so you can be happier? Do you try to focus on establishing a few habits that can bring in huge value in your life? Every one of those statements is an application of the 80/20 rule.

3-Steps To Applying 80/20

In Living the 80/20 Way, Koch introduced a 3-step way to applying 80/20. I found this method very useful due to its universal application to practically everything in our life.

1. Identify your 80/20 destination – What truly matters to you

What are all your goals and dreams in this world? List all of them down. That’s right, all of them! Everything that you want to do in your life, from the little things to the BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). You may have anywhere from a few goals to even a full list of them when you are done.

Now, start assessing them. Out of all your goals, which is your 80/20 destination? Your 80/20 destination refers to the 20% goals which, when achieved, will give you 80% of happiness vs the collective happiness from achieving all the goals. What are the 20% goals that you truly, truly want? What are the 20% goals which really matter to you? This is your 80/20 destination which you should start focusing disproportionately on. Your 80/20 destination should be in line with your overall purpose in life.

I have a lot of long-term goals (you can find a few of my short-term goals for 2009 here. It ranges from being a veteran ice skater, traveling all around the world, achieving financial impact, being an expert public speaker, becoming a professional life coach, to becoming an expert psychic.

But I’m very clear on my 80/20 destination – it is to be a personal development educator so I can help others achieve their highest potential and live their best possible lives. 😀 I know that as long as I’m living this, the core of my soul is filled with exuberance and joy. The sum of achieving all the other goals on my list simply does not match up to achieving just this one goal. It is having this clarity and focus helps to orientate my energy and efforts accordingly every day. 🙂

2. Identify your 80/20 route – The most effective path to your destination

What are all the possible paths and routes that you can take to achieve your 80/20 destination? Brainstorm on this with no holds barred. Very often, we limit ourselves in our thinking by incorporating one million and one restrictions. We justify them as being ‘realistic’, but reality is most of those concerns are just mental barriers we place upon ourselves.

There are typically 4 routes we have to achieve a certain objective. We have a ‘Low Effort, Low Reward‘ route, ‘High Effort, Low Reward‘, ‘High Effort, High Reward‘, ‘Low Effort, High Reward‘.


The approach we want to nail down is the ‘Low Effort, High Reward’ – i.e., our More with Less or 80/20 route.

More with Less Chart

More with less chart

Imagine you are sitting for a Math exam. Your objective is to score very well. The four routes we have in this scenario are:

  1. Low Effort, Low Reward: Do not study until the last minute
  2. High Effort, Low Reward: Attend all lectures but not pay attention during lectures; Attend tutorials without doing the tutorials; Dedicate time out to study every day but drift away whenever you are hitting the books
  3. High Effort, High Reward: Attend all lectures and tutorials; Study every day; Practice as many Math sums as possible; Memorize the solutions and answers
  4. Low Effort, High Reward: Attend key lectures and tutorials; Understand the key principles of the topics; Identify likely questions that will be tested in the exams by examining trends in past years’ exams and talking to professors

Out of the four routes, the fourth one gives you the best return on investment for the effort you put in. Similarly, for every situation you are in, there are always 4 possible routes you can take and one ‘More with Less’ or 80/20 route.

Take a step back and think – What is the ‘More with Less’ path that will take me to my destination? In your brainstorming, also examine and understand what other successful predecessors have done to achieve similar goals as yours. Derive lessons from their routes and factor them into your options

Out of these routes, which is the route which stands out significantly above the rest? Does it give you the greatest results with minimal input? Does it resonate with you? Do not stop brainstorming until you find this path. It exists; there is always a ‘More with Less’ route available. You just have to expand beyond your mind’s boundaries and identify it.

3. Identify your 80/20 action – The most effective execution of your route

What is the 80/20 action in your 80/20 route? These are your key pillars of success. Instead of jumping straight in the thick of things and waddling in the process, take a step back. Study all the actions to be performed in your route. Again, study what your precedessors did. What are the key actions which will really make a huge difference in the big scheme of things? What are the ‘need-to-do’ actions vs the ‘nice-to-do’ actions? What are the few key pillars that really matter, and when actioned upon, will guarantee success? Identify them, then nail them disproportionately.

For example, when I started out, I read a lot of materials written by successful bloggers discussing the methods they used to drive traffic to their sites. Each of them had different winning formulas, from word of mouth, guest posting, commenting on other blogs, posting in forums, listing in Web 2.0 social bookmarking sites, writing quality content, making friends with bloggers, creating partnership/tie-ups, writing e-books, search engine optimization (SEO) for google, listing in different article directories, just to name a few – all in all, culminating into a monstrous list of action steps.

After some trial and error and observation of the general landscape, I came to conclude that a few actions were significantly more effective than the others to drive traffic (namely writing quality content, word of mouth and listing in Web 2.0 social bookmarking sites) and invested my effort disproportionately in them instead of using a blanket approach. This is my 80/20 action. The results are paying off today – within less than 1 month of launch, the site has 30,000 visitors so far, and the numbers are steadily climbing every day. 😀 (Thank you to everyone of you who has referred the site to your friends and/or linked back on your site!)

Examining areas of your life with 80/20

The 3-step approach is not restricted to just your overall life. It can be used on all other areas of your life as well. I have listed a few examples below – the list is by no means exhaustive! Feel free to think up of other areas you can apply to – The sky is the limit!


1. Habits

What are the habits and routines that surround your life now? Are there any low-value 80% habits which you should do away with? Are there any 20% key power habits you can establish which will bring you that 80% of value in your life?

2. Thoughts

Observe the thoughts that run through your mind in the day. Which thoughts make you feel good? Which thoughts make you feel negative? How can you improve your current mental state through conscious choice of your thoughts? What 20% thoughts can you focus on to make your day even better? What 80% non-valuable thoughts can you eliminate?

3. Emotions

How do you generally feel throughout the day? Which of the following feelings occupy you most of the time? Happiness? Excitement? Passion? Curiosity? Or disappointment? Sadness? Grief? Anger? Do you have more positive or negative feelings? How can you cut away the negative feelings to make more room for the positive ones? What positive feelings will you like to experience more of?

4. Health

What is your diet like now? What foods do you typically consume? What are the few key things you can do to improve your diet and nutrition? Drinking enough water a day? Eating more fruits and vegetables? Cutting out the starchy foods and saturated fats? Consuming more foods with high nutritional value?

What is your exercise routine like? Do you have an exercise routine? What are the few exercises which you get tremendous enjoyment out of which you can play more?

5. Wealth

What are the 20% activities which generate your wealth now? How can you disproportionately focus on the profit-generating activities to increase your profit? If you are an employee, what are the key variables which your pay is linked with? How can you cut away the unimportant stuff and focus on those variables?

6. Career

Is your career one which you enjoy? If not, what are the 20% careers in the world which can give you 80% enjoyment? What are the 80/20 route and action to transition to your 80/20 career?

If you love your current job, what are the 20% activities which you enjoy the most? How can you increase them to further drive up your love for your work?

What are the 20% steps which jump-starts your progression in your career? How can you focus on them to bring you your desired results?

7. Relationships

What are all the relationships you have currently? List all of them down – your family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, relatives. Which 20% of your relationships give you 80% of your fulfilment and happiness? How can you increase your time on these 20% relationships so you can get more out of them? How can you further invest into these relationships to make them even stronger?


8. Productivity

How does your productivity fluctuate throughout the day? What are the 20% situations when you are most productive? What occurs in those 20% situations that enable you to be productive? How can you replicate these 20% so you can be more productive in other times as well?

9. Day-to-day

What are all the activities you undertake throughout of the day? Which 20% bring you the most value and happiness? How can you spend more time on those 20%? How can you try to reduce or cut away the 80% which do not give you much in return?

Practising 80/20 In My Life

While I learned the 80/20 principle since quite a few years ago (all the way from studying about it back in business school), it is only a few months that I began to really apply it into my life. I get repeatedly affirmed on the value of this principle through the results I get every time I apply it.


For example, after evaluating the habits in my life in end of 2008, I decided to establish new habits to a) wake up 6am every day, b) meditate for an hour every morning, c) exercise daily. Though these habits may look very benign by themselves, the power and benefits they can bring into my lives cannot be underestimated. I know for sure that after establishing these habits, I will definitely be much more productive, grounded, healthier, fitter, just to name a few upsides.


For my relationships, I realized that while I have a sizeable social network (200+ active friends and acquaintances in my facebook), 80% of my enjoyment come from a certain few key individuals. Thus, I focus more on spending more time with those people and developing those relationships, while still spending sufficient time and attention to my other relationships so they are in a healthy state. This does not mean I cut away the other people; I make it a point to ensure I am always there for all the people in my life, whenever they may need me.


In my day-to-day activities, I found that I absolutely love playing badminton, frisbee, connecting with my friends, going to the beach, taking strolls in the open nature, just to name a few. Thus, I find ways to bring those activities into my life more often. I take the lead in organizing badminton games with my friends. I join every frisbee game my friend organizes. I try to suggest or encourage beaches or parks as outing destinations with my friends. From doing this, I get more value out of my everyday life. Life becomes much more enjoyable and fulfilling, without even much effort, if at all.

Moving Forward

Think about how you can apply the 80/20 3-step approach to your overall life, as well as all its different areas. Identify your 80/20 destination, your 80/20 route and your 80/20 action. Start off with a small part of your life first, then move on from there. For example, it may be establishing certain key habits in the area of your health or relationships. You will start truly experiencing the meaning behind ‘Less is More’ and ‘More with Less’. With the increased abundance you get, you will be able to invest that energy into other areas, eventually creating unlimited abundance with your life. 😀

This is the last part of a 3-part series on achieving more with less in your life using the 80/20 principle.

This series is also available in web lecture format.

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