what does Pareto’s law say in simple terms? The theory of the 20 by 80 rule. Examples of applying the method in life

What is the Pareto principle and where does it apply?

Recent­ly, in psy­chol­o­gy, in eco­nom­ics, in the field of self-devel­op­ment, as well as in oth­er areas of human life, the Pare­to law has gained great pop­u­lar­i­ty. This rule allows a per­son to spend a min­i­mum amount of effort, but get the max­i­mum result. At the same time, this for­mu­la works both in the for­ward and reverse direc­tions, there­fore, often devot­ing a huge amount of time and effort to a par­tic­u­lar task, we get a very small effec­tive return.

What is it and how to apply the rule in real life? How did the Pare­to prin­ci­ple come about? Who is the author of this law? Read more about this in our mate­r­i­al.

What it is?

The Pare­to prin­ci­ple is a law that will help you estab­lish the lev­el of effec­tive­ness of what you are doing. Often the Pare­to prin­ci­ple is also called the 20/80 rule. If you try to explain the Pare­to law in sim­ple words, then its essence is that 20% of your efforts bring 80% of the result and vice ver­sa: 80% of the efforts give only 20% of the final result. This the­o­ry allows you to give pref­er­ence to the most effec­tive resources that will bring the great­est result, there­by not wast­ing your ener­gy and time. The Pare­to effi­cien­cy sys­tem is very pop­u­lar in psy­chol­o­gy.

The author of this law is an Ital­ian econ­o­mist. He iden­ti­fies sev­er­al sources and modes of man­i­fes­ta­tion of the prin­ci­ple. Let’s con­sid­er some of them:

  • This prin­ci­ple has shown itself quite effec­tive­ly in prac­ti­cal work due to the fact that a fair­ly large num­ber of fac­tors are just ordi­naryamong them there are only a few impor­tant for our life;
  • a sig­nif­i­cant part of the forces applied to solve the prob­lem does not give us the desired result;
  • the vis­i­ble part of life is not always com­pletebecause often there are a large num­ber of details and moments hid­den from a per­son;
  • usu­al­ly our plans do not cor­re­spond to real­i­tybecause regard­less of what we planned, in the end, in most cas­es, we get a dif­fer­ent result;
  • a large amount of our activ­i­ty does not lead to a direct result, but is just a waste of time.

The Pare­to prin­ci­ple has a seri­ous sci­en­tif­ic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, and is not just built on con­jec­tures and reflec­tions.


The 20/80 effect was named after the author of this law, the Ital­ian sci­en­tist Vil­fre­do Pare­to (1848–1923). By his occu­pa­tion, he was an econ­o­mist, so the inven­tion of the for­mu­la was accom­pa­nied by the deriva­tion of coef­fi­cients, the con­struc­tion of graphs and his­tograms. The prin­ci­ple, pop­u­lar to this day, was noticed in the process of study­ing the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of the inhab­i­tants of Eng­land at that time. In the course of his research, econ­o­mist Vil­fre­do Pare­to noticed that all the coun­try’s mon­ey (as well as oth­er mate­r­i­al goods) among the cit­i­zens of Eng­land is dis­trib­uted rather uneven­ly. More­over, such a bias occurs in such a way that most of the mon­ey is in the pos­ses­sion of a small­er num­ber of peo­ple and vice ver­sa: a small­er amount of mate­r­i­al wealth is dis­trib­uted among the major­i­ty of the peo­ple. Thus, the base ratio is not equiv­a­lent.

If you go into the details of Pare­to’s research, it can be not­ed that he dis­cov­ered 2 main cri­te­ria.

  • Only 20% of all mate­r­i­al wealth belongs to 80% of peo­ple, while 10% of the pop­u­la­tion accounts for 65%, and 5% — 50% of wealth. This dis­tri­b­u­tion sug­gests that the coun­try’s eco­nom­ic sys­tem is het­ero­ge­neous.
  • The sec­ond cri­te­ri­on, iden­ti­fied by Pare­to, says that such a sit­u­a­tion is typ­i­cal not only for the econ­o­my of Eng­land. The 20/80 prin­ci­ple can be applied in any coun­try and in any giv­en peri­od of time. And also the law is rel­e­vant not only for the econ­o­my, but also for oth­er areas of activ­i­ty.

Based on such a com­plex and large-scale work that was done by the sci­en­tist, a spe­cial graph was mod­eled and built called “indif­fer­ence curves”. The main pur­pose of this graph is to show how many items a per­son can give up in order to buy one well-defined item.

And also Vil­fre­do Pare­to invent­ed an inno­v­a­tive fac­tor that helps deter­mine the lev­el of human well-being. It lies in the fact that in itself an increase in finan­cial and mate­r­i­al wealth is a rather pos­i­tive phe­nom­e­non, since in this case some peo­ple are in gain, but at the same time one can­not call losers. In order to achieve an opti­mal eco­nom­ic (or any oth­er) state, it is nec­es­sary to achieve a sit­u­a­tion where the redis­tri­b­u­tion of mate­r­i­al wealth can improve the con­di­tion of one par­tic­u­lar per­son, but at the same time this fact will not neg­a­tive­ly affect the con­di­tion of anoth­er.

Application and examples

To date, the Pare­to law has been suc­cess­ful­ly used to solve a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem, to make deci­sions in var­i­ous areas of human life: in sales, in man­age­ment, in trade, in time man­age­ment, in the econ­o­my. One way or anoth­er, but the law assumes its unques­tion­ing imple­men­ta­tion. Con­sid­er ways to improve your own life using the Pare­to law.

Language learning

Learn­ing a new lan­guage is the goal of quite a lot of peo­ple. At the same time, for many, it may seem unat­tain­able, even though knowl­edge of a for­eign lan­guage can advance a per­son both in pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al life. If we turn to sta­tis­tics, we must under­stand that on aver­age one lan­guage con­tains about 1 mil­lion words. Accord­ing­ly, it is rather dif­fi­cult to study such amount of new infor­ma­tion.

How­ev­er, if we are guid­ed by the Pare­to prin­ci­ple, we can con­clude that knowl­edge of absolute­ly all the words of a par­tic­u­lar lan­guage is not nec­es­sary. It is impor­tant to know only a few hun­dred or thou­sands of basic words that are used more often than oth­ers. Thus, the task of learn­ing a for­eign lan­guage becomes much eas­i­er. And if you mas­ter such a small amount of words (20% of the total), you will be able to com­mu­ni­cate at a fair­ly high lev­el with native speak­ers.

On the oth­er hand, learn­ing just a mil­lion words is a rather unpro­duc­tive exer­cise, since, with a high degree of prob­a­bil­i­ty, you will not use most of them. You will only waste a lot of ener­gy and strength on activ­i­ties that will not bring you much ben­e­fit.

Personal effectiveness

Every­one tries to become the best ver­sion of them­selves: read a lot of books, plan their day cor­rect­ly, suc­cess­ful­ly achieve goals. How­ev­er, we often set impos­si­ble goals for our­selves, and in the course of self-improve­ment attempts, we expe­ri­ence a feel­ing of burnout, as a result, we refuse to achieve goals at all. At the same time, if you know the Pare­to prin­ci­ple and skill­ful­ly apply it, you can avoid such sit­u­a­tions. For exam­ple, Instead of read­ing 10 books a month, set your­self the goal of read­ing just one. Thus, you will get rid of unnec­es­sary stress and gain much more knowl­edge than if you tried to read every­thing at once.

You will remem­ber infor­ma­tion from one read book much bet­ter, and you will be able to apply the acquired knowl­edge in prac­tice.


Many peo­ple dream of start­ing to eat right, go on a diet or stop snack­ing late at night, but not every­one suc­ceeds. The whole point is that most peo­ple try to adjust their diet at the same time: give up every­thing sweet, starchy and fat­ty. Such dras­tic mea­sures often cause dis­rup­tions. At the same time, if you wise­ly approach the process of chang­ing your diet, using the Pare­to prin­ci­ple, you can achieve your goal in the short­est pos­si­ble time and with­out much effort. So, you only need to change your diet by 20%.

It is impor­tant to deter­mine which foods you will stop using. So, sup­port­ers of the Paleo diet often refuse dairy and flour prod­ucts, veg­e­tar­i­ans — from meat, you can still refuse sweet or fat­ty, and so on. In this case, you do not have to go on strict and restric­tive detox diets or spend a lot of mon­ey on expen­sive prod­ucts.

Change just 20% of your diet and you will get 80% of the desired result.


The Pare­to prin­ci­ple is also suit­able for those who want to include reg­u­lar exer­cise in their lives. How­ev­er, in order to get in shape, lose weight and build mus­cle mass, it is not nec­es­sary to work out every day, spend mon­ey on sub­scrip­tions to the fit­ness room, and lift heavy weights. Just like with oth­er areas of life, in sports, you need to change only 20% to achieve max­i­mum results. For exam­ple, instead of doing an hour-long dai­ly work­out, you can do a light 20-minute jog.

In this way, with a very small amount of ener­gy and effort, you can get an impres­sive result. At the same time, sports are rec­om­mend­ed to be com­bined with a revi­sion of your diet accord­ing to the prin­ci­ple described above.

In addi­tion, you should not expect notice­able results imme­di­ate­ly — for this you need to wait at least a month. How­ev­er, after 30 days you will notice impres­sive changes and you will want to apply the Pare­to prin­ci­ple in every area of ​​your life.

own business

Start­ing your own busi­ness is a rather dif­fi­cult task that requires a lot of time, mon­ey, ener­gy and per­son­al effort. How­ev­er, even giv­ing all the best at 100%, it is far from always pos­si­ble to notice the desired result. That is why expe­ri­enced busi­ness­men advise begin­ners to pay atten­tion to the Pare­to law, which is becom­ing more and more pop­u­lar in the busi­ness sphere.

If you fol­low all his prin­ci­ples, then to get 80% of the result you will need to make only 20% of the effort and vice ver­sa: 80% of your efforts will bring you only 20% of the result. Using the Pare­to law, you will save your­self from unnec­es­sary work, respec­tive­ly, from unnec­es­sary stress, and free up a lot of time for things that bring you plea­sure (hob­bies and hob­bies, recre­ation, com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­i­ly, walks with friends, trav­el).

Entre­pre­neurs who have already applied the Pare­to law in busi­ness report great suc­cess. So, only 20% of leads bring 80% of sales and only 20% of con­tent bring 80% of traf­fic to the site. Pare­to’s law is applic­a­ble in many areas of human life. It is very pop­u­lar among those peo­ple who want to increase their effi­cien­cy and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, while not spend­ing a lot of effort and ener­gy.

Difficulties in using the principle

The most basic dif­fi­cul­ty in the process of using the Pare­to prin­ci­ple is the deter­mi­na­tion of those very 20% of cas­es that will lead to 80% of the result. For exam­ple, if you run your own blog and are try­ing to attract a large num­ber of vis­i­tors to your site, then the ques­tion remains which 20% of top­ics should be giv­en max­i­mum atten­tion, and which issues can be exclud­ed from cov­er­age. If you apply the rule in sports, then how do you know which exer­cis­es will make your body stronger and more mus­cu­lar: squats, push-ups or pull-ups?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, nei­ther the Ital­ian econ­o­mist Vil­fre­do Pare­to nor the for­mu­la invent­ed by him give a direct and under­stand­able answer to this ques­tion. It turns out that the appli­ca­tion of the Pare­to law is a kind of roulette, since you can under­stand its effec­tive­ness only by tri­al and error. At the same time, it is impor­tant to think over all your steps in advance and strate­gi­cal­ly plan your plan of action. This is espe­cial­ly true for those peo­ple who plan to apply the prin­ci­ple in the process of devel­op­ing their own busi­ness.

The thing is that reck­less actions and refusal to do 80% of the work can lead to major prob­lems in your com­pa­ny or even to its col­lapse and bank­rupt­cy.

Can it not work?

Despite the fact that the Pare­to prin­ci­ple is very pop­u­lar, and has already proved its effec­tive­ness and verac­i­ty more than once, there are still skep­tics who do not believe in the oper­a­tion of the the­o­rem. Let’s talk about whether there can be such a sit­u­a­tion when the Pare­to prin­ci­ple will not work.

With­out fur­ther ado, let’s say right away that such a sit­u­a­tion can arise, and in some cas­es the Pare­to prin­ci­ple will not work. But this fact in no way dimin­ish­es the impor­tance of the dis­cov­ery of the Ital­ian econ­o­mist or its sig­nif­i­cance. The thing is that even despite the fact that the Pare­to prin­ci­ple applies to all areas of human life, it will not always act absolute­ly iden­ti­cal. For exam­ple, dif­fer­ences can be observed in busi­ness, sports, self-devel­op­ment. In this regard, when plan­ning their actions, sci­en­tists advise not only to be guid­ed by the Pare­to prin­ci­ple, but also to take into account oth­er, more tan­gi­ble data (for exam­ple, sta­tis­ti­cal infor­ma­tion).

By itself, the Pare­to law is a rather con­tro­ver­sial and con­tro­ver­sial the­o­rem. On the one hand, there are a large num­ber of those peo­ple who assure that the for­mu­la real­ly works and can lead you to the best pos­si­ble result. How­ev­er, on the oth­er hand, very often one can come across opin­ions that the Pare­to law is real non­sense and fic­tion, that it is not applic­a­ble in real life.

One way or anoth­er, you can try to inde­pen­dent­ly apply a sim­i­lar for­mu­la in your per­son­al life (in the field of self-devel­op­ment, dietet­ics, sports or busi­ness) and see for your­self in its effec­tive­ness by your own exam­ple, hav­ing formed your own unbi­ased opin­ion about it.

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