How the 80/20 Principle Can Help You Say No

Have you all heard of the 80/20 Principle before? (Also known as the Pareto Principle.) It’s an amazing tool to help you get a grip on your life when you feel like you have too much going on.

Basically, Pareto was an old Italian scientist from the 1800s who noticed time and time again that 80 percent of the results came from 20 percent of the causes. This idea was rewrapped in a business form (and gained a lot of popularity) in the late nineties. But basically, 20% of your clients create 80% of your revenue. 20% of your staff cause 80% of your problems. 20% of your products make up 80% of your sales. The numbers aren’t always exact, but the basic principle remains – a small amount of things creates the majority of the results.

So, how do we apply this to our personal lives? Basically, we need to figure out the 20% of what we do that gives us the most results in our life.

Some examples:

Cleaning – wash the dishes, take out the trash, sweep/vacuum. Congratulations, your house is 80% clean. To make it 100% clean, you need to dust, mop, clean blinds, clean windows, wipe down every surface, move beds and tables, and a million other things. Take those things off of your regular cleaning list, and you can set aside time maybe like. Once a quarter. Or even better (if you have some disposable income), pay someone else to come do that once a quarter. (Also, if you don’t have disposable income, see if you can barter with a friend who loves to clean!)

Social Obligations – let’s say in a given week, you have a networking event you’re attending, your mom has asked you to come by, you always go to weekly trivia with friends, an old friend from college is in town who you haven’t seen in years, and you had longstanding brunch plans with some colleagues. All this in addition to a full work week, your obligations to your immediate family, and a weekly volunteering commitment. There’s a couple ways to 80/20 it here. Option 1: just do one thing. The only thing in this whole list that you definitely can’t do another week is see your old friend who’s in town. So just prioritize that, and let everyone else know you can’t make it/you’ll have to reschedule. Option 2: consolidate. Tell everyone you can’t make it out to see them when you had originally planned, but you’re inviting everyone over for wine Sunday afternoon. (The networking people can’t show up so, if you’re feeling especially motivated, you can still go do that too.) Option 3: think about which 20% of those things recharge you and bring you up to 80%. It could be you’re bad at trivia, you don’t like your colleagues that much, and you’re not that close with an old friend, but time with your mom is super energizing and she’s full of wonderful insight. Cool. Ditch everything else, just hang with your mom.

If the idea of saying no to these people/obligations seems scary to you, come back for the next blog post on Sunday or check out yesterday’s Youtube video. I promise you can do it!

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