The Brutal Truth Behind The 80/20 Rule


As I scanned the sea of caps and gowns of college classmates I had spent nearly everyday with for four years, I had a haunting epiphany.

I was surrounded by people, but I felt alone. I had a paper diploma, but only had two real friends that I would likely keep in touch with.

This wasn’t the graduation day I had played out in my mind over the last 16 years. This wasn’t supposed to be how it felt.

In that moment of clarity, I had a brutal epiphany about life that has remained true:

As we graduate each phase of life, only a few people stay with us.

And this principle isn't limited to relationships either. Take learning, for example.

Think about all of the classes you took in college. Think about all of the books on your bookshelf. What percentage of those do you remember today? What percentage did you even apply? What percentage actually moved the needle in your life and made a difference?

The fact that only a few things matter across domains and stages of life is part of a larger principle/mental model called the 80/20 Rule. This rule states that 20% of the efforts result in 80% results across many domains. And within that 20%, only 20% of those efforts create 80% of the results. And so on.

What To Do About The 80/20 Rule

Looking backward on that graduation day, I felt sad. I felt like so much of my time in college had been a waste. But being aware of the 80/20 can be inspirational too. It gives you an honest assessment of your life now in order to create a better future by:

  1. Identifying the things that really matter.
  2. Doing everything in your power to focus on those things.
  3. Avoiding or minimizing everything else.

By diligently applying the 80/20 Rule, when you're on your deathbed, you can look back knowing that you invested your time in what really mattered.

If you're interested in learning how Warren Buffett applies the 80/20 Rule to his life, read part 2 of this article: The Difference Between The Successful And Really Successful, According To Warren Buffett.