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PPI #5: Achieve 80% of the Results with 20% of the Effort

Eric Partaker


  • In business and life you can’t focus on everything but most people try to do it all when trying to reach their goals. I used to do this too, putting in long hours, day after day, without being truly effective. 
  • The good news is that it’s often 20% of the effort that drives 80% of the results – this is what the 80/20 Rule tells us. The key is to find those high leverage activities and focus on them relentlessly. 
  • The 80:20 Rule can be applied across all the different areas of your life – I applied this strategy to my Mexican restaurant chain Chilango with some amazing results by zeroing in on the crucial 20% of ingredients needed to drive 80% of the flavour in our food
  • Imagine you’re working on a project that, if completed 100%, will take 5 hours and create $500 of value but if you take one hour and focus on the most important things, you’ll create $400 of value. If you do that across 5 different projects, you’ll create $2000 of value vs. the initial $500 for working on one project to completion. 


You want to become more productive. You want to have a higher output, do more, produce more, and you think is going to be the answer to achieving your dreams. You’re dead wrong. Actually, what you need to do is do far less.

Hi, I’m Eric. Today I want to talk to you about the power of the 80/20 principle, the Pareto principle, which many of us have heard of. But I want to make this more practical and actionable for you, so that, number one, you don’t just understand the theory behind it and the power of the principle, but that you can translate it to both your business and life so you can achieve way better results. Now, 80/20 is something I didn’t appreciate at all. Why? Because I had perfectionist tendencies that made me want to do 100% effort on everything and the absolute 24 hours worth of effort, when far less effort could have worked to produce a similar or even a better result, frankly.

What I mean is that I was absolutely overwhelming myself with the amount of detail and the amount of work required to go into a project. And look, I can imagine you at times when you’ve been working on things, you’ve probably felt that there’s just no way I’m going to get this done. There’s just so much that I have to do, you know, I have to do all this research and then I got to write the report and then I got to figure out how to best present it. And it just goes on and on and on. It feels insurmountable, the business plan that I need to make. I have so much, so many different sections of it that I have to compile and put that all together. The relationships that I have with my family members, there’s so many different things that they wanted to do, and where do I have the time to fit that all into my day?

So that’s all of that. It’s not 80/20 thinking. That’s 100% thinking. I need to put in 100% effort for a 100% result. Here’s the beauty of 80/20. True 80/20 is recognizing what’s the 20% of effort. The one fifth of the effort required not to deliver a 100% of the result, but to deliver just 80% good enough results such that you can move on to.

Next thing, I’ll give you an example from my professional career. So I’ve done a variety of things in life. I have advised the CEO’s while a consultant at McKinsey & Company, I helped build up Skype during its early days before we sold to eBay back in 2005. And then after that, I decided to try my hand at building a chain of Mexican restaurants.

I had no idea what I was doing but I figured it out through the 80/20 principle and ended up creating an award winning brand in the process when it comes to building a quick-service Mexican restaurant chain. As we were doing, there’s a lot of things that you can be focused on. For example, you could be focused on the ambience. It could be focused on the service. It can be focused on the food, but we can’t be everything to everyone. We can’t focus on all things. I just simply asked myself, what are the 20% of things that I could focus on that would lead to 80% of the guest satisfaction. And I zeroed in on the food.

Now, most people would stop there and they would say, for example, if they were also a quick service food brand or a restaurant brand, they would say that we’re also all about the food, but we want an 80/20 level deeper. And we asked ourselves, okay, within food, you have texture, aroma flavor, appearance. What’s the 20% of all the factors within the food that would drive 80% of the result? And we zeroed in on flavor because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t taste great, nobody’s coming back. They don’t care how long you’ve cooked it, what ingredients you’ve made it with, if it tastes awful, they’re outta there. So we focused on the flavor, but we didn’t stop there. We asked ourselves, okay, with these 17 different meal components, what are the 20% of these meal components, which will create 80% of the flavor. And then we zeroed in on three different meal components to be exact. And then we looked at the recipes for those meal components. And we said, okay, in this ingredient list, what are the 20% of ingredients, which will drive 80% of the flavor in those recipes? It’s in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, shaking hands with local farmers. Why? Because we had zeroed in through this 80/20 process on a handful of selected ingredients that we had to get at the proper quality and price directly from the source in order to impart the right flavor in our food – to create that 80% guest satisfaction target we were going for with only 20% of the effort.

Now, where my 80/20 analysis helps you in life. Wherever you are in your life today, 80% of where you are today will probably be determined by 20% of the choices that you’ve made. 80% of where you could go into the future will be determined by just a handful of choices that you make next. It’s all about leverage. It’s all about finding what’s the subset of activities that will yield the highest results, right?

Things are not linear. You can’t do everything for everyone. Let me give you another way to break this down. Let’s break this down mathematically as an alternative. Let’s say, for example, you’re working on a project and the output of this project – we’re going to keep this super simple – the output of this project will be $500 of value. So if you work on this project to its completion, get it 100% done, you’ll be able to earn $500. And let’s say, it’s going to take five hours to do that project. Well, five hours equals $500, and you might say, “Well, that sounds pretty good. I’ve earned $500 for five hours, a hundred dollars an hour. That’s great. I’m happy. Why wouldn’t I be happy?” You know, a hundred dollars an hour. That’s a pretty good rate of return. Isn’t it? Well, what if you could have worked just one hour, 20% of the hours, and created a product or a service which was 100%, and maybe you couldn’t therefore charge as much for it.

It only produced $400 of value. Now the first guy says, “ha, you know, I’ve done $500 a value. You’ve done 400, you know, I’m winning.” But the second guy says, “yeah, yeah, but you’re not looking at what I use my next remaining four hours for, because I did the next project in 80/20 style”. And then the next, and then the next, and then the next, each time using just a single hour to produce something with 80% of the value, $400, right? So five hours, $400 per hour. The 80/20 person in this example has produced $2,000 worth of value versus a 100% effort with a 100% result person, who’s produced $500 of value.

Mathematically speaking, in this example, the power of 80/20 has done what it’s yielded a four times greater return over the same period of time. Now things don’t line up perfectly like this, and we’re not always perfectly efficient.

Don’t expect this mathematics to work out entirely like this all the time. The point I’m trying to make is that if you really focus and look for leverage, if you really look for what’s the 20% of the effort that will yield 80% of the result, that will yield 80% of the guest satisfaction that will create 80% of the movement in my life. Then you can spend far less time agonizing over all the details and just get on to that next thing. And it doesn’t just relate to projects. It can also relate to relationships. You may know 20 people in your professional circle. I bet if you really think about it, four of those people are the real movers and shakers, right? So those four relationships are you spending enough time with those people.

If you really grew those relationships, could they help move the needle on in your life? Rather than you spending time in those other 16 relationships? Again, this is just an example. I’m not saying that you actually have 20 people in your life, but I think you get the point equally, when we think about our families. Let’s take this to the home front for a second. So when we think about our families, often, we think about improving our relationship with, say a spouse or a child. And we think about all the different things that we could be doing to improve the relationship. It can become a little bit overwhelming, but what’s the 20% of things that we could be doing that would improve. That would create 80% of the result.

I asked my wife this question, and you know what she told me, she said, “Just spend more carefree, no agenda time with me”. What a relief. I don’t have to think about what it is that we should be doing. What box that should be ticking her 80/20. Her 20% of the effort for me was that if I just focus on that one thing that will create 80% of the satisfaction that she gets from our time together. And you can equally think about this with your children. Similarly, probably with your kids, there will be a myriad of things that you could be doing, but what’s the 20% of things that you could do, which would create 80% of the smiles on your children’s faces?

Let me wrap this up by stressing the point that you have a huge opportunity. You can literally change the whole trajectory of your life. If you recognize that you don’t need to keep putting in a hundred for a hundred return, that you can look for the 80/20 and all that you do on the health front, on the work front, on the home front, 20% of your actions and choices, Generally speaking, will probably lead to 80% of your satisfaction and results. What’s the 80/20 in your life? What’s the 80/20 in your business?

Eric has been named "CEO of the Year" at the 2019 Business Excellence Awards, one of the "Top 30 Entrepreneurs in the UK" by Startups Magazine, and among "Britain's 27 Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs" by The Telegraph.

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