Why The 80/20 Pareto Principle Miraculously Boosts Your Efficiency

When we are busy with many things, our attention is divided. We are not fully present in what we do.
Pocket watch in the sand
Image from Pixabay

Have you noticed that we tend to wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time? Have you noticed that 20% of our clients bring 80% of the income? Have you noticed that 20% of our efforts account for 80% of the results? 

It’s called the Pareto principle  or the Law of the Vital Few. It's  one of those universal ratios that seem to pop up everywhere. Basically, it means that the minority of the cause accounts for the majority of the effect.

At first, I didn’t quite believe it was true, but I started seeing it in my life again and again, over time.

As a literary translator, I have translated over 100 books since 1993. Of these 100 books, about 20 are known and spoken about. And these 20 bring me 80% of my new clients. 

In my Etsy shop, 20% of my items bring me 80% of sales. Of all the articles that I have written, about 20% get 80% of the views. Even as I am writing this one, I am aware that only 20% of my research will yield 80% of the valuable information. 

What is the main cause of burnout?

Matches burning out
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The main cause of burnout is taking on more than you can handle. The Pareto rule has a flipside — you may spend 80% of your efforts on various tasks but reap only 20% of the results. 80% of your clients will bring only 20% of your income. In other words, the majority of what you do will generate the minority of what you get. Getting busy does not equal being productive.

I learned it the hard way. I used to spread myself thin on projects that would involve a lot of work — thinking that more work would necessarily translate into more results. It didn’t. 80% of all my actions would only bring me a meager 20% of the impact. 

The habit of busying myself with a lot runs deep in me, so it took me quite a while to realize that I was wasting much of my effort. In fact, it took a burnout. Over time, I noticed that the tasks that yield me the most fruit are few. 

Why being present is so important?

A red butter on a flower
Image from Pixabay

Why wear me out doing many things that don’t work that well? Finally, it dawned on me that the Pareto principle has spiritual underpinnings. The boost in productivity is rooted in the mystery of giving undivided attention to the present moment.

Being present is key because when we are busy with many things, our attention is divided. We are not fully present in what we do.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus.

What is this “one thing” for me? When I look back and analyze which activities have brought me the most results, I see that they all have arisen from a certain state of consciousness. The best way to describe it is to use Ekhart Tolle’s words:

“Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.”

What does it mean to stay in the moment?

What is a successful present moment and how do I stay in it? It is the moment when I am totally present in what I am doing. I am totally engrossed in the process to the degree that I lose all sense of time. The Greeks coined the term “enthusiasm” to describe this phenomenon. The word literally means “in God.”

To do something in God” means to do it “in the moment.” The reason is simple— there is nothing else. There is nothing else in the whole universe except what you are doing right now. Now is the only place where God is real. Am I successfully living out this very moment? This moment is my 20%. The “one thing.” 

By giving my undivided attention to what is I set in motion the Pareto efficiency principle. The minority of my effort generates the majority of the desired outcome. The more “successful present moments” I have, the more undivided attention I give to my 20%.

How do you enjoy the present moment?

Tree reflected in the pond
Image from Pixabay

Thomas Merton commented on the mystery of enjoying the present moment when he quoted a parable by Chuang Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher.

There was an archer who “needed to win.” At first, he was shooting just for fun and seldom missed. When he was offered a reward, a brass buckle, he became nervous. Then, he was offered a prize of gold and went blind — started seeing two targets. His skill didn’t change, but the prize divided him. He cared more about winning than shooting. The need to win drained him of power.

Divided attention is the result of abandoning the present moment for the sake of a future goal. Undivided attention is the result of abandoning all future goals for the sake of enjoying the present moment. 

There is Divine energy that wants to come into this world through me. If I allow it to freely pass through me by taking my “self” out of the way, it will spill over into the world and transform reality. This divine energy is humble. It will not force me in any way. It waits for me to say: 

“Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

This divine energy is “the one thing” that will not be taken away from me. But I need to choose it. To choose what is better over what seems more. What seems more will be taken away. What is better turns out to be more.

Why is Van Gogh so popular?

Vincent Van Gogh
Image from Pixabay

Van Gogh’s famous 1888 painting of a chair is worth 25 million dollars. The actual old chair that the artist depicted is worth no more than a few dollars. The reason Van Gogh is so popular is that he was able to look at a chair long enough to see something above and beyond the chair.

He got in touch with what the chair actually was — the divine energy behind it. His undivided attention to the reality of the chair allowed this energy to flow onto the canvas and into the world.

By finding his “one thing” he became a conduit of divine consciousness. It is this consciousness that people feel. And this is why the painting is worth so much. The “mustard seed” became a mighty tree.

“A mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

The mustard seed is the divine energy that comes into the world through me when I am fully present in what I am doing. The Pareto principle is just an expression of the “mustard seed” spirituality. The smallest thing will grow into the biggest thing if it comes as a spontaneous response to the surprise of seeing what is.

How can I be more present?

A big tree in sunset
Image from Pixabay

Here are the 4 questions that help me be more present in any given situation:

1. Am I enjoying what I am doing or are my thoughts somewhere else?

When you are fully present in what you do, the mind is riveted on what's in front of you right now. If you find your mind wandering, you are not yet fully engaged. One way to deal with it is to consciously let go of everything your mind skips to and remain with what is. If for some reason I can't quiet my mind, I stop doing whatever I am doing and go for a bike ride. I know that I can't produce quality work if my mind is elsewhere. The pause helps me to empty myself and be more present.

2. Am I conscious of time?

When I am fully present, time becomes irrelevant. One clear sign that I am present is losing all sense of time. According to Ekhart Tolle, we transcend time when we are fully engaged with what we are doing. The clock may still be ticking, but in our inner experience, all time has stopped. We are in eternity.

3. Am I working for a goal or am I conscious of an invisible flow that carries me along?

Being conscious of a goal often gets in the way of being in the moment. If I use this present moment as a means to an end, I am not being carried by an invisible flow of energy.

4. Am I keeping track of how much I have done or do I feel the sense of a mystery I am participating in?

Keeping track of my progress may be helpful when you are working for a goal, but when you are in the flow, you are so attuned to the divine inspiration that you don't have time or desire to check your progress. Progress will be a side effect.


The Pareto principle of the "vital few" has spiritual implications. To be most productive in our lives, we need to find " the one thing," to which we can give our undivided attention. This one thing will be our 20%, which, eventually, will bring us the most results.

I am a translator and blogger who believes that all change comes from inside out, not from outside in.

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