how I want to leave my 20%

How I want to leave my 20%

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? You probably have, there are a lot of them.

  • There is an 80/20 rule in marriage and relationships that says you will likely only get 80% of what you want in a partner.
  • There is an 80/20 rule in business that says, 20% of your activities account for 80% of your results.
  • There is an 80/20 rule in retail that says, 20% of your products account for 80% of your profits. Or, you can say, 20% of your clients account for 80% of your sales.
  • There’s even an 80/20 rule in sports that says, 20% of athletes win 80% of the time. (So, obviously just get on one of their teams and you will be a winner too…)

All of these ‘rules’ come from the economist Vilfredo Pareto who found that in just about every business and time management situation, there are the ‘vital’ tasks, or the top 20% and the ‘trivial many’, that make up the bottom 80%.

This means that for every ten tasks, two of them will provide the most benefit. Often, those top two tasks are the most time consuming or complex, yet they yield so much more than the other eight tasks, which are often easier.

However, study after study has shown that even knowing this fact, people tend to spend the majority of their time on the bottom 80%, just because those tasks are easier or more fun. This is human nature at its best.

The Pareto Principle has been around since the 1896, but there is another principle or fact, rather that coincides and has really shaken my perspective.

How Memory Works

Bear with me as we do a little brain science lesson.

When it comes to memory, studies have shown that, while human beings may have about 2.5M GB of memory storage (there is really no way to measure this), we ‘forget’ much of what we learn, very quickly.

The jury is out on the actual percentage of what we store in our brains as long term memories, but *multiple sources say that in a 24-hour period, we forget about 80% of what we’ve learned and up to 90% with-in a week. Obviously, this is not a hard and fast rule, especially when emotions are involved. If someone feels a strong emotional tie to a memory, that memory is going to last much longer.

Bringing Pareto and Memory Together

Here’s where we bring the principles of Pareto (scroll up if you forgot what that is) and memory together. Remember, before you go on that this is conjecture and very situational, however:

Only 20% of our efforts or actions will have an impact or be remembered on this earth.


When I think about leaving an impact or legacy with the people in my life, I’m haunted that they’ll only remember about 20% of me. What’s worse, I don’t get to choose which 20% of myself they’ll remember.

Will my friends and family mostly remember that I tried to show them love whenever I could? Or, will they remember how I didn’t really make time for them or their needs?

Sure, I may have showed up to a birthday party, but will they remember that Thursday night they needed to go out for coffee to relay a burden and I was too busy?

Remember, the bottom 80% of our tasks? Well, planning and segmenting out time for people is much easier than serving the impromptu ‘I need you’ hints that we constantly send and receive.

You may have had a relative when you were young, who would send you birthday presents every year, but you rarely got to see them. Looking back, do you remember all of the gifts they sent, or do you more vividly remember the time they spent with you when they did come around?

While I certainly appreciate when someone comes to my birthday party, how much more do I value someone going out of their way to encourage me when I’m having a bad day? When someone takes unscheduled time to learn about me, that fills me up faster than a planned Outlook meeting with an agenda.

We value those crucial 20% moves more because they take much more effort on the part of the giver than a planned 80% outreach. These 20% actions will also typically have a more emotional impact and that’s what will hopefully be remembered about a person.

I can only hope that my 20% of remembrance is positive, especially when I make a mistake and need grace, or when I’m no longer present in someone’s life.

You will have your own version of the 80/20 rule and it may look oddly opposite to the examples I’ve given. Maybe you are a person who is really great at making time for people, but maybe you are really stingy with your money. Sure, you’ll spend hours letting someone pour out their heart to you about how they don’t have money for food, but you won’t give them money for groceries when you have the means. That’s an extreme example, and I’m sure that’s not you (you’re a wonderful person), but you get the idea.

Combing these two principles has really made me think about my approach to friends, family and co-workers. If I’m only going to be remembered for 20% of my impact, then I want that 20% to be full of the ‘vital’ moments, not the 80% moments of ‘fluff’.

I’m going to work to choose to make time for people, to go the extra mile to serve, to choose to say something positive, to show up when I’m needed (whether or not I’m asked or feel like it).

I’m also going to stop writing now, because you’ll probably only remember about 20% of this if I’m lucky, but just one quick question:

What is going to be in your 20%?

  • *http://persuasive.net/you-forget-80-of-what-you-learn-every-day/
  • *https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1379/brain-science-the-forgetting-curvethe-dirty-secret-of-corporate-training

Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

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