How To Make Friends With The 80/20 Rule

I met Jake a few months ago. He was one of those start-up tech geeks who had come to my office to talk me through digital advertising.

He was a really outgoing, chatty guy, who was obviously very passionate about his job and we got talking about where he was from, his background, and so on.

Jake told me that, although he had a lot of friends, work prevented him from hanging out with them as much as he would have liked. He also confessed that some of them didn’t even get in touch with him anymore because he was always turning down their offers to meet up.

It turns out that Jake was spending most of his time building his business and neglecting his friends, leaving him feeling frustrated and desperate to turn things around, although he didn’t know how.

You may have the exact same problem yourself, putting all of your energy into your career, or even your family, leaving no time to invest in your relationships. After a while, you might notice that they stop calling you, don’t message you as often, or aren’t available when you finally have time to meet up with them.

I know how this feels because I’ve also been guilty in the past of getting caught up in the daily work routine and weekend burn-out syndrome. The thing is, people aren’t accessories that we can put on or discard when we feel like it.

In the book How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie said, “If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people—thins that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness.”

We need to give time to any relationship if we want to sustain it, and this applies just as much to friendships as it does to our relationship with a spouse, partner, children, or other family members. So, how exactly do we make the most of our time and commit to nurturing friendships when our work/life balance is heavily out of sync?

One way to approach this, I have found works for me is by using something called the Pareto Principle. It’s an idea named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed back in 1895 that about 80% of Italy’s land belonged to 20% of the country’s population.

Since then, the principle has been used mainly in the business world, focusing on the fact that 80% of results or consequences come from 20% of effort or causes. The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity.

Simply put, all it really means is that 20% of your efforts will probably lead to 80% of your success in many spheres of life. In the context of this article, we are going to look at how using the principle can allow us to nurture and sustain close friendships to the best of our abilities.

Obviously, your friends are important to you and whether you are trying to make new ones, or hold on to those already established, the 80/20 rule will give you the tools to do so, no matter what your circumstances are.

When it comes to forming new friendships, think about this: if 80% of your efforts are getting you nowhere but 20% of what you do gets positive results, do more, much more of the 20%.

If you are always trying to impress, talk too much, or are overbearing, and you’re not getting the results you want, notice how unsuccessful this kind of behavior is and cease doing it.

It’s easy to measure – how many friends have you actually made by talking about yourself all the time? On the other hand, how many new friends have you made by offering a good ear, talking less, and showing empathy? I think your answer to that will tell you exactly why the 80/20 rule is so useful.

Looking at your relationships using the 80/20 model

Let’s say that you have connected with a few new people and would like to deepen your friendship with them. You want to get to know them better and also want them to get to know you. What’s the best way to do this using the 80/20 rule? Begin by asking yourself the following questions. 

You don’t need a calculator or have to start counting fractions. Just give a rough estimate based on an 80-20 ratio by following your gut feeling.

1). Of all the people you know, who are the five to ten people you spend the most time with?

2). Does spending time with these people make you a better or a worse person?

3). Pick the one or two people you enjoy being with the most. These are the 20% who make up 80% of your social engagement and are probably the most interesting and fun people to be with.

4). Spend more time with the 20% who make your life better, and less time with the 80% who don’t.

Once you have a clearer idea in your mind about who you enjoy being around and those who make you less happy, then you can begin to work on resetting the balance. Take the time to do an 80/20 analysis on your current and potential friends to make sure that you’re building relationships with the right people, otherwise, it really is a waste of your time.

How can you build on those relationships?

Our time is so limited, isn’t it? When we do have the opportunity to enjoy ourselves, we want to make sure it’s with the right people. That requires us to make conscious decisions that will help us to use our time wisely.

Although the 80/20 principle isn’t only about time management, it can be useful to apply it in this way once we have established our needs and goals.

Jake, for example, had very little free time. By his own admission, he had become somewhat of a workaholic, clocking up 12 hours a day or more on his projects. I asked him how productive he was working so many hours. He thought about it for a while and finally admitted that he didn’t really feel that motivated or inspired when it got to 7 or 8 in the evening.

Basically, he was less productive as the day went on. If he had only applied the Pareto Principle to his working life, he could have worked fewer hours but have been more focused on what he was doing, resulting in a better performance.

As a friend quote says, “Time spent with friends brings relief from the pressures of life.”

It’s the same with friendships – if you focus on one hour of quality time together rather than 5 hours of chatting to them on social media, you are much more likely to develop a closer bond. You can begin to work on having a better interaction by following my 3-step plan, which is

outlined below.

The 3-Step Plan

1. Set your goals

Often, we go about life in a sort of random way, not really having any direction or goals. We seem to leave a lot to chance and then complain afterward when things don’t go our way. 

Sitting by yourself in a coffee shop instead of going over to chat with the guy or girl also sitting alone is a wasted opportunity. In addition, waiting around for your friend to call is not the way to go about developing any kind of relationship. You have to plan, making sure that you use each chance you have to form new friendships and maintain them.

Set yourself goals, instead of leaving things to fate. Make them specific and doable, rather than vague and impossible. Jake said, “I’d love to see my friends more, but I’m too busy.” He needed to change that statement to: “I want to see my friends more and will set a time and date for that to happen.” 

This entails working more productively, spending less time working half-heartedly, and giving priority to his personal needs.

See how easy it is?

Following the Pareto Principle, Jake needs to focus on the 20% of his daily habits that bring him 80% efficiency and happiness. He also needs to get rid of the 80% of his routine that only brings around 20% of the value to his life.

2. Plan your goals

You may bump into a friend in the street or see them in your local store by chance, but more often than not, you will need to be proactive if you want to be sure of getting together. Making plans is the best way to do this, which will entail prioritizing what is important to you.

If you wish to arrange an evening out, you have to plan ahead for that. Leaving things to the last minute may be your usual style, but where has that gotten you so far?

When it comes to planning anything, concentrate on putting the things that you enjoy doing at the top of your list. Sure, you have responsibilities that aren’t always fun which you have to include, so take these as given and draw up a plan that maximizes your free time.

When you have narrowed it down to who brings you 80% of your happiness when you are around them, draw up a plan that could look something like this:

  • Call or message the other person once a week if you are just forming a new friendship
  • Call or message once a day if your relationship is growing
  • Reduce the amount of screen time you share in favor of actual face-to-face meetings
  • Suggest to meet up once a week
  • If they don’t live locally, make a suggestion to get together once a month
  • Set a time and date for the meet-up and suggest a location
  • Confirm the meeting in advance
  • Turn up on time

3. Evaluate other priorities

Bearing your goals in mind, it’s time to look at everything else in your life that could conflict with that. Are you being pulled by other people that you don’t enjoy being with into spending time and energy on them? What do you do on a daily basis that brings you 80% unhappiness?

What do you do that brings you 80% joy? You need to find the 20% that improves your daily routine and focus on those.

Make a list of your priorities and consider which ones you could maximize or reduce. If you like, you can number them in terms of impact, with 1 being the least impactful and 10 being the highest. Your list could look something like this:

  • Commuting 2 hours to work and back
  • Visiting parents/relatives daily
  • Working overtime to impress your boss
  • Cooking and cleaning
  • Scrolling through social media
  • Watching TV or streaming
  • Exercising
  • Chatting on social media
  • Grocery shopping
  • Procrastinating (putting things off that you would rather not do)

You can add to this list, depending on your lifestyle and habits. When you have considered everything, ask yourself which of the above you can handle differently in order to release more of your time and energy. I would say, for instance, that I used to hate grocery shopping. 

I found it very tiring and couldn’t stand waiting in long queues when I’d rather be somewhere else. I thought it was a necessity until I realized that I could order everything I needed online and have them delivered to my door.

That was truly liberating, and such a small change to make, allowing me to meet up with my good friend Sue for a chat over a pizza. Magic!

A word about procrastination

There is nothing more time-wasting than procrastination. It’s the equivalent of walking into quicksand and slowly sinking. Putting off what you could do now until later because you don’t enjoy doing it is in total contrast to the Pareto Principle. 

The 80/20 rule doesn’t say that you should ignore doing what you need to but is about finding ways for you to deal with each task effectively so that it doesn’t drag on and on, robbing you of both time and happiness.

There are many ways to beat procrastination, but for the purpose of this article, let me just say that 2 hours of concentration will give you a much better outcome than 8 hours of idling about and avoiding the task at hand. If you need to do something and can’t avoid it, put it at the top of your task list and see to it before you do anything else.

All of us strive to be more effective in our careers, relationships, social lives, and spiritual lives. Being more effective leads to a more fulfilling life. There are coaches who can help you achieve this, including the late Dr Stephen Covey. During his career, he advised people and organizations on how to be more effective. He authored one of the most famous books on the subject. It is titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. 

His book offers principles that can be applied to work, leadership roles, management roles, and generally all aspects of life. One of Covey’s concepts is that you should prioritize your goals properly.

Establish effective habits

Avoid those things in life that don’t bring you happiness using the 80/20 principle and break bad habits such as binging, using harmful substances, drinking too much, spending hours on social media, over-sleeping, not exercising often enough, and so on. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing or are experiencing anxiety and stress, now is the time to deal with that because the after-effects can be long-lasting.

You can think about:

  • What habits are causing 80% of your problems?
  • What things are causing the most stress in your life?
  • What experiences bring you 80% of your happiness?
  • What small daily habits can increase your level of happiness (e.g., getting out more, meeting friends, etc.)?

Once you have narrowed it down, continue to use the Pareto Principle to help you stay true to your goals and plans. It’s not that difficult to change habits and routines when you understand the benefits of doing so, and the 80/20 rule is a very clear benchmark for that.

If we apply the rule to relationships, it appears that 80% of our happiness comes from just 20% of the people in our lives. This implies that there are a lot of people around us who add very little or nothing to our sense of joy.

These could be old friends, new friends, or people we just hang out with. Once you pinpoint who these joy-killers are, try to gradually remove them from your life, without conflict or stress.

I had an old friend, let’s call her Nadia, who I met when my kids were at kindergarten along with hers. We kind of became friends as we seemed to have some things in common (i.e., kids at the same school), and I found her fun to be around. She had a wicked sense of humor and was always upbeat. 

We would meet now and again, and the more we did so, the more I noticed that she could also be quite condescending. She would often make snide comments about what I was wearing, or remark on my ‘lack of style’, and I began to enjoy our meetings less and less.

The truth was that, apart from making me feel bad about myself, she wasn’t adding anything to my life anymore, so I decided to gradually remove myself from that ’friendship’. I stopped calling her and when she would call me, I simply explained I was too busy to meet up. 

Eventually, we lost touch and I can honestly say that the friends I made after her bring me so much more contentment. No one needs a ‘Nadia’ in their life.

There will always be people who you can’t strike up a relationship with, and that’s fine. There’s no such thing as a perfect fit with everyone, so focus on those you truly value and respect rather than hanging out with people just because you think you have no other option. Make choices based on YOUR likes and needs, not those of others, and you will be much more likely to find friends on your wavelength.

Once you have established the kind of friendship that fulfils you, it’s a good idea to make sure that you maintain a healthy balance based on mutual respect. It could be that, after a while, you sense things are not going the way you would like them to. You may begin to feel taken for granted or are always the one who has to make the effort to call the other person and arrange meeting up. 

Until then, remember: 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions!

Key Points:

  • The Pareto Principle can be applied to making new friends and keeping them.
  • 80% of results in life come from 20% of our efforts.
  • Follow the 3-step plan to achieve your friendship goals.
  • Establish healthy habits using the 80/20 principle.
  • Remove the people in your life who bring you more sadness than joy.

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