The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks

I sucked at poker.

In fact, I was one of the worst beginners there ever was. My friends thought I was easy money and I can’t say they were wrong. However, within a week, I was consistently finding myself in the top 3 (out of 10 players) whenever we played a game. I did this simply by employing one of the most amazing tools I’ve ever been introduced to; the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule.

The point isn’t to brag. Rather, it’s to emphasise that you can pretty much do this for anything. Poker is incredibly complex as it involves statistics, body language and a variety of advanced tactics and skill. However, I’m quite lazy by nature and I couldn’t be bothered to learn every single thing about poker. Instead, what I did was to figure out the absolute essential things I needed to know which would help me get better very quickly.

So how can you do this? And by the way, even if you don’t like poker, this is pretty much applicable to anything you can think of.

The 80/20 Rule 

The Pareto principle, which states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input. This is something that I’ve found to be extremely true. So here’s what I did:

  • I needed to find out which 20% of poker knowledge I needed to know that would provide me with 80% of the result I was looking for (which was to get better and beat my friends)
  • I asked a good friend of mine, Joel Watt (who’s an excellent poker player), what mistakes beginners usually made
  • He also told me about a few specific but extremely simple things that would improve my playing ten-fold.
    • Starting hand rankings
    • Agression and the mistake of playing passively
    • The power of position at a poker table
    • Bet sizing
    • Beginners tend to play almost every hand (which they absolutely should not do)
    • Patience
  • All of this took about a day to learn and a couple more days to fully sink in.

Just this few tips made me a far more formidable player at the table. The next game that we had, I made it all the way to the final two. I lost, but it was an incredible improvement considering I was always the first one out.

How You Can Apply This to Any Skill

You can apply the same 80/20 principle to pretty much anything. I did this with every single exam and came out with better grades than I used to when I tried to learn everything. I wasn’t aiming for 100% of course, but I could easily achieve a distinction with minimal effort. I focused on the topics that I knew would be essential and ensured that I understood them in and out, rather than knowing all the topics at a surface level.

If you look at any skill, look for the 20% of knowledge you need or material that you need to work on/practice in order to achieve 80% of the results. I did this with language learning, playing the guitar, improving my fitness level, improving my cooking skills, personal finances and a ton of other things. I’m far from great at any of those things, but I’m definitely way better than I was before and with only 20% of effort. You can do it too.

Sometimes you don’t need to be an expert, or know everything to get good at something. Just 20% can put you head and shoulders above the rest.

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

-Winston Churchill


  • The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input.
  • Focus on learning the 20% that will give you 80% of the results.
  • This can be applied to any skill, such as language learning (for example, 20% of the most common words will allow you understand 80% of basic conversation)