Acting Advice – Using the 80/20 Rule

Posted on 15 July 2016

80/20 Rule


There are hundreds of self-help books that promise to transform your life. The 80/20 rule, though, is too powerful for any book. It’s free to use and nearly universally applicable. Here, we’ve applied it to the art of acting.

The rule sounds straightforward: 80% of results come from 20% of actions. While this is simple, it’s also broad. Since its inception in the 19th Century it has transformed over and over, from an economic concept to a self-help lifestyle guide.



When Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of the wealth in Italy went to only 20% of its population, he didn’t just write a petition and forget about it. Instead, he saw the bigger picture: every result, no matter how huge, can be linked to only a few actions. The 80/20 rule (or Pareto Principle) is such a powerful concept that it can be applied to nearly every field – and has been!

Many people swear by the 80/20 diet, and in 1997 self-help author Richard Koch turned the notion into a lifestyle. Living the 80/20 way means finding out which 20% of your actions fulfil your passions, and then slowly cutting away the other 80% from your lifestyle.


The 80/20 Rule in Acting

If you’re here, your passion is probably acting – how do you apply the 80/20 rule to a career in theatre or film? Thankfully, we’ve already thought this through.

In acting, we can see the 80/20 rule as a breakdown of actions that lead to successes (e.g. booking a job or a good agent). The way we see it, you would use 20% of your training in 80% of your performances, and 80% of the work you get will come from 20% of the casting directors and agents you contact.

OK – this seems negative. Right now you might be thinking: I’m wasting 80% of my time! How is this good news?

The good news is that wasting 80% of your time is exactly how you learn not to do so later. Early on in your career, wasting 80% of your time is inevitable – how else would you learn which of your actions is in that vital 20%? To become a better actor you need to first recognise which 20% of your training you are regularly using, and which 20% of your contacts are useful. Focus on these, and file away that unused 80% of your repertoire. By narrowing down and growing your 20% of productive activities, you can eventually become 100% productive.


How to Recognise Your 20%

As usual, we like to focus on the positive instead of the negative. An actions diary is a good place to start: log all your actions over the course of three days: all your training, socialising, performing, working, and any other menial tasks. Look back on it afterward and check off which actions really improved your career as an actor.

Was there a social event that you made a good connection at? Was one class you took consistently more useful that the others? These actions are your 20%.


How to Grow Your 20%

It can be hard to immediately cease 80% of your actions – that’s most of your life! Instead, focus on growing the 20% until it encompasses your lifestyle. Job by job, audition by audition, you can slowly add an hour or so of 20% actions to your day until you are 100% productive.

One way to grow your 20% without changing your lifestyle drastically is to make a productivity checklist. This is a list of ten things that help you achieve your goals – ten actions that are in your 20%. You should aim to tick off at least three of these things every day.

Your list might look something like this:

  • Go to an audition
  • Rehearse or practice a scene
  • Attend a class
  • Go to bed early
  • Wake up early
  • Attend a social event
  • Update social media
  • Read a play
  • Watch a play or film
  • Update headshots/reels

You might be surprised to see social media and social events on that list, as you probably consider these “actions” to be off-duty, but the truth is quite the opposite. In a highly competitive field like acting, it’s often who you know as much as what you know that lands an actor their breakthrough role.

To an extrovert, this might sound too good to be true. We mean it, though: forging relationships with friends of friends and people who know people is one of the best ways to get your name out there.


The Next Level

If you know that being an actor is the most joy you could get from life, there’s a next level you can take. Make like an entrepreneur and commit to your goals by dropping everything else.


Getting busy is not what makes you rich.


Entrepreneurs say this, and its a sentiment many actors could learn from. Waitressing every night or working in an office only to act after-hours is keeping yourself too busy to succeed. To completely commit to your 20%, you might consider cutting your work hours partially or even completely.

Why spend 80% of your time colour-coding or fetching coffee? You have goals to achieve! Instead, spend your 9-5 practicing, auditioning, and networking until it pays off – and it could do very quickly.

Finally, you can use the 80/20 rule to console yourself. If you didn’t book a particular job, or an agent fell through – they were part of that 80% of life that is pointless clutter. They don’t matter anymore – you have a 20% to focus on.

If you’re committed to acting, you might be the right fit for our Ultimate Acting Programme – all guaranteed to be part of that 20% of training that pays off. If you’re unsure if acting is your all-encompassing passion, why not try a three-day introductory course instead?

Auditions for this year’s intake of the Ultimate Acting Programme are on 27th July, so if you’ve got what it takes – apply now!


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