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Published on July 8, 2019

What Is the 80 20 Rule? (And How It Helps You Succeed in Life)

What Is the 80 20 Rule? (And How It Helps You Succeed in Life)

The 80 20 Rule or Pareto Principle, named after the nineteenth-century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who discovered that approximately 80% of Italian land in 1896 was owned by 20% of the population, has become a common axiom in business and life.

The principle was highlighted in 1992 by a United Nations Development Program report that showed that roughly 80% of the world’s wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population.[1] Businesses have reported that 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers and, Microsoft discovered that if they fix the top 20%, most reported bugs they eliminate 80% of the problems in their software.

It seems the Pareto Principle is all around us.

When it comes to our own productivity, the principle can be applied in that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. The trick is to discover what that 20% is so we can apply our most effort to that 20% and eliminate as much of the 80% that does not produce the results we want.

So how do we do that?

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Be Absolutely Clear on What It Is You Want to Achieve

The easiest and most effective way to do this is to be absolutely clear about what it is you are trying to achieve.

What is the outcome you want to achieve? Most people do not get clarity on what it is they want to achieve, and so get sucked into working on things that will not deliver a big contribution to the overall objective.

For example, if you have a project to move house, spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the colour you want to have the walls, what furniture you would like and what plants you will have in the garden will not move you very far towards moving house.

Instead, deciding how many rooms and in what location you would like the house would give you far more important data on which to be able to go to a real estate agent. You are going to find the right house much more quickly than by discussing colours, furniture and items in your garden.

Before you begin any project, make a list of all the tasks involved to take the project to completion and then flag or highlight the tasks that will give you the biggest contribution towards the completion of the project. Those tasks will be the 20% of tasks that will take you 80% of the way towards completing the project. Focus on those.

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What Are Your Majors and Minors?

Jim Rohn coined this question and it essentially means there are parts of the work you do each day that have a direct contribution to the overall objective you are trying to achieve.[2] Other parts of your work do not have a direct contribution to that objective but could be described as housekeeping tasks. The trick is to know what they are.

Brian Tracy often talks about this with the sales process.[3] Major time is when you are in front of the customer talking with them. Minor time is traveling to the customer or being in meetings with your sales manager in the office. Of course, traveling to see your customer or meeting with your sales manager is important, but they do not contribute directly to your sales performance so that would be classed as minor time.

When I was in sales many years ago, I learned that while you might be popular with your sales admin team, if you meticulously write out your sales reports every day, doing so did not improve sales performance. I observed that the best salespeople in our company were the ones who had terrible admin reputations and were not the more popular people in the office. The thing is, they were the best salespeople because they understood that being in front of the customer led to higher sales which ultimately led to higher salaries.

Take a look at your calendar for last week and identify what tasks you did that had the biggest positive impact on your objectives. Then, plan to do more of those next week so you are working on the 20% of tasks you know will take towards achieving 80% of the results you desire.

Stop Thinking, Start Doing

I come across this with a lot of my clients when I am coaching them in developing their own businesses. Far too much time is spent on planning and thinking.

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Now, planning and developing ideas do have their place when you are creating your own business, but there is a line. If you spend 80% of your time thinking and planning, your business is not going to launch.

Take a simple example. When I began my YouTube channel just over three years ago, I spent a week planning what type of videos I would produce and then I began recording. My first video was terrible, but the process of putting out the videos week after week led to my learning better ways of producing videos which fuelled my channel’s growth.

I see far too many people planning and thinking about what they want to do and not producing the content. If you spend 80% of your time producing content and 20% of your time planning out your content, no matter what medium you are producing for, you will see positive results. If you turn that ratio around, you are not going to see much by way of results.

Stop for a moment right now and ask yourself: “What could I do today that will give me 80% of the results I most desire?”

Use Your Calendar to Review How You Spent Your Time

Your calendar is your most powerful analytical tool when it comes to seeing how you spend your time each week. If you see you are spending a lot of your daily time in meetings and dealing with co-worker issues, you will find you are not focused on the 20% where the real results are.

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If you have taken the time to write down the activities that give you 80% of your results, then review your calendar at the end of the week to see where you are spending your time you will be able to make adjustments; so you are more focused on the activities that give you the biggest positive results. Block time each day to work on those tasks.

Try to eliminate those tasks that do not bring in much by way of results. If you can do so, delegate them to other people better able to complete those tasks for you so you can spend more of your time each week on tasks. This will give you a much better return on your time investment.

To really take advantage of the 80:20 principle, you need to be aware of where you are spending your time each day.

If you are a content producer, then you need to be producing content, not wasting time analyzing analytics. Of course, analytics is important if you want to see growth, but without content, you will not have any analytics on which to base your future content. So 80% of your time needs to be spent on producing content.

If you are in sales, if you spend 80% of your time planning out your sales calls and only 20% of your time in front of your customers, your sales performance is not going to be very good. Turn that ration around. Spend 20% of your time planning out your calls and 80% in front of your customers.

Key Takeaways

So to make the 80 20 rule work for you, remember these:

  • Be very clear about what it is you want to achieve. What will a successful outcome look like? Then identify the 20% of action steps that will get you 80% of the way there.
  • What are your majors and minors? What daily activities could you do that will create constant motion towards achieving whatever it is you want to achieve? Do those every day.
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend thinking about doing something and just start doing it. If you are spending 80% of the time thinking and just 20% of your time doing you have the ratio back to front.
  • Identify which action steps you have taken over the last week that had the biggest positive impact on your goals. Do more of them next week. Prioritise them and schedule the time in your calendar.

More About Productivity

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done What Is the 80 20 Rule? (And How It Helps You Succeed in Life) 7 Techniques to Stay Focused and Avoid Distractions How to Compartmentalize Time to Boost Productivity & Get More Done

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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