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Published on December 5, 2019

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

The world of productivity has several hacks or tricks to help you manage your time. The amount of time management tactics to productivity strategies out there is both amazing and overwhelming.

Of course, to make matters harder for people, a lot of these methods have been tried by various people who have stood by them… To-do list systems, the Pomodoro Technique, Parkinson’s Law

All of these strategies are great strategies in their own way, but one strategy stands above all else: The 80 20 rule. Out of the many, this particular strategy has been used the most and is regarded as the most helpful in developing time management and other concepts in life.

But what’s so special about this rule? How does it give you success and how do you use it? Let’s explore the specifics.

What Is the 80 20 Rule?

Many people regard this rule as the 80 20 rule, but it has a proper name: the Pareto Principle. The principle was named after its founder, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto, in 1895. How it all started was when Pareto noticed that people in society were divided into two “categories”:

  • The “vital few” which consisted of the top 20 percent with respect to money and influence.
  • The “trivial many” otherwise known as the bottom 80 percent.

As he researched this further, he came to discover that this divide didn’t apply only to money and influence but other areas too. Virtually all economic activity was subject to his previous observation.

That observation being this:

80 percent of the wealth of Italy at the time was controlled by only 20 percent of the population.

Since the development of this rule, humankind has used this particular ratio in all kinds of situations. Even if the ratio isn’t always exact, we see this rule applied in many industries and in life. Examples are:

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  • 20% of sales reps will generate 80% of your total sales.
  • 20% of customers account for 80% of total profits.
  • 80% of the revenue will stem from 20% of the workers.
  • And so on…

Either way, I’m sure you can piece together why people call this rule the 80 20 rule over Pareto’s Principle.

In terms of how this particular rule will be able to work for you, it’s a matter of applying this rule in our lives as I’ve said. For us to see success, the goal is simple.

We need to set it up in such a way that 20% of our input will give us 80% of our results.

Another way to think about it is we place 20% of our time on activities that give us 80% of our results in whatever area in life.

How Does the 80 20 Rule Work?

To best explain this, let’s visualize a bit.

In an ideal world:

  • Every employee would contribute the same amount of effort to work.
  • Every feature that’s released for an app or product would be equally loved by users.
  • Each business idea you come up with would be a hit.

In that scenario, planning would be a breeze. There wouldn’t be any need to analyze anything so long as you put in the effort.

But that’s not reality.

Yes, the effort is certainly an element, but what the 80 20 rule states is that everything is unequal. Invest in 10 start-up companies and you’ll find only a few will pass year two and make it big. You’re in a team of five and there’ll be one person doing more work than others.

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We wish our lives are always one for one in terms of input and output, but that’s simply not true. Understanding this is key to understanding how the 80 20 rule really works.

So how does it really work?

You may be asking and it’s quite simple. It’s a matter of focusing on what’s giving you the most in your life for little of your time.

Going back to the few examples I’ve presented above, consider this:

  • If two start-ups you invested in are making it big, focus on having a more direct hand and see if you can help them prosper more.
  • If 20% of sales reps are giving you 80% of your sales, focus on rewarding those and keeping their spirits high and motivated.

These scenarios can go on and on but the idea is to place your efforts on the 20% that is actually making the difference in your life. Another term that’s good to know is the diminishing marginal benefit.

Pareto didn’t come up with this one, but the law goes as follows: each extra hour of effort or worker will add less “oomph” to your finished results.

Eventually, you’ll hit a point where you will spend a lot of time on small and unimportant details. Similar to perfectionism.

So before hitting that point, you want to have a laser focus on the most important details. From family and relationships to your work or business. Prioritize the activities that are going to move you forward the most. And be wary of adding extra time, effort, or more hands into those particular tasks moving forward.

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule

So now that you have an understanding of the 80 20 rule and how it works, what is the best way to take advantage of it?

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Depending on where you are applying this rule, this can be used in all kinds of fashions.

For example, you can apply this rule to goal setting, as demonstrated by Brian Tracy in this video:

Or you can apply it in terms of general productivity as explained in this article: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

The core of this rule is that it forces us to ask ourselves the questions we wouldn’t consider otherwise. It’s helping us to place our focus in the right places with regards to all things in life.

In short, the 80 20 rule places us in charge of our lives and helps us set out on our goals and dreams. With this in mind, here are some things you can consider concerning this rule.

Here’s what you can do to maximize the benefits of using the 80 20 rule:

1. Focus on Your Big Tasks First

While this is the essence of the 80 20 rule, it’s still worth mentioning. Why? Because so many of us feel intimidated by the biggest task. We instinctively avoid it and opt for smaller tasks first.

We think that if we build up enough tasks completed that we feel motivated to finish that really big one later. But that’s really false hope at work.

Once we finish off a lot of small tasks, we either feel drained or we tell ourselves we’ll do this the next day.

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Instead of doing all that, bite the bullet and tackle the largest task first.

I argue this by challenging you to ask yourself this one question:

“Is the task I’m about to do the top 20 percent of my activities or the bottom 80 percent?”

I’m sure you’ve seen time and again you or other workers spending a lot of time on one task for most of the day. In those kinds of grinds, you’re barely getting ahead and have next to nothing to show for it. That’s because they’re putting all their attention on work that’s in the 80 percent.

It’s normally the big tasks that are part of the 20 percent.

Another way to think about this is that everything we do starts a habit. If every day we spend our energy on low-value tasks, we will always prioritize those.

2. Stretch This into Personal Life

While I’ve been talking about business and setting goals, remember you can use this in other areas of your life too.

Take your personal life and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How much TV do you watch on a regular basis? What sort of shows are you legitimately into? These questions can help you in recognizing what shows you are watching purely for consumption. By applying the 80 20 rule, you can cut back on Netflix, TV or Youtube video consumption and prioritize other areas of your life.
  • What does your wardrobe look like in terms of colors? Are there specific colors that you like? Knowing what you wear most times will help you in sorting out your wardrobe significantly. It also saves you time to come up with what to wear every morning.
  • How many newsletters do you actually read? This question can help you in figuring out which newsletters to unsubscribe to and can clear up a lot of space in your inbox. It can also relieve pressure from having to check your emails constantly.
  • How much time do you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is actually doing something meaningful? These questions can help you in clearing out various apps that aren’t helping you with your goals. In fact, this can curb the need to check your phone constantly.

Final Thoughts

The 80 20 rule is the productivity hack that many of us need and for good reason. As you can tell, it’ll help you to focus and prioritize the more important aspects of your life.

Not only that, but it’ll maximize those outputs at the same time and ensure you’re not spending too much time working at them. All you need to do is start asking questions and taking action.

More Techniques to Help You Succeed in Life

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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