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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule

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Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule

Eighty percent of the output comes from twenty percent of the input. That is basically a summary of the Pareto Principle, or as it is more commonly known, the 80/20 rule. The rule comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population[1].

The 80/20 rule points out the imbalance of effects. Just as one person might have several times the wealth of another, one hour spent on a critical project might be worth $10,000[2] while another might only be worth $20. The goal when using the 80/20 rule is to maximize the small and powerful twenty percent and reduce the wasteful eighty percent.

Despite the popularity of the rule, few people seem to understand it. I’ve seen hundreds of misapplications and confusions spouted throughout the web and in print. Some of these errors are due to simply not understanding what the rule means. Others are just my opinion of unfair attacks on an otherwise useful principle.

Here are the worst attempts at using the 80/20 Rule:

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1. 80 + 20 = 100

I’ve seen a few times where people try to create a diagram explaining the 80/20 rule with a pie chart. One fifth of the pie chart is labeled 20% and the rest is labeled 80%. While those of us with basic math skills can see how this adds up to 100%, the calculation undermines what the rule is about.

The 80/20 rule argues that 20% of the input creates 80% of the output. Inputs and outputs aren’t the same thing and, therefore, can’t be put into the same pie chart. The 80/20 rule could just as easily be called the 55/3 rule, if 55% of the results were created by 3% of the inputs.

Don’t get caught up on the numbers. Both 80 and 20 are just examples of one type of uneven balance. The fact that they add up to 100 is a coincidence.

2. 80/20 Applied Recursively

One argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule goes like this: “If you keep applying the 80/20 rule, eliminating the wasteful 80%, eventually you’ll end up with nothing.” I suppose the people who argued this point felt they were being clever by using a literal, mathematical interpretation of the rule.

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Once again, the numbers here aren’t that important. The actual applications are less mathematical. When you have a limited amount of time, you won’t be able to perform every task possible. The 80/20 rule suggests you look through all the tasks you normally could perform. Pick the top 20% that create the most results and focus on them. Whatever time you have left can be spent on the less productive 80%.

3. 80/20 to Perfection

Another way I’ve seen the rule misapplied is when building skills. It might take two years to become 80% proficient. But in order to get that last 20% of skill, you need to invest another 8 years. While this is a fair use of the rule, the advice with skills often goes against the 80/20 rule. Instead of eliminating the need for that last 20%, you invest most your time to master the last 20%.

The point of the 80/20 rule is that you should downplay or minimize the inefficient 80% of inputs. There are times, of course, when this rule doesn’t apply. Mastering a skill can be one of those areas where the 80/20 advice is faulty.

However, by recommending the opposite of the 80/20 rule, you can’t really claim the 80/20 rule is in practice here. That would be like saying “haste makes waste” is the same advice as “he who hesitates is lost.”

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4. “But I Still Have to Do It…”

An argument I’ve heard against the 80/20 rule frequently goes like this, “Sure, some tasks are less valuable than others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to get done.” Answering e-mails, making phone calls, or having meetings may appear wasteful, but they still need to get finished, right?

This argument has an element of truth, but it conceals a bigger lie. The truth is that, yes, there are things that need to get done even though they aren’t wildly important. If I stopped answering e-mails, I might miss opportunities, have my network degrade, or lose important messages.

The bigger lie is that you have no control in adjusting where time gets spent. If e-mail isn’t that important, your goal should be to reduce the time you spend on it. If meetings aren’t contributing to the good of the company, you should have shorter meetings. If your hands are really tied and you have no control over how your time is spent, what’s the point of reading productivity blogs like this anyways?

How to Really Use the 80/20 Rule

Pick an area of your life where you feel there is an imbalance of effects. This won’t be true of all areas, but many situations are out of balance (money, time, health, and possibly even relationships).

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Next, try to identify the key 10, 20, or 40 percent of inputs that are creating most of your results. This could be the 10% of time that creates the most returns. It could be the 40% of relationships that create the most happiness for you.

Once you’ve done, this, find ways to emphasize the key percentage. Spend more time on those activities. Place them first in your schedule. Meet up with your key friends more often. Invest more of your money in things that will offer you the most comfort or joy.

Finally, Find ways to downplay or eliminate the rest. Get rid of activities that don’t have a high payoff. Stop spending time in relationships that don’t create enough value. Stop wasting money on investments that aren’t giving you a greater quality of life.

More Tips on Using the 80/20 Rule

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness The Planning Fallacy: Why Your Plans Fail 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How To Create More Time: 21 Ways to Add More Hours to the Day How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now

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Last Updated on October 20, 2021

How to Deal with Digital Distraction to Improve Your Focus

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How to Deal with Digital Distraction to Improve Your Focus

We live in a time where we have access to nearly anything and everything we could ever ask for. But we need to ask ourselves: Is this a good thing? If you’re planning a honeymoon, looking for ways to build your next business, or searching to improve your physical fitness, having an endless portal of information is worth its weight in gold. But if you’re like most individuals throughout the world, the internet has become a source of ongoing anxiety, stress, and fear-mongering—a digital distraction that can have devastating effects on our mental and emotional well-being.

With social media, we see what people want us to see, not what they truly are at all hours during the day. We see what news outlets want us to see with our newsfeed, especially if it’s skewed to connect with your views through a brilliantly designed algorithm. With our information, we confirm our biases through articles, podcast episodes, and reading forums that perfectly reinforce what we already know. Yet, we have to wonder: is this good for us, for our brains, and our long-term growth?

Even with the recent advancements in technology over the last few decades, our brains haven’t changed much. The latest estimates suggest that our modern-day brains haven’t changed in over 40,000 years, which is a blink of an eye on our trajectory of life on our planet as we know it.[1] As a result of this lack of change, our brains haven’t been able to adapt to digital distractions—this rapidly changing technology and fast-paced lifestyle—which was created to hijack our brain’s neural circuitry by creating continuous stressors that have devastating effects on our overall health.

In his infamous book Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky documents how stress affects both animals and humans, essentially making the analogy that stress isn’t bad in small quantities, but repeated and chronic stressors over days, weeks, months, and even years can have detrimental effects on our health. And these stressors don’t even have to be real!

Perceived stress from anxiety, judgment, fear of missing out, and feelings of being inferior to others based on comparisons and social media profiles can have similar effects on our health because the brain cannot truly tell the difference between a real or perceived threat. Technological advancements rarely come without a hidden cost to the people using them.

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While this talk may all sound grim and pessimistic, it doesn’t have to be. The advent of the internet and social media has allowed individuals to express themselves, find their tribe, and connect with others around the world without having to leave their homes. And companies are being built at the kitchen counter of an apartment because of how impactful the internet has become.

To change our current mental health and addiction trajectory, we must understand how to take back control and use these platforms to our advantage. Here are a few tips on how to deal with digital distractions and improve your focus.

1. Kiss Your Notifications Good-Bye

In his hallmark book, Indistractible, Nir Eyal goes into great detail about how social media companies ingeniously created “alerts” to seduce the mind into spending more time on a platform, thus increasing viewing times, creating greater revenue generation, and creating a dependency on updated information. Much like casinos, these tactics heavily involve similar reward pathways within the brain, causing the user to become a dopamine-addicted fiend by using likes, clicks, and alerts to fuel an archaic positive-feedback system that keeps them coming back for more.[2]

Do you actually need to know when someone liked a friend’s page? In the grand scheme of things, how impactful is it to see that you got 20 likes on your post from yesterday? And is it going to change your career trajectory if your friend posted a cat video on their TikTok page?

Let’s be honest, our lives would be much easier if we weren’t inundated with these quick little digital distractions, which is exactly what they are. They’re designed to keep you as a user, which is why you need to take control of your content and filter your settings for alerts.

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Alerts are nothing more than simple distractions to take you away from the task at hand, so why not just get rid of them? Odds are, you are most likely checking your social media page a few times a day anyway. So since you’re already heading to the page, hold off on the distractions while you get your work done.

And this brings us to our next point.

2. Structure Provides Freedom of Choice

Planning your day can be one of the most efficient uses of your time because it sets up the structure needed to accomplish your tasks. This structure inherently allows you greater freedom of choice down the road, as it will allow you to have more free time after you get your work done and finish up deadlines. It will also reinforce that freedom isn’t the lack of boundaries. It is the foundation to allow you to have greater freedom of choice later.

Saving money may not be the most glorious habit. Still, those small habits of saving can compound into significant personal and financial freedoms later in life, essentially allowing you the freedom to retire from work and still have the financial flexibility to continue on with life.

The same is true with using social media and digital platforms for enjoyment. Planning the times and duration for using these platforms can be one of the most efficient uses of your time because it creates boundaries. Influencers on social media platforms don’t have enough time in the day to be scrolling and creating content, but they make you feel like they do. This principle is also true for you, especially those who use digital platforms to promote your brand, business, or company.

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Use your time wisely because we all have a limited and finite amount of it no matter how wealthy you are.

3. Use Digital Platforms to Grow, Not to Show

Who you choose to follow on social media will dictate how productive you are when you’re not actively scrolling. Why? Because your newsfeed will influence the emotions, feelings, and reactions to drive you closer or further away from achieving your goals.

When digital distractions become rampant, they take you away from the tasks at hand and can cause you to feel guilty because of how they make you feel. Just because you aren’t a 27-year-old YouTube channel sensation doesn’t mean you won’t ever achieve the status of being an influential entrepreneur. You can’t compare your chapter 2 to someone else’s chapter 10.

Your choice in following accounts and individuals who will empower you to overcome stressors, hurdles, and personal life choices could give you enough motivation to push through the struggles and face your greatest fears. And if you haven’t taken the time to clean up who you follow on social media, it’s time to make it happen.

Humans are social animals and can be easily influenced by our surroundings. Case in point: Dr. Stanley Milgram performed multiple studies in the 1960s where participants were asked to induce a graded electric shock to an “unknowingly” willing participant in a separate room. Over time, the participants were asked to turn up the intensity of the shocks, reaching a point of lethal shock intensity. Even at lethal shock levels, the participants kept inducing shocks to the individual in the closed room per suggestions from the accompanying individual in the room guiding them through the exercise. Why? Because when people have authority, we inherently obey their orders to feel connected and socially accepted, even if those orders involve drastic actions and near-fatal outcomes.[3]

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Luckily, there were no individuals harmed during these experiments because the participants in the closed room were actors hired to play the part of being shocked. But the information is enough to show just how impactful outside sources of influence—especially authoritative forces like social media influencers and people with high follower counts—can be on changing our behaviors.

Your time spent online should pick you up and help guide you towards your intended goals, not push you down and make you feel inferior to the rest of the world. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we already had a mental health crisis on our hands.[4] Let’s do what we can to reverse it.

4. When You Choose To Focus, Your Life Will Come Into Focus

If you’ve ever been looking for a new car, you know how impactful intentional focus can be on accomplishing a task. It is at this moment when you realize that every other person on the road is driving the same car that you’ve been looking to buy. How is this possible?

The amount of cars on the road hasn’t changed. Your perceptions have. It’s always been that way, but once your brain starts to focus on a specific detail, you start seeing more of it manifest throughout your environment. This happens regardless of whether or not you’re looking for the good, the bad, or the ugly. What you hope to see is what you will eventually get.

When you focus your time and energy on accomplishing your end task, your brain will find things to reinforce this pattern, thus creating an inevitable positive feedback cycle that will take you and your game to the next level. This concept of “The Law of Attraction” can be dated back centuries to many historical figures throughout the world.[5]

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So, the next time you find yourself fazed by digital distractions and lost in the realms of our current digital age, take some time to sit back, lose yourself in your thoughts, and put your phone away. It’s the only way you will make it out alive.

More Tips on Dealing With Distractions

Featured photo credit: Maxim Ilyahov via unsplash.com

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