The 80/20 Rule — How to Perfect your Skillset

Feel like you don’t know how to sell your wide range of skills? You’re not alone. One of the most common dilemmas my coaching clients is answering the question “So, what do you want to do?” Most of them have a very broad skillset and dozens of talents that would help any employer. The challenge is choosing which skills to concentrate on, and which ones to set aside. The 80/2o rule helps guide that narrowing and perfecting of your skillset.

The 80/20 Rule

It sounds like a mathematical formula but don’t fret, this isn’t a lesson on statistics. The rule came from an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who stated that 80% of the Italian income was earned by 20% of the Italian population. It’s known now as the “Pareto Principle” and can be applied to nearly everything.

What this means is that 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. Put another way, 20% of your activities equate to 80% of your happiness. Instead of focusing on income, we will focus on your efforts on 20% of your skillset, and improve your overall well being and “happiness factor.”

Hone your skill set by narrowing it to 20% of what you can do best.

To prove this theory, look at the distribution of wealth in America. The top 20% of all wage earners controls the majority of the economy, makes the most money, and pays most of the taxes. Look at business, the top earners are a small percentage of companies who earn the largest portion of revenue. And if you look at your own habits, you most likely spend most of your income on few things like your mortgage, car payment, food and you probably spend most of your time with a few people each day.

How can you use the 80/20 rule to maximize your output?

Let’s look at John Maxwell. He says in his talks that he is only good at a few things. Therefore, he doesn’t waste time with those things he cannot do, or does not want to do. By focusing on what you are good at — those few things — and not waste time on those things you are not good at, you maximize your efficiency and are able to improve upon your skill set, and increase what you are good at and what you love to do.

Identify the top 10 things you are best at. Then trim it to five. Then three. Then pick two to perfect.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of how to become an expert; the common thread is spending 10,000 hours perfecting one’s craft. If you spread yourself across the board, become a Jack of all trades, master of none, than your efficiency rate decreases and no longer will the 80/20 rule work in your favor.

Recently, Gladwell refined his 10,000 hour guideline by stating it required actual talent as a starting point. He joked that even if he practiced chess for 10,000 hours, he would never be a grand master. So, what parts of your skillset identify your talents?

Identify your 20% — and your 80%

Honing your 20% takes some effort. Take an hour and make two lists:

  1. Identify skills you love to do, and ones you are really good at. This is a difficult exercise, because you’re going to identify the things that you’re truly good at, and not just the things you are average at but enjoy doing.
  2. Identify skills that aren’t your best, or the ones where you are simply average. Each of us is our biggest critic, so this exercise is usually pretty easy.

Shuffle from list 1 to list 2 until you have the left side down to less than 5 items. Now pick two of the five, and perfect those skills. Everything on the other list will cause you to waste time and decrease your efficient self.

If you are able, hire someone to do those tasks that fall on that list. Share duties with your children, spouse, roommate, significant other, co-worker, team members etc. Trade your time and skillset for theirs. You will find that focusing on those 20% tasks, the 80% yield will be worthwhile.


Originally published at A.C. Wibe.

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