Most people assume that to become highly effective, they need to do more, take on more tasks, and start more projects. They believe the key to success is by following that one word, ‘more’.
Rather, achieving better results (in less time) is about focusing on less. It’s about identifying those few tasks that really move the needle towards your goals — and protecting your time and energy for these tasks.
As Nathan W. Morriss said, “It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.”
The 80/20 Principle: A Strange Finding From 1906
The 80/20 Principle is a very practical productivity tool that will help you identify those few tasks that truly move the needle in your life and business. Personally, I live according to this productivity principle. I truly find it amazing — and it has fundamentally changed my life.
The 80/20 Principle is a somewhat strange law discovered by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906, who found that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the people. Then, he became somewhat obsessed with this ratio, seeing it in everything.
After carefully studying this ratio, Vilfredo concluded that in most cases, “80% of results come from 20% of effort/time” and this is probably the most important productivity principle in existence.
Richard Koch, who literally wrote the book on the 80/20 Principle, said the following: “The 80/20 principle — that 80 percent of result flow from just 20 percent of the causes — is the one true principle of highly effective people.”
I couldn’t agree more. If there’s one principle highly effective people use in their day-to-day lives, it’s the 80/20 Principle.
According to the 80/20 Principle, about 20% of your tasks lead to 80% of the desired results. These tasks contribute to the most growth, profit, and impact. These tasks are your priorities — and you should protect your time and energy for these tasks.
The remaining 80% of tasks, however, only contribute to 20% of the desired results. These tasks are your ‘busywork’ tasks. They might take up your time and energy, but they don’t contribute much to the results you’re trying to achieve.
“It is not shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways.” — Richard Koch
Only a few tasks and projects are truly important — the rest is not. Most of us try to do more, take on more tasks, and work more hours. In reality, however, this only leads to stress, overwhelm, and burn-out.
Instead, you can achieve far better results in much less time by laser-focusing on the top 20% of tasks that lead to 80% of the results. It’s smart work vs. hard work.
Protect Your Time & Energy For Your Top 20%
Most of us waste too much of our valuable resources — time and energy — on low-value tasks that don’t move the needle that much. Instead, you should strive to allocate the majority of your time and energy to the 20% of tasks that truly matter.
Honestly, one of the most effective decisions you can make to supercharge your productivity is to think carefully and critically about which 20% of tasks lead to 80% of your desired results, and then laser-focus your time, energy, and attention towards these few tasks.
By being relentless about prioritizing the essentials, you become a lot more productive and achieve your goals much faster. In many cases, this means you don’t even have to work more or put in more effort to achieve your goals.
“The few things that work fantastically well should be identified, cultivated, nurtured, and multiplied.”
— Richard Koch
It’s Not Always 80/20
Keep in mind that the 80/20 ratio is not always set in stone. The ratio can also be 70/30 or even 90/10. The key takeaway is that a minority of input causes a majority of output.
For example, in any business, there are a minority of products that make up the majority of sales. There are a minority of employees that cause the majority of the results. And there are a minority of customers that cause the majority of headaches.
In your personal life, there are likely a minority of people that cause the majority of positive emotions — and there’s a minority of people that cause the majority of drama in your life.
Essentially, the 80/20 Principle is all about identifying the tasks, people, or habits that are truly important to your life, business, or career.
Usually, there are only a few things that are essential to your happiness, business success, health, or wealth. Although the rest can definitely be nice and still add some value, it’s non-essential. It won’t move the needle that much — unlike those few things that are essential.
Putting The 80/20 Principle In Practice
When you start living by the 80/20 Principle, I’m confident your life will fundamentally improve — at least that’s what it did for me. It will help you be more focused, more effective, and less overwhelmed.
However, it can sometimes be challenging to identify those 20% of tasks that lead to 80% of results. To make this process a lot easier, I tend to ask myself these three questions:
- Question 1: “If I could only work on max. 5 tasks this whole year, which tasks would I do in order to still achieve my goals?”
- Question 2: “Which 1–5 tasks, if completed today, have a (significant) impact that lasts beyond this month?”
- Question 3: “Which 1–5 tasks have a disproportionate return on time invested?”
By asking yourself these questions, you can identify the most valuable tasks a lot quicker, and simultaneously identify the busywork tasks that you should eliminate, delegate, or outsource more often.
Now Do It
All in all, the 80/20 Principle is a powerful productivity law that will help you achieve better results in less time. The hard part is disciplining yourself to stick with those few essential tasks, as most busywork tasks usually are a lot less complex, more stimulating, and therefore more appealing.
Nevertheless, remember that in most cases, 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. Most things aren’t that important, but a few things are. The key is to identify these priorities and religiously protect your time and energy for them.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab
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