Insights from the book ‘The 80/20 Principle‘ by Richard Koch.
Time to Read: 5:49 minutes
“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” – John C. Maxwell
The 80/20 Principle states that 80% of our daily effort yields less than 20% the perceived daily value.
- 80% of the meetings you attend could probably go unattended
- 80% of the emails you reply to could probably be handled by someone else
- 80% of the items on your to-do list could probably go ‘undone’ with little effect on your life three months from now
Upon reflecting on my time over the last few days I realized that only a few hours yielded meaningful results. This realization have radically altered my view of time.
“Time management implicitly assumes that we know what is and is not a good use of our time. If the 80/20 Principle holds, this is not a safe assumption.” – Richard Koch
In the 80/20 Principle, author Richard Koch makes the following statements regarding time:
- Most of what we do is of low value.
- Some small fragments of our time are much more valuable than all the rest.
- If we can do anything about this, we should do something radical: there is no point tinkering around the edges or making our use of time a little more efficient.
- If we make good use of only 20 percent of our time, there is no shortage of it!
When you spend more time in ‘high value’ areas of your life you generate an abundance of time.
If 20% of your efforts yield 80% of the valuable results in your life, than doubling your time in those efforts should yield results that appear to have a 160% value (a 60% bonus to your expected experience).
Doubling the time you spend on rewarding activities generates a surplus of value in your life.
But how do we know what those ‘high-value’ efforts are and how can we direct our time towards more ‘high-value’ activities?
Pause & Reflect
To find the most rewarding activities in your life you need to stop rushing and start observing.
“80/20 thinking requires, and with practice enables, us to spot the few really important things that are happening and ignore the mass of unimportant things.” – Richard Koch
Since 80% of our efforts yield just 20% of the valuable results in our life, it is imperative that we learn to pause throughout the day and reflect on our efforts.
By periodically pausing we are less likely to engage in a low-value activity.
If we remain ‘busy’ throughout the day we forget that the 80/20 Principle altogether. When we learn to pause and reflect on our actions can we can interrupt the ‘busyness’ of our lives.
How do you recognize a 20% (significant) item?
Simple yet effective. Something you love doing and is valuable to others. Something that provides you with a lasting positive charge (an increase to your personal energy). Something that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. Something that leads to a lasting impact on your life and the lives of others. An activity you find completely engaged in and measurably better than others at.
- Teaching a co-worker a valuable skill that you possess that will aid their career
- Taking time to cook with your family and build healthy eating habits
- Comforting a loved one during a difficult time
How do you recognize a 80% (low value) item?
Something that could easily be done by someone else. Something you hate doing and only has a marginal impact on people’s lives. Something you are doing because it has always been done that way.
- Responding to an email thread just to get the last word in
- Attending meetings simply because you’ve been told to
- Writing a document without a clear outline or intended purpose
Populate 80/20 Lists
Create two lists:
- Low-Value Activities List
- High-Value Activities List
Observe the effort you take all day long. Become a keen observer of your daily experience. Frequently ask yourself: “is this the best use of my time?”.
- If the answer is ‘No’, add it to the ‘Low-Value Activities List’ (80% item).
- If the answer is ‘Yes’, add it to the ‘High-Value Activities List’ (20% item).
I have found that all 20% items provide me with either a lasting increase in personal energy or a sense of meaning. If I feel energized and fulfilled after an activity I can confidently add that activity to ‘High Value’ list. If I experience no change to my energy levels and my work feels meaningless (doesn’t seem to benefit anyone in significant way), then I add that activity to the ‘Low Value’ list.
Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between a 20% item and an 80% item without conducting some tests. I like to run small trials to see if my effort is yielding a valuable result or not. I look for early signs of significance.
At the end of the week you can reflect on the list of items and plan ways to avoid or delegate the low value 80% activities and build routines/habits around the high value 20% activities..
- What habits can you work on this week to ensure the 20% activities are easier to do?
- What do I need to avoid to ensure I don’t fall into the trap of doing an 80% activity?
Habitualize the 20%
“Whenever you spot a 20 percent activity, run to it, surround yourself with it, immerse yourself in it, patent it, make yourself its expert, worshipper, high priest, partner, creator, propagandist, and indispensable ally. Make the most of it. If the most appears to be more than you can imagine, multiply your imagination.” – Richard Koch
It is important to establish routines and build habits around ‘high-value’ activities. We are creatures of habit and a habit can be executed frequently with very little effort.
I have a habitualized a routine for eating well, exercising daily, going to bed early, interacting with the people I love and reading every day.
Systematize the 80%
Build systems that prevent you from getting trapped by ‘80% items’.
Establish systems in your life to prevent yourself from performing low-value activities.
- Delegate certain work tasks.
- Hire someone to take over part of your role.
- Use autoresponders for certain emails or times of the day.
- Turn off all notifications and email send/receive during certain times of the day.
- Install a program on your computer that prevents you from accessing distracting websites.
Re-Allocate Your Energy
Take the energy used to execute 80% activities and use that energy to build 20% habits.
“Use our resources to seize, magnify and exploit any 20% you come across.” – Richard Koch
Stop all 80% activities as soon as you can. When you stop 80% activities you can re-allocate that energy to 20% activities – activities that yield 80% of the results.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
Saying ‘No’ and stopping all non-essential, ‘low-value’ activities is a core principle in life and in business.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs turned Apple into a profitable company by eliminating all but four Apple products (iMac, iBook, Power Macintosh and Powerbook). He reestablished the Apple identity by ruthlessly eliminating 70% of all Apple products and lead the company to be one of the most profitable companies in history.
“Ruthlessly prune 80% activities. 80% time drives out 20% time. 80% assets deprive 20% activities of funds. 80% business relationships displace 20% ones. Mental energy expended on 80% activities takes away from 20% projects.” – Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle
Stop trying to frantically get through the ‘80% items’ on your to-do list in the hopes that doing enough of them will mean something. Instead, use your time and energy to build routines around 20% of activites that reward you with the most results.
“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” ― Peter F. Drucker
Give your best energies to the most important parts of your life. Use your time to strengthen and multiplying the 20% ‘high-value’ items.
Periodically pause and reflect on the 80% of activities that add little to no value to your life. Systematically remove these activities from your life and use the newly acquired time and energy to build habits around the 20% of activities that provide you personal energy and a sense of meaning.
Throughout the day ask yourself “is this the best use of my time?”. If the answer is ‘No…’ add it to your 80% list. If the answer is ‘YES!’ add it to your 20% list.
The end of each week review your 20% list and pick one item that you want to turn into a daily habit (make it automatic and effortless by attaching it to an existing habit, like brushing your teeth in the morning). Then review your 80% list and pick one item you want to systematically remove from your life. Come up with a way of delegating or preventing that item from showing up in your life.
Eventually you will find yourself doing more 20% (high-value) activities and less 80% (low-value) activities.
“Those who ignore the 80/20 Principle are doomed to average returns. Those who use it must bear the burden of exceptional achievement.” – Richard Koch