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"The 80/20 Way enables anyone to get extraordinary results without extraordinary effort." Richard Koch

The old "less is more" adage doesn't apply to work, right? To succeed, to get ahead, you have to put in the hours; go the extra mile; work harder and longer than everyone else. Or maybe not.

Veteran entrepreneur and management consultant Richard Koch writes, "Instead of working to live, we live to work. If we had more self-confidence and the right philosophy, we could accomplish even more than we do now and enjoy our work more, yet labor for fewer hours and conserve a larger part of our energy for our family and social lives." His revolutionary book, Living the 80/20 Way is a guide to that "right" philosophy - and to extracting more joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction from all aspects of our life and work.

The Pareto Principle

Over a century ago, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that in countries like the US, France, and Britain, a mere 20 percent of people controlled about 80 percent of the wealth. Extrapolated out, the Pareto Principle holds that the "top 20 percent of people, natural forces, economic inputs, or any other causes typically lead to about 80 percent of results."

We've all see the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 principle, in action. Say you have a group of 50 employees; the top 20 percent outperform the bottom 80 percent. Though there are only 10 of these high-performers, they achieve four times more than the other 40.

As individuals, the top 20 percent produce results that are 10 to 20 times greater than the bottom 80 percent. But that does not mean they are 10 to 20 times smarter. Instead, says Koch, "it is the methods and resources that they use...that are unusually powerful." They understand how to do more with less, to create better results with less effort.

Stop Trying to Do More to Get More

Koch applies the 80/20 principle to enjoyment and achievement: that is 20 percent of your activities reap 80 percent of your results. Another way to think about it: the things you spend 80 percent of your time on (waiting in line, grocery shopping, filling out paperwork), deliver only 20 percent of your results.

Concentrate the bulk of your time, energy, and resources on the most important aspects life, the 20 percent, and avoid becoming mired in the unproductive 80 percent. Increase the time you spend on the activities that offer the greatest return on happiness and success - and less on the many more tasks that take you further from those goals.

Sounds easy enough!

Focusing on the Top 20 Percent

There's no doubt about it: refocusing on the top 20 percent of your priorities can be difficult. Koch offers some suggestions to get started.

  • Identify the activities that provide a "poor happiness or achievement return". For example, does binge-watching Netflix bring you joy? (Really, though?). Cut back to one episode, and use that time on high-return activities, like reading, writing, socializing, or exercising.
  • Think of times you felt most happy and most creative. Under what conditions did you experience these feelings? Were they at the same time of day? At a specific place? Were you by yourself or part of a group? What were you doing?
  • Find ways to increase the time you spend on those activities. How can you make room for the 20 percent? What low-value tasks can you eliminate?

Applying the 80/20 Way

What is so useful about Koch's book is that it is not simply a business book. While invaluable for knowledge workers, Living the 80/20 Way offers critical lessons for applying the 80/20 principle to all dimensions of life:

Your Self: Determine what you really care about. What matters to you? What skills do you possess? What has meaning to you and will help you become the person you want to be?

Your Work and Success: Instead of trying to do more, figure out the outcomes you want to achieve. Find the easiest route to get there, and one that offers the most enjoyment.

Your Money: How can you eliminate money as a worry? Koch suggests committing to investing 10% of your salary for long-term growth. This relatively small amount of money, and effort, will reap generous rewards that enable you to achieve your goals (e.g. a comfortable retirement, college funds for the kids, etc.).

Your Relationships: Do some "friends" and acquaintances drain your energy? They may just be in the bottom 80 percent! The reality is that 20 percent of your relationships provide the majority of your happiness and fulfillment. Focus here, where it matters.

The Simple, Good Life: It's easy to get stuck on the treadmill, working more and more to afford cars, homes, clothes; we want to keep up, to compete, and to win. But, often, it brings only transitory joy, if that. Decluttering and exiting the "rat race" can help us focus our time, money, and energy on what does make us happy.

Koch suggests a three-pronged approach for each of these dimensions.

  1. Find your 80/20 destination. Where is it you want to go? What's important to you in each of these realms? For example, you may want to spend more time with your family, secure a promotion, or start your own business.
  2. Identify your 80/20 route. How will you arrive at your destination? What steps do you need to take? For example, if your goal is to save for retirement, your route may include having 10 percent of your check automatically withdrawn each pay period. Low effort, high reward.
  3. Take 80/20 action. List three action steps that you can take now to achieve your goal.

Realizing that 80 percent of what you do is "unworthy of your time and energy" can be depressing - or it can be the eye-opener you need to make a change. If you've been struggling to get more by doing more, it may be time to embrace the 80/20 Way.


Larry Hart

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