He who would make serious use of his life must always act as though he had a long time to live and must schedule his time as though he were about to die.
The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) put forth what has been called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. The rules asserts that 80 percent of what’s accomplished comes from 20 percent of the time invested. This implies that 80 percent of effort is wasted or irrelevant.
In your personal life, 20 percent of your life produces 80 percent of your happiness. Twenty percent of your clothes will be worn 80 percent of the time. Twenty percent of the food you eat contains 80 percent of the calories you ingest. Eighty percent of the value of a book can be found in 20 percent or fewer of it’s pages. Eighty percent of significant outputs are caused by 20 percent of decisions. Our lives are often profoundly affected by these decisions; many major decisions are often made by default. Eighty percent of mental anguish is caused by 20 percent of your human interactions. Eighty percent of enjoyment of life comes from 20 percent of life’s’ experiences.
Many projects could be completed with 80 percent of their value in 20 percent of the time. Perfection supports the law of diminishing returns. There is good and good enough. The dilemma is where to draw the line between good and good enough. It’s a trade off between quality and time invested. The answer lies in the question that always needs to be asked – is it the best use of your time? Is it a conscious use of your time or is it a mindless, automatic, repetition of a habit? Mastery requires the conscious use of time towards a goal or objective that you value. Perfectionism and obsessive behavior is often just the by-product of unconscious behavior stemming from low self esteem. Does the individual who obsesses over a spotless immaculate clean house or a perfectly manicured lawn really value their time or are they worried about what the neighbors will think? Do they truly understand the value of their time and are they using this valuable, finite resource properly? The answer to this question isn’t always obvious, but needs to be constantly asked.
Grasping the value of time and applying the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) creates a momentum towards successful living and this momentum propels you past a tipping point. By properly valuing your time you gain “success momentum”. This momentum propels you over a certain invisible line (tipping point) and you discover that a small amount of additional effort can reap huge returns. The rich get richer not because of superior abilities but because “success momentum” has propelled them beyond the tipping point. Like attracts like and riches beget riches. If you start with gold fish almost exactly the same size, those that are slightly bigger become very much bigger, because even with only slight initial advantages in stronger propulsion and larger mouths, they are able to capture and gobble up disproportionate amount of food.
The 80/20 principle implies that we should do the following:
- Look for short cuts.
- Be selective rather than exhaustive.
- Strive for excellence in a few things, rather than good performance in many.
- Whenever possible, delegate or outsource routine, rote, non-creative work and tasks.
- Choose your friends, your spouse or significant other with extraordinary care. The 80/20 principle is counter intuitive. We like to live our lives as if all personal relationships have equal value. One of the most important decisions one can make is the choice of allies. Almost nothing of significance can be achieved without allies. Most relationships are by default (marrying your high school sweetheart, socializing with your next door neighbor or contemplating going into business with the person who shares your cubicle at work) rather than by choice. Consider choosing a few allies carefully and build their alliances carefully to achieve specific objectives. Many fall into the trap of having too many superficial relationships and no appropriately selected inner circle or support group. There is a story about Mark Victor Hansen the motivational speaker who created the Chicken Soup for the Soul empire. Years ago, before his great success, Hansen approached Tony Robbins at an event where they were both speaking and said “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m doing okay, I’m making about a million dollars a year doing what I’m doing. I know for a fact that you made $156 million last year with your speaking and teaching and all your products. How do you do it? How can I do it?” Robbins turned to Hansen and asked “Who is in your mastermind group?” That’s a group of like-minded people who meet to generate ideas and create accountability. “Millionaires,” replied Hansen. “We are all millionaires.” “That’s what you’re doing wrong,” Robbins remarked. “You need to find yourself some billionaires and begin associating with them! They’ll get you thinking at their level.”