Using the 80/20 Principle to Improve Your Productivity and Happiness

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less Just finished reading The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch, an inspiration for Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Workweek. Short version: Vilfredo Pareto (the 80/20 Principle is also known as Pareto’s Law) was an Italian economist who was studying wealth and income distribution in Victorian England. He discovered–you guessed it–that 80% of the wealth was held by 20% of the people, and that the general distributional pattern held for almost anything else you might apply it to.

Koch and Ferriss contend that we can all be happier and more productive if we follow the same principle, figure out what’s really driving results in our lives, and focus on that–while ignoring all the other stuff. It can make for hard decisions, but worthwhile if the theory pans out. Allow me to excerpt my favorite part of Koch’s wisdom:

“The Top 10 Low-Value Uses of Time

  1. Things other people want you to do
  2. Things that have always been done this way
  3. Things you’re not unusually good at doing
  4. Things you don’t enjoy doing
  5. Things that are always interrupted
  6. Things few other people are interested in
  7. Things that have already taken twice as long as you originally expected
  8. Things where your collaborators are unreliable or low quality
  9. Things that have a predictable cycle
  10. Answering the telephone

The Top 10 Highest-Value Uses of Time

  1. Things that advance your overall purpose in life
  2. Things you have always wanted to do
  3. Things already in the 20/80 relationship of time to results
  4. Innovative ways of doing things that promise to slash the time required and/or multiply the quality of results
  5. Things other people tell you can’t be done
  6. Things other people have done successfully in a different arena
  7. Things that use your own creativity
  8. Things that you can get other people to do for you with relatively little
    effort on your part
  9. Anything with high-quality collaborators who have already transcended the 80/20 rule of time, who use time eccentrically and effectively
  10. Things for which it is now or never”

Amen! Or to put it slightly differently (this is advice from the mother of Marion Stoddart, the heroine of my documentary film The Work of 1000), “If you ever have a choice, choose the more exciting.” Eliminate the rote, the boring, the standard-issue, and make your life count by doing something different.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.