The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less
Life gets busy. Has The 80/20 Principle been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Have you ever felt like the proverbial hamster on a wheel? You feel like you are running furiously, yet stay in the same place. Perhaps your results are not growing proportionately to the additional work you put in.
The 80/20 Principle is the idea that 80 percent of all our results in business and life stem from 20 percent of our efforts. The 80/20 principle argues that little of what we spend our time on actually counts. By focusing on the aspects that matter, we can unlock the enormous potential of the magic 20 percent. With the 80/20 Principle, you can elevate your effectiveness in your job, career, business, and life.
The 80/20 Principle places a strong emphasis on the importance of prioritization in achieving peak results.
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“This book explores the nonlinear world, discusses the mathematical and historical support for the 80/20 Principle, and offers practical applications of the same. Read it and use it”– Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek
About Richard Koch
Richard Koch is an entrepreneur and former management consultant. He is also a writer of several books on applying the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) in all walks of life. Richard’s investments include Filofax, Plymouth Gin, the Great Little Trading Company, and Betfair. Previously, he was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and later a partner at Bain and Company. After his consulting career, he started a management consulting firm, L.E.K. Consulting, with Jim Lawrence and Iain Evans.
StoryShot #1: 80/20 Thinking Emphasizes Self-Reflection and Thought Before Action
Spotting the Important Features
80/20 thinking is the art of spotting the most important facets of our environment and circumstances. Practitioners of this principle are reflective, unconventional, hedonistic, strategic, and nonlinear. To think in this way, adopt an extreme form of ambition to want to change everything for the better. However, this approach should not descend into arrogance. Instead, 80/20 thinking is best adopted and practiced in a relaxed and confident manner.
Maintaining a Reflective Approach
The modern way of thinking emphasizes rushed action instead of reflection. This type of thinking neglects the preciousness of quiet contemplation. Don’t take action until you have effectively reflected on your thoughts and insights. Once you have narrowed down your potential options, you can chart your action plan. This approach will foster impressive results while requiring less energy and resources.
80/20 Thinking Is Unconventional
80/20 thinking is about taking non-standard approaches to solving a problem. You can challenge ideas and discover where conventional wisdom is wrong. In areas where ‘traditional’ practices are wrong, try to do things differently based on unconventional wisdom.
The Nonlinear Nature of 80/20 Thinking
Conventional thinking uses a linear mental model. Linear models can be inaccurate and destructive. We fall back on linear models, as they are simple. However, this thinking has limited benefits and is not conducive to conceiving radical ideas that change the world. Scientists and historians eschew linear thinking. We should follow suit and do the same. Examine nonlinear relationships that others neglect. Only a few decisions truly matter. But those decisions are transformational and exponential to success.
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StoryShot #2: 80/20 Happiness Is Actively Seeking Out Happiness Today Instead of Waiting for a Future Day
Society equates happiness with having and spending money. However, money and happiness get spent and saved in very different ways. Money has the potential for compound interest. You can save and invest money, and it will multiply through compound interest. The same is not valid for happiness. You cannot save today’s happiness to spend tomorrow. Avoiding happiness will lead to atrophy. If you do not exercise regularly, your muscles will gradually get weaker. Your ability to generate happiness follows the same principle. Adopters of 80/20 happiness understand what creates happiness and actively pursue happiness generators. This is how you can build compound interest in happiness. You should not save your happiness. Instead, spend your happiness and actively seek it today to reap benefits tomorrow.
80% of our achievements and happiness occur in 20% of our time. However, we can heavily expand these peaks by seeking more happiness. The most effective way of doing this is by recognizing the factors that cause happiness and making decisions accordingly.
StoryShot #3: Your Success Depends on Being Able to Find and Stick to Your Strengths
Everybody has the potential to achieve something significant in their lives. However, outsized efforts are not necessarily the key to this success. Instead, you need to find the right thing to achieve. You will be more productive in specific areas than others. Do not dilute your effectiveness by focusing on areas where you are less productive or skillful. You should also avoid engaging in areas that others suggest for you. Your success will come from choosing the areas you want to engage with.
A good example is Apple’s Steve Jobs, who famously said “I hire smart people and get out of their way”. Jobs understood that he wasn’t an expert at every aspect of the business. So he spent his time focused on what he knew best and hired people he trusted to get the job done.
StoryShot #4: 80% of Your Investing Success Comes From 20% of Your Investments
Typically, only 20% or less of your investments drive 80% of your wealth growth. This rule mainly applies to long-term portfolios. As an investor, conduct careful research to find your top picks for the long term. Once you have identified these stocks, back them and monitor them closely. These successful investments should remain in the portfolio to compound. Taking profits quickly is counter-productive. Hold on to these sound investments as long as they still perform well and have room for growth. Once you have identified and picked a winning stock, there is no reason to get out of the investment as long as it rewards you.
Warren Buffett is a great example of the 80-20 rule in investing. As of September 2022, seven investments made up 80% of his portfolio of 52 securities.
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StoryShot #5: 20% of Your Relationships Will Drive 80% of Your Success and Happiness
Society places significant importance on having a vast network of allies and relationships. However, you can do without an extensive Rolodex to be successful. Instead, you need to ensure you have the right relationships. These relationships will depend on the stage of your life and your current environment. The best relationships advance your mutual interests, regardless of external factors.
Not all your relationships are of equal importance. 20% of your relationships will constitute 80% of value towards your interests. Focus most of your attention on nurturing the alliances you have identified as the most important. These alliances will be crucial to your success, as you can only go so far alone.
StoryShot #6: 80/20 in the Workplace Is When a Few People Drive the Majority of Business Results
80% of the value in any organization or profession comes from 20% of the professionals. Generally, this 20% will earn slightly more money than the 80%. However, this pay difference does not accurately reflect the difference in performance. Subsequently, the best people are always underpaid, and the worst people are always overpaid.
As an employee, you can take advantage of this system. Instead of working hard across several areas, engage with the highest-value activities. Koch describes this as being intelligent and lazy. The activities with the highest value produce 80% of returns from just 20% of the effort.
StoryShot #7: 80% of Your Wins Come By Simply Choosing the Right Team
In life, there are always winners and losers. Notably, there are always more losers than winners. Therefore, you must choose the right competition, team, and methods to increase your chances of winning. Ultimately, your aim is to rig the odds in your favor.
Take your time to assess the competitive field and determine whether you even want to engage in a particular competition. Your team is a critical factor in this decision. You can win effectively and consistently by surrounding yourself with the right people.
StoryShot #8: Prioritize The 20% of Activities That Drive 80% of Results
80% of achievement comes from 20% of the total time spent. Conversely, 80% of time spent leads to only 20% of output value. Based on these statistics, most of our actions are ’low value’ actions. We need to maximize our use of time. This does not mean that time is our enemy. Instead, treat time as your friend. Place yourself in comfortable, relaxed, and collaborative positions to use time as an opportunity. Don’t waste your time trying to make marginal improvements to your productivity within your available time. Alternatively, consider doubling your time spent on the top 20% of activities. This one act can unlock up to 60% greater output in just a two-day week.
Avoid Glorifying Hard Work
Effort is not always associated with reward. We need to make a conscious effort away from the traditional ideal of a strong work ethic bringing success. Humans naturally enjoy hard work. However, the only reason we enjoy hard work is the feeling of virtue we receive from working hard. In comparison, insight and engaging with the actions we choose for ourselves lead to superior returns.
The Top 10 Low-Level Activities
Low-level activities often fill your time and prevent you from engaging in high-level activities. There are ten specific low-level activities that people often struggle with:
- Things other people want you to do.
- Things that have always been done this way.
- Things you’re not particularly good at doing.
- Things you don’t enjoy doing.
- Things that are always interrupted.
- Things few other people are interested in.
- Things that have already taken twice as long as you originally expected.
- Things where your collaborators are unreliable or low quality.
- Things that have a predictable cycle.
- Answering the telephone.
The Top 10 Highest-Value Activities
There are also several high-level activities you should incorporate into your life. If you spend more time on these activities, you will increase your chances and consistency of success.
- Things that advance your purpose in life.
- Things you have always wanted to do.
- Things already in the 80/20 relationship of time to results.
- Innovative ways of doing things that promise to slash the time required and/or multiply the quality of results.
- Things other people tell you can’t be done.
- Things other people have done successfully in different areas.
- Things that use your own creativity.
- Things that you can get other people to do for you with relatively little effort on your part.
- Anything with high-quality collaborators who have already transcended the 80/20 rule of time.
- Things for which it is now or never.
StoryShot #9: 80% of Business Success Originates From the Top 20% of Decisions Taken
One of the most common mistakes businesses make is trying to do too many things for too many people. The reality is that a few factors are much more important than others. Additionally, only a select few people create most of the value in a business. Prioritize hiring people who fit the mold of your best-performing employees.
Your marketing should center on your most important customers. Often, a minority of your customers will generate the majority of your product sales. The vast number of people buying your products are not regular or large customers. You can de-prioritize marketing to this group. Aim to keep your best customers forever.
Two golden rules for marketing to the 20% are:
- Focus on providing a stunning product and service to 20% of the existing product line. This is the part that generates 80% of profit.
- You will only be successful in marketing if what you are marketing is unique or better value than products available elsewhere.
In the short term, marketing to the minority might not seem effective. However, you will substantially enhance long-term profit if you focus on the top 20% of your customers. This is because a business’ health is not based on short-term profitability. Instead, it is based on the strength, depth, and length of its relationship with its core customers.
StoryShot #10: The 80/20 Principle in Project Management Allows Teams to Focus on Mission-Critical Tasks
Effective project management relies on focusing all team members on the things that matter. An outline of how to plan a project using the 80/20 rule is as follows:
- In the planning phase, write down all critical issues you’re trying to resolve. If there are over 7, bump off the least important.
- Construct hypotheses on what the answers are, even if it’s pure guesswork.
- Work out what information needs to be gathered to resolve whether you are right or not with your guesses.
- Decide who is allocated to your ‘what’ and ‘when’.
- Re-plan after short intervals based on new knowledge and any divergences from previous guesses.
StoryShot #11: 20% of Points Drive 80% of Value in a Negotiation
20% or fewer of negotiated considerations will comprise over 80% of the disputed issue’s value. Despite this, people tend to aim to win as many points in a negotiation setting as possible. This approach causes them to focus on unimportant issues and become unwilling to concede them in negotiations.
In a negotiation, it’s strategic to concede these unimportant points. The latter stages of negotiation are the most important. 80% of the concessions will occur in the last 20% of the time available. As such, make your most important requests near the end rather than at the beginning of a negotiation.
Final Summary and Review of The 80/20 Principle
The 80/20 Principle is the idea that the majority of our success and happiness comes from the minority of work we do and the decisions we make. By optimizing this minority, we can increase the quality and frequency of our desired results. However, adopting the 80/20 principle into your life requires discipline and self-confidence. It is easy to get caught up with more mundane tasks and actions in our day-to-day lives. Training your mind to filter out non-value add tasks efficiently is critical to unlocking the myriad benefits of the 80/20 principle.
Let’s go over the key insights one more time: Tag us on social media and share your perspectives.
- 80/20 thinking emphasizes self-reflection and thought before action.
- 80/20 happiness is actively seeking out happiness today instead of waiting for a future day.
- Your success depends on being able to find and stick to your strengths.
- 80% of your investing success comes from 20% of your investments.
- 20% of your relationships will drive 80% of your success and happiness.
- 80/20 in the workplace is when a few people drive the majority of business results.
- 80% of your wins come by simply choosing the right team.
- Prioritize the 20% of activities that drive 80% of results.
- 80% of business success originates from the top 20% of decisions taken.
- The 80/20 principle in project management allows teams to focus on mission-critical tasks.
- 20% of points drive 80% of value in a negotiation.
We rate this timeless book 4.5/5.
This article was first published in July 2021. It was updated and fully revised in Dec 2022.
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