Apply 80/20 to Your Life Now in 3 Simple Steps

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This is the last part of a 3-part series on how to achieve more with less in life using the 80/20 principle. If you haven’t, read part 1 and part 2 first.

There are 3 simple steps to apply the 80/20 to your life, as outlined in Living the 80/20 Way.

Step 1: Identify your 80/20 goals

Start off by identifying your 80/20 goals. They are the 20% of your goals that will give you 80% of total happiness when achieved, where 100% is the collective happiness from achieving all your goals. (Koch referred to them as the 80/20 destination, but I call them the 80/20 goals.)

What are the 20% goals you truly, truly want? What are the 20% goals that really matter to you? These are the goals you should focus disproportionately on. Keep them to 2-3 goals. They should be in line with your life purpose.

The idea is not to overwhelm yourself with 50 goals, because every single goal needs time and effort to achieve it. While you can still have a big list of goals (such as for your bucket list), being clear of your 80/20 goals helps you focus on your big rocks in life.

Step 2: Identify your 80/20 path

Every goal typically has 4 possible paths we can take to achieve it:

  1. Low Effort, Low Reward
  2. High Effort, Low Reward
  3. High Effort, High Reward
  4. Low Effort, High Reward

Now if you are to choose, which path should you take?

If you answered #4: Low Effort, High Reward, you are right! This is also the 80/20 path, the simplest path to achieve maximum results(Koch referred to this as the 80/20 route.)

More with Less Chart

More with Less Chart

Say you are a student and you want to do well in school. Looking at the 4 possible paths, they are

  1. Low Effort, Low Reward: Study at the last minute
  2. High Effort, Low Reward: Attend all lectures but don’t pay attention. Go to classes unprepared. Plan a full timetable to study but not focus when studying.
  3. High Effort, High Reward: Attend all lectures and pay attention. Study every day. Do every assessment book on Earth. Memorize the solutions and answers.
  4. Low Effort, High Reward: Attend key lectures. Understand the key principles of the topics. Identify likely questions that will be tested by examining trends in past papers and talking to professors. Study using mind maps and study techniques for maximum retention.

Out of the four paths, the fourth one will give you the best ROI.

Similarly for every goal, there are always 4 possible paths you can take, one of which is the 80/20 path.

Refer to your 80/20 goal. Ask yourself,

  1. What are all the paths I can take to achieve this?
  2. Out of these, what is the 80/20 path that will take me there?”

Research and understand what others have done to achieve similar goals like yours. Learn from their experience and factor this into your path. Talk to those with more knowledge. Then, map out your 80/20 path.

Step 3: Identify your 80/20 actions

Your 80/20 actions are your key pillars of success.

Instead of jumping straight in the thick of things, take a step back. Study all the actions you can take in your path. Again, study what others who have succeed in this goal did. What are the key actions that will really make a huge difference in the big scheme of things? What are the “need-to-do” vs. the “nice-to-do”? What are the few actions that really matter, and when acted upon, will guarantee success? These are your 80/20 actions.

When I started Personal Excellence, I read a lot of materials written by successful bloggers discussing the methods they used to drive traffic to their sites. Each had different winning formulas, including: word of mouth, guest posting, blog commenting, posting in forums, posting in social bookmarking sites, writing quality content, networking with bloggers, partnership, writing e-books, search engine optimization for Google, getting listed in article directories — all in all, a monstrous list of action steps.

After some trial and error, and observing the general landscape at that time, I concluded that a few actions were significantly more effective than others to drive traffic (they were namely writing quality content, guest posting, and being listed in social bookmarking sites). I then invested all my effort in them vs. using a blanket approach. These were my 80/20 actions.

The results paid off — within my first month of launch, I had gotten 30,000 visitors. Within the first 3 years, I had reached over a million pageviews per month.

Similarly for you, you want to identify your 80/20 actions. You would need to research, experiment, and get your feet wet and try different tactics. The key here is not to shy away from doing, but to (a) try different things, (b) open your mind and learn from others, and then (c) come up with your list of 80/20 actions to act on.

Examining your life areas with 80/20

The 3-step approach applies to all areas of your life. Here are some examples:

  1. Habits. What is your routine today? Any low-value habits you should do away with? What are the 20% key power habits you can pick up to create 80% of value in your life, such as meditation and waking up early?
  2. Thoughts. Observe the thoughts that run through your mind. Which thoughts make you feel good? Which thoughts make you feel negative? What are the 20% high-value thoughts you can focus on to make your day better? What 80% low-value thoughts can you eliminate?
  3. Health. What is your current diet? What are the few key things you can do to improve your health? Drinking 8 glasses of water? Eating more fruits and vegetables? Eating foods with a high nutritional value?
  4. Relationships. What are all your current relationships? List them down — your family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, relatives. Which 20% of your relationships give you 80% of your happiness? How can you increase your time on these 20% relationships to get more out of them?
  5. Career. Are you in a career that you enjoy? If not, what is your 80/20 path to transition to your ideal career? If you love your current job, what are the 20% tasks that you enjoy the most — and how can you do them more often to increase your passion for your work?
  6. Wealth. What are the 20% activities that generate most of your wealth now? How can you focus on them to increase your profit? If you are an employee, what are the key variables that your pay is linked with? How can you focus on those variables to maximize your performance?
  7. Productivity. What are your daily to-dos? Which 20% of your daily tasks create the most value and happiness? How can you spend more time on these 20%? How can you cut away, reduce, or delegate the 80% tasks that do not give you much in return?

Practicing 80/20 In My Life

I’ve been applying the 80/20 principle in my life for over 10 years. Each time I do so, I’m affirmed about its value:

  • Relationships. Over the years, I realized that while I have many people on my social networks, 80% of my enjoyment comes from a few key individuals. My husband, family members, few best friends, and the readers who appreciate what I do. Thus, I focus more on developing these relationships, while reducing time from the relationships that drain me.
  • Habits. I cultivate the few key habits that make the most difference in my life: (a) waking up early, (b) meditating, and (c) healthy eating. Though these habits look very simple, they bring along a huge host of benefits. After cultivating them, I’m much more productive, focused, and happier. I also know that by practicing them, I’m improving my health and potential life span.
  • Business. A simple analysis of my customers shows me that 20% of my customers contribute to a large proportion of my sales — these are my most loyal customers who trust my work, who know that I always put out the best quality stuff. A further analysis shows that 20% of my readers care enough to purchase my products, send appreciative notes, and spread my work to others. On a different note, a very small % of my total audience, maybe 0.01%, contribute to majority of the negativity and toxicity that I sometimes get from running a public site. Following the 80/20 rule, I know to always cut out the latter while focusing on the people who value my work, rather than thinking that I need to serve everyone and kill myself doing so.
  • Daily Life. After reflecting on my daily activities, I found that I’m most inspired when I’m in nature and when I’m connected with like-minded individuals. Thus, I find ways to do these more often. Whenever I can, I go to the beach and parks with my husband. I seek out meetups and opportunities to connect with people who share the same interests. At the same time, I’m constantly removing tasks that drain me. Doing this, I get more value out of my everyday life. Life becomes much more fulfilling and rewarding.

Moving Forward

Think about how you can apply the 80/20 to your life and your individual life areas. Start with a small area of your life first, such as relationships or health, then move on from there. You will start truly to experience the meaning of “Less is More” and “More with Less.” Good luck! 🙂

This is the last part of a 3-part series on how to achieve more with less in life using the 80/20 principle.

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