Here is something that a few people figure out early on in life, and apply it to everything. For others, it eludes them for a lifetime, and they pay the price accordingly. Known by a couple of different names, this principal will pay dividends in any endeavor. Pareto’s Law, the 80/20 Rule, the Vital Few versus the Trivial Many, whatever you wish to call it, you need to learn this concept and apply it in every facet of your life.
On any given day, you only have so much bandwidth or attention span to give. You cannot multi-task outside of things like walking and chewing gum or listening to music while you work or work out. Your brain is not really set up for multi-tasking, but rather single tasking, and rapidly switching back and forth between tasks when necessary. Some get good at this part, but any time you divide your attention, details will slip and errors will occur. This is why you have to narrow your focus. Let me give you some examples…
If you have a deadline to meet while working on a project, you cannot stop and answer every email that hits your inbox during the process of working on your project. By dividing your attention among several different tasks, you are diminishing the effectiveness of what you are churning out. There is various studies that show that it takes you a fair amount of time to click back into the focus of your main task, and this lost time is valuable and cannot be compromised. Turn off your phone and your email notifications and truly focus on the task at hand. Otherwise, you are likely to make errors and have to redo certain parts of the project.
In a different example, 80% of your company’s revenue will likely come from about twenty percent of your client base. This means that the “problem child” clients that don’t produce much revenue but do occupy a lot of time from the client services team or Sales Manager need to be trimmed from the client list or coached to be a more compatible client. Not all business is good business, and if you have a client or partner that is a huge time suck without putting some serious money to the bottom line, you need to change that behavior or cut bait. It is not an easy conversation to have, but it is a necessary one. Your life will be much easier if you do, trust me.
As an athlete, I did not try to master every single aspect of my sport. I focused on the important pieces first, and I maximized my strengths. There was about 20% of the overall skill set that I was just not going to ever be great at, and so I trimmed them off of the practice agenda to allow more time to focus on the 80% of skills that are going to be necessary to win. Very rarely did I find myself in a situation that this did not work, or that I felt like I came up short because of not having mastered skills that I wasn’t good at. I lost to better players, I lost when I didn’t execute my game plan or perform to a reasonable level. Some players did seem to have acquired a high level of proficiency in all aspects of the game; they were in the top 5 in the world because of this. The rest of us tried to force our strengths forward and cover our weaknesses as best we could.
These are three widely varying examples of the 80/20 principal, so choose one that fits your needs. In sales, I focus on the 20% of my clients and prospects that would generate 80% of the revenue. I can’t spread myself too thin, and I can’t be all things to all people. But when I focus my energy and efforts on the vital few things that really move the needle, good things happen. So my question for you is this:
What do you need to trim out of your life to focus on the vital few things that yield the most results?
I can give you an easy hint: Start with Social Media. Seriously, I cannot believe how many adults are allowing their attention to get divided by something as worthless as this. Don’t get me wrong, I indulge in Twitter, Instagram and even TikTok on occasion, but NOT WHEN I HAVE STUFF TO GET DONE. I was at a networking lunch today and was seated between two people who’s phones were blowing up with notices from social media. I was chuckling to myself, as both of these people showed up late to the meeting, seemed distracted, and looked frazzled like there were just not enough hours in the day. THERE ISN”T…not when you allow social media to suck away your valuable attention. You don’t have the bandwidth to spend 20% of your day looking at your phone and still get the vital things that you NEED to get done accomplished.
What do you need to do each day to get your job done, whether it is your day job, your sport of choice, whatever? Have you ever thought just how much of your day is wasted with your current habits? The good news is that your habits are well within your control. The bad news is, not enough people do exercise control over these things to make their own lives easier. You wanna know how I am the VP of Sales for my company, Head Coach of the Racquetball Team at ASU, teach two classes for credit at ASU, am a recurring Guest Lecturer at the business schools at two major universities, avid blogger, work out a couple of times a week, fly fish frequently and maintain a great marriage? I focus on the the vital few things that need done, every day, in each of the things I listed above.
It took me a while to get the hang of the 80/20 principal, but once I did, it was a game changer for me. I have no desire to be a “regular person”. You know what I mean, that person who:
Hates their job and does just enough to not get fired
Lives for the weekends
Spends a lot of free time watching sports or playing video games
Self medicates in some form to escape their reality
Most of us know people like this, and many of us are surrounded by them. It is hard to separate yourself from the masses, but if you want to get things done, if you want to change your life for the better, you need to employ the 80/20 rule and trim the list of people you hang out with that don’t. It’s that simple. You surround yourself with people who help you move forward, or you anchor yourself to those who are stuck in place. And yes, I mean ANCHOR literally. You are the AVERAGE of the ten people you spend the most time with, so choose your associates accordingly.
The choice is yours. You set yourself up for success or your don’t. Now, I gave a bunch of examples of different life scenarios that the Pareto Principal applies to, so for me to give you a blanket answer as to what to do next would be difficult. But what I can share is this: start looking critically at how you manage your time and prioritize your day. What can you trim out that serves no purpose or yields little to no forward momentum? The easy one to use as an example was social media, as it is a useless time suck that should be treated as entertainment AFTER your To DO list for the day is done. That is the when I open up one of those apps, and not before.
I have notifications on my phone for ONLY THE FOLLOWING:
That’s it. I have access social media, it doesn’t have access to me. PERIOD. It used to, but I changed that, and I am reaping the benefits accordingly. I get things done, on time and well executed. I handle multiple things, one at a time. I give myself free time to do things like fly fish or hike. By managing my time effectively, by employing the 80/20 Principal, I have a life outside of work, I seem to have a lower stress level than most. This is the way I want to live my life, and I think you’d like it as well once you dialed this in.
I encourage you to get familiar with how this works and how it will benefit you. Everyone has a different life, different factors to deal with, but I firmly believe that everyone would benefit from using this approach to their advantage. I have seen others do it, Tim Ferriss speaks about it in his book Four Hour Work Week, and many others emphasize this as a way of life. Join the few of us who are streamlining their lives and enjoying the benefits.
Avoid the trivial many and separate yourself from the masses.