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The Five Secrets to Live the 80/20 Lifestyle Article by: Richard Koch

Every major religion and every bestselling self-improvement book or program promises a great reward from serious effort. The advice works for those who follow the prescriptions carefully, but the trouble is that most of us fall by the wayside. The effort is too great. Have you ever had that experience? I certainly have.

Wouldn’t it be great, therefore, if we could discover a way to do less, and yet get more of what we want — more love, more happiness, more success? Wouldn’t that be a lesson for everyone?

It so happens that there IS such a way. I stumbled across it by accident, and here it is …

There is a scientific law, proven in business and economics, that states that the great majority of results come from a small minority of causes or effort. Widely known as the “Pareto Principle,” it is also called the “80/20 Principle” because it reflects the fact that about 80% of results flow from 20% of causes.

For example, we send about 80% of our emails to 20% of the people in our address book. We wear 20% of our clothes, our favorite outfits, more than 80% of the time. Police investigations reveal that 80% of accidents are caused by roughly 20% of drivers and that 80% of crime is committed by 20% of criminals. In business, 80% of profits come from 20% of customers and 20% of products.

One day while thinking about this pesky little principle, I had a sudden thought: Businesses have known for a long time that they can improve their position enormously by concentrating on the key 20% of activities. Why can’t people do the same in their everyday lives?

It turns out that we can. We can make our lives enormously better by doing less — but there is a catch. The secret is not to do less of everything, but to do less of the great majority of things we do that don’t work very well for us, and to do more of the very few things that do deliver what we want.

The key to making the 80/20 Principle work for you is focus. In every area of your life you can work out the few things that are really important to you and the few methods that give you what you want. You can divide everything around you and everything you do into two piles.

First there is the big pile, the 80% pile, that takes a lot of energy but delivers pitiful results, sometimes even making things worse. This is the mass of trivia that surrounds you and normally engulfs your life. You can call this big chunk of your life the “trivial many.”

Then there is the small but vital 20% pile, which comprises the few things that work brilliantly — the “vital few” that bring happiness to you.

Once you know what is in each pile — the things you do, the thoughts you have, the people you meet, the techniques and methods you use — you can do something terribly simple and wonderfully effective: You can do fewer of the trivial many things and more of the vital few things.

The result? You’ll exert much less effort but reap far greater rewards.

The modern delusion is more with more. Nearly everyone thinks that to get more out of life and to succeed in achieving what we want, we have to labor harder, devote more time to our work, and make sacrifices and tradeoffs. In truth, however, we can find, to our astonishment and delight, that less is more, as long as it’s less in the right areas. We make progress by stripping our activities and concerns back to a small, authentic core.

There are lots of simple, painless ways to start this “stripping back” process so that you can begin applying the 80/20 Principle and reaping the practical benefits in your everyday life.

One of the easiest ways to start this process is to find your Happiness Islands. Think back to the last time you were really happy, then the times before that. What did these times, or some of them, have in common? Were you in a special place, with a particular person, or pursuing a similar sort of activity? Are there some common themes?

I call these themes “Happiness Islands” because they’re set in a sea of times when you’re not particularly happy. Now, how can you multiply your time on Happiness Islands? If you figure that your Happiness Islands make up only a fifth of your time, how could you take that to a third or a half or even more?

There are plenty of activities that give us a poor return on happiness, and they are relatively easy to identify. Surveys of people watching television, for example, show that very few respondents say they are happy after watching two or more hours of TV. Typically, they become mildly depressed.

What things do you regularly engage in that have a poor happiness reward? What do you do out of a sense of duty? If there’s little pleasure in the duty, how much good are you doing? When you are happy, your happiness overflows into the lives of those around you. Time spent being miserable benefits nobody.

Another secret to living out the 80/20 Principle in your life is to make a “NOT-to-Do”list. Reflect on what really matters to you and creates value in your life, and simply stop doing anything that isn’t valuable or doesn’t make you happy.

You should also strive to be eccentric with your time. Slow down. Allow an hour each day for exercise that you enjoy. Be less “available” by not always keeping your cell phone on. Email and cell phones have made useless communication far too easy. Use them as tools rather than leashes. As long as it won’t get you fired, stop going to meetings or events that do not leverage your talents. Reclaim all your trivial uses of time so you have more time for yourself, the people you care about, and the activities that are part of the vital few.

An essential habit of truly successful people is that they live in the present. If you stop and think about it, what could be more useless than worrying, especially about the past? If you spent even a fraction of that time acting in the present, you will find you get far better return on your “investment.” Watch out for the times that you find yourself brooding about the past or worrying about the future. Confine yourself to the present moment and think about how you can enjoy and benefit from it.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it is critical that you take the time to reflect on, nurture, and enjoy the significant relationships in your life. We make sense of life through our relationships.

“There’s only one happiness in life,” wrote George Sand, “to love and be loved.” Carl Jung, the great psychologist, said, “We need other people to be truly ourselves.”

In this area, above all, there is a trade-off between quality and quantity. Take your friends, for example. You probably have lots of them, but apart from your family, whose death would leave you truly desolated? Those people are your key friends, the 20% who contribute 80% of meaning and value to you. By spending most of your “friendship time” with these few people, you can derive enormous benefit. Try to live near your best friends. In any case, see them often.

Naturally, the most important relationship in your life is the person you choose to love and cherish. This is the single decision that will most affect your happiness throughout life. Yet many people devote amazingly little thought and research to selecting their mate, giving more thought to the house or the car they intend to buy.

If you are already in a relationship, decide whether to end it or to commit to it 100%. Any middle route between these two extremes leads to unhappiness.

A wise friend once told me, “We are all different and things that are not important to me are often very important to my wife, and the other way round.” If you are totally committed to a relationship, focus on the vital few things that really matter to your partner. Don’t do for your partner what you would like yourself. It may be most important to your spouse for you to be home on time, be reliable, surprise her with flowers, support him with his projects, or for the two of you to spend quality time together. Identify the 20% of things that you can do for him or her that will make 80% of the difference in your relationship, and focus the majority of your time and energy on those things.

The secret of a happy and fulfilled life is not difficult. Every piece of advice here is well proven to work, and none is too difficult for us to follow. If life is difficult — and it usually is — it’s because we overcomplicate it and forget the essentials, most of which we know instinctively. Through striving too much, we make it impossible to do the few things that are guaranteed to make the people we care about happy, and therefore ourselves happy.

Success and relaxation, far from being enemies, are really twin cherries on a single stalk. Achievement and happiness flow from self-expression, from cutting out the parts of your life that you don’t like. If you have the courage to go against conventional wisdom and live your life differently, you can work less, worry less, succeed more, enjoy more, and make the people who matter in your life hugely happier.


The “Vital Few” Habits That Will Change Your Life

We all have lots of habits. Most of them don’t make us more content or help us thrive. But there are a few habits that reliably do. Select five habits from the following short list and make them things you do all the time. Your life is guaranteed to benefit terrifically.

Habit: Daily physical exercise Payoff: Greatly improves health, makes you feel great and look more attractive

Habit: Daily intellectual exercise Payoff: Keeps you alert, raises intelligence, heightens enjoyment of thinking

Habit: Performing one altruistic act a day Payoff: Makes you happy, improves your happiness, as well as those you help

Habit: Quiet thinking at the start of day Payoff: Clears mental clutter, improves decisionmaking ability

Habit: Daily nurturing of your lover Payoff: Strengthens relationship, makes him or her happy

Habit: Generosity to friends Payoff: Deepens relationships, makes you feel good

Habit: Always enjoying 2+ hours of pure relaxation during the day Payoff: Renews your energy, keeps you healthy

Habit: Never lying Payoff: Evokes trust, enhances reputation

Habit: Deciding never to worry: Either act and not worry, or not act and not worry Payoff: Creates peace of mind and reduction of effort

Habit: Habitually asking yourself, “How can I get more with less?”
Payoff: Leads to startling progress in any situation


The 5 Secrets to Live the 80/20 Lifestyle

  1. Find your Happiness Islands
  2. Make a “Not-to-Do” list
  3. Be eccentric with your time
  4. Live in the present
  5. Nurture the significant relationships in your life

Learn more about Richard Koch and his bestselling program The 80/20 Principle.

All articles by Richard Koch

The Five Secrets to Live the 80/20 Lifestyle

The 80/20 principle has proven in business and economics that the great majority of results come from a small minority of causes or effort. However this powerful rule has far greater benefits than just in business. Learn to focus your attention on the "vital few" to live the 80/20 lifestyle and accomplish more with less!

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