So now we’ve identified a solid, motivational intention that puts us in the driver’s seat. We’ve set some good goals and we have seen that having a good system can help us sustain good habits that help us make progress towards our intention.
But, how can we connect the dots from the goal to the system. Typically, our experience shows us that after we set a goal, there is the initial euphoria with an avalanche of ideas and activity followed by a lull as many of them lose steam when we cannot convert them into a system or a habit and struggle to find time and the gains are marginal. Finally, a few habits stick or we give up saying, “if only I had more time or money or …”
Like many of you, I stumbled through this experience too until I chanced on a simpler way of looking at building a system – the 80/20 way. In this three part post, I’ll first go over what 80/20 is with some examples to build an initial intuition – wake up your inner curious scientist. Then I’ll go over how to apply it conceptually so you can begin to connect the dots and finally, I’ll build on it with an example so you can apply to your own goals.
What is 80/20?
Let’s start with a short history lesson. 80/20 is also called Pareto Principle which simply states that 80% of the outcomes result from 20% of causes. It was developed by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an economist, who actually stumbled upon it in his garden. He found that 20% of his pea plants generated 80% of the healthy pea pods. He decided to test this intuition elsewhere and found that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. And on and on…
That concept made its way into the world of business and is used by many successful companies today.
Can I observe this too?
Absolutely, yes. Many things in life are not evenly distributed.
20% of customers generate 80% of profits,
20% of bugs cause 80% of software crashes,
20% of patients account for 80% of health care spending.
Take a moment to observe your own surroundings and daily routines. Hint: What’s in your closet and what do you frequently wear, How often do you reach for the same mug from your collection of coffee mugs, or the same pan from you war chest of pans.. how you spend your income, what you spend time on at work, running paths, running distances etc. 80/20 happens to be hidden every where.
How does this connect to developing a system?
Let’s go back to Pareto’s “aha!”. You can suppose that if Vilfredo had applied most of his attention initially to just those 20% pea plants, he could meaningfully improve the overall health of his pea pods. That would not only dramatically cut his time and effort but also help him focus his learning to develop a system using the vital few 20%. Then he could (choose to) apply it to the remaining 80%, the important many.
Thus, this simple rule of thumb, can help us focus our effort and time to develop a system that works for a few things that are meaningful. Focusing on fewer, smaller but important habits and patiently building them up, helps us build confidence and stay motivated. Over time, we can build on these mini-habits or practices to increase their scale and influence.
80/20 works really well while managing constraints but first, make sure that it is an actual constraint. Of course, when it comes to our intentions and goals, generally our biggest constraint is time. We only have so many hours in a day, in a week, in a month …. But just like you shouldn’t be slave to your goal, don’t be a slave to an arbitrary time constraint. It’s your time so own it and use it to develop your system and use 80/20 to sharpen your focus on what matters most to achieve your goal.
That’s the power of 80/20 – it gives the power of achieving your goal back to you.
So, what’s next?
Stay tuned for part 2 where we will go over how to connect the dots between a goal and a system. Let me know what you think? Have you tried this before? What was your experience with it? It will help me sharpen my understanding of this approach.
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