My wife was annoyed with me because I took too long in the bookshop. It wouldn’t be the first time. Bookshops for me are like entering a time vortex. ‘Joshua’s Long Day’, when the sun stood still, happens every time I enter a bookshop. The problem is that I am the only one in the vortex. The rest of the world moves on.
But on that particular day I bought ‘The 80/20 Principle – the secret of achieving more with less’ by Richard Koch. I boldly announced to my wife that this book was going to revolutionise my life. Perhaps I was trying to justify my lengthy delay in completing the errands she had asked me to do. However, the exciting news is that the process of revolutionary change has begun.
I had been vaguely aware of the 80/20 Principle but the author, Richard Koch, a highly acclaimed management consultant, has really done his homework. The 80/20 Principle was first known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who observed that 80% of the wealth was held by 20% of the population.
The fundamental precept is that 20% of business activity produces 80% of the results. My own experience in life tells me that this is true. It might go to 70/30 or 90/10 but it often seems to sit at 80/20. I’ll let Richard Koch tell you a few things. The question he poses is, “Can you work less and achieve more?”
There is a scientific law, proven in business and economics, saying that the great majority of results come from a small minority of causes or effort.
You’ve probably heard of the law the pesky Pareto principle. It’s also called the 80/20 principle, because about 80 percent of results flow from 20 percent of causes. For example, we send 80 percent of our emails to 20 percent of the people in our address book, and we wear 20 percent of our clothes — our favourite outfits more than 80 percent of the time. Police investigations reveal that 80 percent of accidents are down to 20 percent of drivers, and that 80 percent of crime is committed by 20 percent of criminals. In business, 80 percent of profits come from 20 percent of customers and 20 percent of products.
So what? Well, one day 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 percent of activities. But why can’t people do the same? It turns out that we can. We can make our lives enormously better by doing less. 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 answer is focus. In every area of our life, we can work out the few things that are really important to us, and the few methods that give us what we want. We can divide everything around us, and everything we do, into two piles. There is the big pile, the 80 percent pile, that takes a lot of energy but delivers pitiful results, sometimes even making things worse. That is the mass of trivia that surrounds us and normally engulfs our life. We can call this big chunk of our lives the trivial many. Then, there is the small but vital 20 percent pile, which comprises the few things that work brilliantly. The vital few, that bring happiness to you.
Once we know what is in each pile the things we do, the thoughts we have, the people we meet, the techniques and methods we use we can do something terribly simple and wonderfully effective. That is to do much less of most things, the things in the big trivial pile. And more of the vital few things. Overall, we make much less effort, but we get much more reward.
The modern delusion is more with more. Nearly everyone thinks that to get more out of life, and succeed in what we want, we have to labour harder, devote more time to our work, and make sacrifices and trade-offs. I say No. In all aspects of life, we can find, to our astonishment and delight, that less is more. We can only live life fully by subtraction. We make progress by stripping our activities and concerns back to a small authentic core. 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 lives that we don’t like. If we have the courage to go against conventional wisdom, and live our lives differently, we can work less, worry less, succeed more, enjoy more, and make the people who matter in our lives hugely happier.
The above has massive implications if our goal is to make our children, our wives and even ourselves hugely happier. I encourage you to check our Richard Koch’s ‘Happiness Islands’ in our Special Feature.
Why not begin to put this into practice. I can feel the change in my life already. I am sure you will too!