The 80/20 Time Revolution

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Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least. – JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

In a previous post, I introduced Richard Koch, the author of The 80/20 Principle; The Secret to Achieving More with Less. Be prepared if you decide to read this book; it will make you uncomfortable about the way you spend your time, and perhaps even about the way you live your life.  The premise of the book comes from the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule and the law of the vital few) which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Koch writes that time management is a lost cause; it’s “try to fit a quart into a pint jar.” He asserts that most people don’t understand what tasks are most important, or they’d be doing them already; instead, we’re content with “busyness” instead of making tough decisions about business.

He writes: “The 80/ 20 Principle overturns conventional wisdom about time. The implications of 80/ 20 time analysis are quite different and, to those suffering from the conventional view of time, startlingly liberating.” The 80/ 20 Principle asserts the following (directly from his text):

  • Our current use of time is not rational. There is therefore no point in seeking marginal improvements in how we spend our time. We need to go back to the drawing board and overturn all our assumptions about time.
  • There is no shortage of time. In fact, we are positively awash with it. We only make good use of 20 percent of our time. And for the most talented individuals, it is often tiny amounts of time that make all the difference. The 80/ 20 Principle says that if we doubled our time on the top 20 percent of activities, we could work a two-day week and achieve 60 percent more than now. This is light years away from the frenetic world of time management.
  • The 80/ 20 Principle treats time as a friend, not an enemy. Time gone is not time lost. Time will always come round again. This is why there are seven days in a week, twelve months in a year, why the seasons come round again. Insight and value are likely to come from placing ourselves in a comfortable, relaxed, and collaborative position toward time. It is our use of time, and not time itself, that is the enemy.
  • The 80/ 20 Principle says that we should act less. Action drives out thought. It is because we have so much time that we squander it. The most productive time on a project is usually the last 20 percent, simply because the work has to be completed before a deadline. Productivity on most projects could be doubled simply by halving the amount of time for their completion.

Koch says we must banish the Protestant Work Ethic that has dominated our careers for so long. What we interpret as loving hard work is really just the virtuous glow we get from having done it. Once we liberate ourselves from the ideal of work, we’re free to embrace an ideal of laziness (technically defined as an aversion to work, but which could also mean a commitment to accomplishing the most with the least amount of effort.)

I have to admit, this is hard for me to accept. In my family, “lazy” is one of the worst insults you can throw at another human being. We are hard-working, middle class, Midwestern people; we don’t do lazy.  If I can get to Richard Koch’s ideal state of being “economical with my energy,”  I may be able to achieve more than I thought possible.

I take on Lazy with a capital L in a future post.


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