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In previous posts, 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. He insists that you must completely change your thinking about work and leisure if you want to succeed.
Effective 80/20 living is about conserving your energy for things that matter the most. To reorganize your energy, Koch suggests that you create two lists: a list of your “happiness islands,” small amounts of times and activities that contribute a disproportionate amount of happiness to your life. Next, compose a list of “unhappiness islands,” which make you miserable, even when they don’t take up much of your time. (Things you love, and things you hate doing.)
Next, make the same two lists for achievement: your achievement islands, where a small amount of effort nets big results, and “achievement desert islands,” when you work hard for a long time with few results. (In other words, things you’re really good at doing, and things you’re bad at.)
The exercise is designed to help you multiply what you love and do best and dramatically reduce what you dislike and do poorly. Sounds like common sense, but it might be hard to do. For instance, it might take you 2 hours to mow the lawn, edge, and blow off debris. In Florida, that’s two agonizing hours spent in 95 degree weather and direct sun, as well. Does it make sense to do that when you could be working on a project that will net more joy and more income?
Koch says that you’ll have to agree to be unconventional, even revolutionary, to make the new system work. If you don’t have the stomach for that, this plan probably isn’t for you. You will, however, have to consign yourself to wasting 80 percent of your effort on low-value outcomes. I have adopted this practice when it comes to household maintenance. I hire professionals to do 80% of the cleaning and yard work around my home. I am free to spend my time on the 20% of detailed work that I alone can do just right. In the yard, for example, I spend my time on my herb garden, rather than mowing the hill behind my home.
Fine, you say, but what about my job? By definition, a job is work someone has to pay you to do, and we all need money. Koch makes the point that money can be multiplied easily in a capitalist culture. Find a use for your money that fits with the 80/20 rule. For example, investing in rental property may allow you to spend a few hours a month managing a property that nets you considerable income each month.
Koch is an economist, so he has a firm philosophical view of money. “Remember that the more money you have, the less value an extra dollop of wealth creates. In economist speak, the marginal utility of money declines sharply. Once you have adjusted to a higher standard of living, it may give you little or no extra happiness. It can even turn negative, if the extra cost of maintaining the new lifestyle causes anxiety or piles on extra pressure to earn money in nonsatisfying ways.”
Koch even recommends looking at personal and professional relationships through the 80/20 lens. Multiply those that nourish us and give us energy, and minimize those that don’t. He writes, “Happiness is a duty. We should choose to be happy. We should work at happiness.”
Do you have the courage to reorganize your time? Let me know if you do, and what results you get.