Some things work, and other things don’t.
If you feel like you’re constantly behind, always busy but never seeing the results that you want, it’s likely you’re focusing on the latter.
This simple rule applies to every area of life.
If you’re working out regularly, spending a fortune on supplements, thinking about your food constantly, and still not looking shredded, you’re focusing on the wrong things.
If you’re constantly busy working IN your business, scheming new products, redesigning your landing pages, and still not hitting the profits you want, you’re focusing on the wrong things.
This also applies to the objects you own, the books that you read, the experiences that bring you joy (or not), the people that upgrade your life (or not), and basically every aspect of your life that matters.
You probably have heard of the 80/20 principle. Essentially, the vast majority of results come from a minority of your efforts. Generally speaking, this has an 80/20 distribution, meaning that 80% of effects come from 20% of the possible causes. This isn’t specific: some times, distribution will be 90/10 or 70/30. The principle only shows how the correlation between cause and effect is disproportional.
The majority of your worries likely come from a minority of your thoughts.
The majority of your business results come from a minority of your actions.
The majority of your great memories comes from a minority of moments.
Look at your own life, and you can find this principle everywhere.
Here’s a personal example.
Reading the 20%
I closed the book. You always get a sense of accomplishment by finishing a book, like if the last page holds more wisdom than all the previous ones collectively.
I also felt a bit overwhelmed.
I remember when I was first introduced to self-development books by a stranger-turned-into-a-friend: I was hooked. Immediately, I saw my way out of being stuck in a job I didn’t like, and ready to dream (and also make it happen). So I started consuming books in numbers, like when I was a kid.
I read about 40–50 books a year, and it’s a lot.
Reading was making me very knowledgeable, but it was also presenting new challenges: firstly, there’s so much information out there, that I felt like I was constantly behind. No matter how much I read, it was never enough.
Secondly (and perhaps more crippling), it was becoming more and more difficult to take a leap of faith and take action: I knew so much that I wasn’t free to let myself make mistakes.
That’s when I decided to change my approach.
I keep a list of books I have read and that I want to read, and so I scrolled through the ones I finished in the previous 12 months. Something became quickly apparent: I could only meaningfully remember a handful.
Even within those few, a minority was actioned and made a real impact on my thinking, actions and results.
Wow. That felt like a slap across the face.
I decided I was going to read less, and action more.
However, the temptation was still there: after all I do enjoy reading, and being exposed to new ideas is a helpful rescue from old patterns of thoughts and actions. So I decided to adopt three rules:
- Theme my books: select only 2–3 specific subjects to learn and get great at, and then select books around that particular area for the next 12 months.
- Read more fiction and biographies: the latter in particular give me a dose of inspiration without putting more actions on my plate.
- Re-read books that resonate. Instead of looking for “the next secret recipe”, I decided to go back and read books that actually made an impact 2–4 times. Switching format kept it interesting: from kindle to audio, and then back to paper. Or stick to one if it works.
This simplification allowed me to take action, and also turn information into transformation: whether I read about marketing, dating, mindset, or languages, I did it with focus and purpose, which allowed me to take action and see a real difference.
Now, I still read about 50 books a year, just some of them are the same book read many times. So I can actually change things in my life and business.
Dating the 20%
It was time to go back to the dating scene, and I initially adopted the “spray and pray” approach. I talked to girls at bars, in the streets, even on a couple of apps. I was getting numbers and even going on dates but…the strategy wasn’t working: I was having to endure shallow conversations and awkward goodbyes, and I was ready to give up.
Until I thought back on what worked in the past 24 months: was there any particular place that worked to find great dates?
Just when I was about to give up, it turned out that the two women I dated for a few months (separately), as well as the great majority of great dates and repeats came from two places: a specific event on each second wednesday of the month, and a coffee shop I used to work and read from.
In short, over 70% of my interesting romantic encounters came from a tiny minority of the places I was looking at.
Business by 20%
Business is a pretty complex ground, and that’s why the 80/20 rule can be so useful. Once you look at data (and not your perception), you’ll find that:
The majority of your income comes from a minority of customers (the same is true for trouble and admin by the way).
The majority of your marketing results comes from a minority of campaigns.
The majority of your achievements comes from a minority of tasks.
I recently worked with a business coaching client who, once he noticed that the vast majority of his sales were coming from a minority of his company’s products (about 25%), he decided to discontinue most products and focus on the few SKUs that were producing results.
The business’ turnover more than doubled in a few months.
Here’s a personal example.
Over a year ago, I was writing content daily (mostly on a specific platform, but also spreading myself thin cross-posting and trying more outlets). Yes, you’ve already guessed what happened.
Looking at data, it was clear that the majority of traffic and engagement came from a single platform out of the few I was more or less active on.
Not only that. On that specific platform, just over 80% of my views came from about 15% of the content I created. Guess what I did next?
I looked for commonalities to reverse engineer how I could only focus on that minority: for the next couple of months, I was able to increase my views while reducing production to a quarter.
(If you’re wondering why only two months, it’s because I didn’t remain consistent, and I had to adjust when I was ready for a comeback)
Your turn now.
The 80/20 principle allows you to focus on the important, instead of getting lost in a sea of doing, buying, and trying. Once you pay attention (and not just to your perception), you’ll see it everywhere in your life and business.
To use it, start from one area that is particularly important to you: what are you giving a lot of time and resources to?
Next, look at the results you are getting, and compare that with all the possible causes involved so far. You’ll notice that the correlation between cause and effect is disproportional.
By focusing on what works, you’ll be able to max out your current level, get results faster, and then move on to bigger and better challenges.
Just don’t let the busyness of working on the wrong things hold you back from running your 80/20 analysis.
Originally published on Medium.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.