80+20 = 100

I have always believed in giving 100% of my energy to anything I do: family, work, school, friendship, or any other activity I engage in. I’ve always believed that giving 100% of yourself in every aspect of your life meant you were a noble, successful person. It should feel like you are a Super Hero: one who can do everything, do it right and still look amazing and strong.

At some point in my career I was introduced to the 80/20 rule, which states that, in many cases, around 80% of the effects or results come from 20% of the causes or efforts. At the time, it was used as a business concept to help people focus on the 20% of the work that would produce 80% of the results. So, who are the clients or what are the activities (20%) that will get us most of the juice we need (80%)? We’ll focus on those first; the rest is second priority.

With the new concept in mind, I had now to ration my energy, my attention, my focus, my time, and assign certain value to my activities. Focus segregation can be challenging when you still have to achieve 100% of your goals. Directing your mental energy and time to the 20% will surely bring you the 80% of the required results but, what about the other 20%? 80% is not 100%… if you don’t achieve 100%, you missed the goal. Reality is that the neglected and underestimated 20% of the results made the difference at the end of the year. The misjudged 20% granted the team a pat on the back instead of a kick in the ass.

So, it turns out that even applying the rule, I was giving 100% anyway: first to get the 80% and then to get the much needed remaining 20%. It was just a matter of priorities; not just spilling 100% of energy and attention over all the tasks at the same time, but organizing the task in a way that they were smartly achievable. Chopping the elephant into smaller pieces to be able to eat it all; bigger pieces first because they are the most challenging; once you are done with those, the smaller pieces look like a piece of cake.

I later tried to apply the concept to my day-to-day life: setting priorities, focusing my attention to whatever was driving me the results or the things I needed. It’s hard when this society insists on over-stimulating our senses and distracting us from our goals. Everybody wants a piece of us: marketers wants us to buy their products, TV wants us to watch their shows, people at work wants us to be committed, mind and body.

Investigating a little more about the notion, I learned that this 80/20 rule is sometimes called “Pareto principle”, because of an Italian economist who came up with the idea, based on observations such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. At some point, Pareto connected his mathematical principle to a sociology theory, popularizing the term “elite” in social analysis and the assumption that humans are physically, intellectually and morally unequal, and those who are more capable among any group of people are the “elite”, while the rest of the people fill the role of followers or supporters.

It surprised me to read that the 80/20 rule later progressed into the “Law of the Vital Few and the Trivial Many”, meaning that just a few (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial. This last title stroke me like thunder…”vital few and trivial many” makes me think of people, not business priorities. Sad but true, history has done a good job emphasized the difference between important people and expendable folks: from monarchies to celebrities, billionaires to brilliant minds; beautiful people and successful individuals; everybody wants to be one of the “Vital Few”. Being one of them could potentially save your life in the event of a catastrophe (Titanic), or could expend you from consequences of your acts (won’t point out names), or grant you access to a life most of us could only dream of.

So, can we apply the 80/20 rule to people in our lives? Can we put a value to each person in our life and place them in one of the two buckets? Who is “vital” in our lives? Who is “trivial” or expendable?

Sounds cruel, ranking people by what we get from them, like leveling tasks by the largeness of their results; but in certain way, it could lead to a happier life. Sometimes we spend energy, time and heart with people that don’t appreciate our efforts, just because we truly, honestly and sometimes unrealistically, want them to. We want to convince them that we are worth it, and we expect to get the same level of attention in return. Meanwhile, we probably have people in our lives that are already appreciating what we do, giving us all their attention and admiring us for what we are. It’s easier with these, they already like us! It’s like giving 20% and getting 80% of pure goodness! And there we are, working extra hours with people who will only give 20% of what we want or need, and it’s only because we squished the hell out of them.

In fact, same as activities have different priorities in life depending on what we value and what we need or want, I think people are tiered by priorities as well. It’s a good way to appreciate who is real in our lives and maybe discard people that are holding us back and wasting our precious time. The key is: in anything you do, don’t just devote 100% of yourself; devote 100% of yourself to the things or persons that matter.

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Virginia Victorio
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