Using the 80/20 Rule to Manage Your Life

A friend’s father used to say, ‘The smartest students get Cs’. Why? Because they knew the exact amount of effort required to pass. Sadly, he was talking to a group of overachievers who were too busy studying to listen. And that says it all, doesn’t it? By age 16, many of us had already fallen into the trap of thinking the only acceptable standard is perfection.

Fast forward twenty+ years (Happy 40th, Nat!). At our most recent Powrsession graduation call, a participant shared her progress on reducing overload. As a solo team member, there was no one to share her unsustainable workload with. So, she got strategic. If she couldn’t delegate work, could she reduce its quality without any negative impacts?

Turns out she could, and she did.

The 80/20 rule

You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule. Also known as the Pareto Principle, it’s the idea that 80% of results come from just 20% of the effort. Once you understand the 80/20 rule, you start to see it everywhere: Most relationship squabbles are caused by the same few issues. In any committee, a few members do most of the work. With hundreds of restaurants to choose from, many of us return to our favourites. We smash out a draft in mere minutes, then spend hours formatting, editing, tidying and tweaking.

If a small proportion of our efforts generate the majority of results, then the majority of our efforts are essentially useless. Ouch.

So, what if we put the 80/20 principle to work to maximise results and minimise pain? By prioritising the most valuable tasks and ditching the rest, we can achieve the required result in a fraction of the time. And the required result? It’s often nowhere near perfection.

Quality is a continuum

If you’re a Powrsuiter, you likely have incredibly high standards for everything you do. Everything

But not all work is equal. That strategic yes might justify the disproportionally large effort required to over-deliver, but what about those less important updates, emails, and reports? What if we spent a few minutes defining Good Enough, the minimum standard required, before kicking off a piece of work? 

At Powrsuit, we’ve already put the principle into practice: 

  • Our planning process is a Google doc and 30-minute meeting. As we identify to-dos, we dump them in one long list, and then each Monday, we agree on top priorities for the week and action them. No complex project management tools, no endless meetings, no task creep. 
  • We edit our social posts to remove (most 😉) typos but often reuse templates instead of starting from scratch. 
  • We send each other very rough, unformatted drafts for initial feedback before investing time to polish them. 
  • We regularly review this newsletter and challenge the effort vs value of every element. We stop doing anything that doesn’t pass the test.

Our philosophy: invest no more effort than we absolutely need to. Doing this frees up a lot of time to focus on strategically important work like Powrsessions, where we do put in 110% to deliver an exceptional experience.

It’s a new year, let’s leave burnout in 2023

As you kick off another work year, challenge yourself to ditch unnecessary overachievement and create

30 second action:

Before starting your next piece of work, determine what Good Enough is. Time-box your effort to match, and keep track to see if you stick to it! 

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