Every great religion and every bestselling self-improvement book or program promises a great reward from serious effort. The advice works for those who follow the prescriptions carefully, but the trouble is that most of us fall by the wayside. The effort is too great. Have you ever had that experience? I certainly have. Wouldn’t it be great, therefore, if we could discover a way to do less, and yet get more of what we want --- more love, more happiness, more success? Wouldn’t that be a program for everyone? It so happens that there is such a way. I stumbled across it by accident, and here it is. There is a scientific law, proven in business and economics, saying that the great majority of results come from a small minority of causes or effort.
You’ve probably heard of the law the pesky Pareto principle. It’s also called the 80/20 principle, because about 80 percent of results flow from 20 percent of causes. For example, we send 80 percent of our emails to 20 percent of the people in our address book, and we wear 20 percent of our clothes --- our favorite outfits more than 80 percent of the time. Police investigations reveal that 80 percent of accidents are down to 20 percent of drivers, and that 80 percent of crime is committed by 20 percent of criminals. In business, 80 percent of profits come from 20 percent of customers and 20 percent of products.
So what? Well, one day I had a sudden thought. Businesses have known for a long time that they can improve their position enormously by concentrating on the key 20 percent of activities. But why can’t people do the same? It turns out that we can. We can make our lives enormously better by doing less. The secret is not to do less of everything, but to do less of the great majority of things we do that don’t work very well for us. And to do more of the very few things that do deliver what we want.
The answer is focus. In every area of our life, we can work out the few things that are really important to us, and the few methods that give us what we want. We can divide everything around us, and everything we do, into two piles.
There is the big pile, the 80 percent pile, that takes a lot of energy but delivers pitiful results, sometimes even making things worse. That is the mass of trivia that surrounds us and normally engulfs our life. We can call this big chuck of our lives the trivial many.
Then, there is the small but vital 20 percent pile, which comprises the few things that work brilliantly. The vital few, that bring happiness to you.
Once we know what is in each pile the things we do, the thoughts we have, the people we meet, the techniques and methods we use we can do something terribly simple and wonderfully effective. That is to do much less of most things, the things in the big trivial pile. And more of the vital few things. Overall, we make much less effort, but we get much more reward.
The modern delusion is more with more. Nearly everyone thinks that to get more out of life, and succeed in what we want, we have to labor harder, devote more time to our work, and make sacrifices and trade-offs. I say No. In all aspects of life, we can find, to our astonishment and delight, that less is more. We can only life fully by subtraction. We make progress by stripping our activities and concerns back to a small authentic core.
Success and relaxation, far from being enemies, are really twin cherries on a single stalk. Achievement and happiness flow from self-expression, from cutting out the parts of lives that we don’t like. If we have the courage to go against conventional wisdom, and live our lives differently, we can work less, worry less, succeed more, enjoy more, and make the people who matter in our lives hugely happier. Here are just a few examples of how the 80/20 Way works in different parts of our life:
We have all the time in the world. Really! Our enjoyment and achievement is heavily slanted to a small portion of our time. Once we realize this, we can calm down, take things more slowly, and yet get much more out of life. How? Try these for starters:
• Work out the few things that you experience and do, that take little time, yet are of fantastic value. Think back to the last time you were really happy, then the times before that. What did these times, or some of them, have in common? Were you in a special place, with a particular person, or pursuing a similar sort of activity? Are there some common themes? I call these themes your happiness islands, because they’re set in a sea of times when you’re not particularly happy. Now, how can you multiply your time on happiness islands?
•If you figure that your happiness islands make up only a fifth of your time, how could you take that to a third or a half or even more? Luckily, there are always many activities that give us a poor return on happiness. Surveys of people watching television, for example, show that very few respondents say they are happy after watching two or more hours of TV.
Typically, they become mildly depressed. If watching television makes you happy, do more of it. Otherwise, stop! What other things that have a poor happiness reward could you quit? What do you do out of a sense of duty? If there’s little pleasure in the duty, how much good are you doing? If you were happy, your happiness would overflow into the lives of those around you. Time spent being miserable is antisocial.
• Chuck you To Do List. Make a Not to Do List. Act less. Think more. Reflect on what really matters to you. Stop doing anything that isn’t valuable or doesn’t make you happy.
• Be eccentric in your use of time. Slow down. Purge your diary. Allow an hour each day for exercise that you enjoy for instance, most people who don’t think they are athletic still enjoy a good walk in the country alone or with a friend. Dump your cell phone. As long as it won’t get you fired, stop going to meetings or events that bore you. Reclaim all your trivial uses of time so you have more time for yourself and the people you care about.
• Watch out for the times that you find yourself brooding about the past or worrying about the future. Stop! Live in the present. Get more with less confine yourself to the present moment and think how you can enjoy and benefit from it. If there is no way to do so, do something else more rewarding!
Make a few Decisions
Life is easier and more fun after you make a few big decisions:
• Who are you? What kind of person and you and do you want to be?
• Who and what do you care most about?
• Do you want to commit totally to one life partner? Who?
• Do you want to raise children?
• Do you want to make a name for yourself? For what?
• Do you want to work for yourself or on your own terms? At what?
• Do you want to create something that other people will notice and enjoy?
• What’s your dream house and its address?
• Where are you putting energy that’s not leading to happiness?
Focus on your best 20 percent
• What are your strongest qualities, emotions, and abilities?
• What parts of yourself are not a true reflection of who you are and who you wish to become? How can you dump these attributes?
• How can you make yourself more you? How do you accentuate what makes you different and valuable?
• There is no mystery about how to make money. It does not require a top paying job or luck in the lottery. The answer is simple and a bit boring: Save and invest ten percent of your income, before you receive it, by having it channelled automatically into a savings account. Do this now. It is the only reliable method and, thanks to the miracle of compound interest, it never fails. If you don’t do this, forget about making money.
Master a few great Habits
We all have lots of habits. Most of them don’t make us more content or help us thrive. But there are a few habits that reliably do. Select five habits from the following short list and make them into things you do all the time. Your life can’t fail to benefit terrifically.
• Daily exercise Much better health, feel great, look more attractive
• Daily intellectual exercise Keep alert, raise intelligence, enjoy thinking
Doing one altruistic act a day Make you happy
• Quiet thinking at start of day Clears mental clutter, you make better decisions
Daily nurturing of your lover Keep him or her; make them happy
Be generous to friends Deepen relationship, feel good
Always enjoy 2+ hours of Renew your energy, keep healthy pure relaxation every day
Never lying Evokes trust, enhances reputation
Deciding never to worry: Peace of mind, reduction of effort
Always to act and not worry, Or not act and not worry
Habitually asking yourself Startling progress in any situation
How to get More with Less
Enjoy Your Relationships
“There’s only one happiness in life,” wrote George Sand, “to love and be loved.” Carl Jung, the great psychologist, said, “We need other people to be truly ourselves.” We make sense of life through relationships.
But in this area, above all, there is a trade-off between quality and quantity. Take your friends, for example. You probably have lots of friends. But apart from your family, whose death would leave you truly desolated? Count those people. They are your key friends, the 20 percent who contribute 80 percent of meaning and value to you.
• Work out how much time you spend with your key friends versus all your other friends. Unless you’re spending most of your “friendship time” with the few key friends, you can derive enormous benefit from re-arranging your life so that you do so. Try to live near your best friends. In any case, see them often.
But the most important relationship in your life is the person you choose to love and cherish. This is the single decision that will most affect your happiness throughout life. Yet most of us devote amazingly little thought and research to selecting our mate. We often give more thought to the house or the car we intend to buy.
• If you are already in a relationship, decide whether to end it, or to commit 100 percent to it. Any middle route between these two extremes leads to unhappiness.
• If you are totally committed to a relationship, focus on the few things that really matter to your lover.
A wise friend once told me:
“We are all different and things that are not important to me are often very important to my wife, and the other way round.
In our marriage, these are the few things that really matter to her. She wants me to be home on time. She wants to always be able to rely on me. She loves flowers. She loves me supporting her in her projects. She adores surprises.
These are not necessarily the things I would most want to do for her. I could take her to candlelit dinner, I could buy her the car I’d like myself, take her on great vacations, I could do all sorts of other stuff, but nothing would impress her if I haven’t met the basic few needs that mean most to her.”
Don’t do for others what you would like yourself. Do what your partner wants.
Let’s come back to where we started. The secret of a happy and fulfilled life is not difficult. Every piece of advice here is well proven to work. None is too difficult for us to follow. If life is difficult --- and it usually is it’s because we over-complicate it, and forget the essentials, most of which we know instinctively. Through striving too much, we make it impossible for us to do the few things that are guaranteed to make the people we care about happy, and therefore ourselves happy. Until we do less, we will never achieve what is worthwhile.