The 80/20 Thinking: Work Smart, Not Hard

In the book “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss, the author kept going back to a principle that underlying all his work philosophy: the 80/20 principle. I have heard of the 80/20 principle prior to reading the book. However, despite a vague assumption of what the principle are (e.g. 20% of the efforts generate 80% of the outcome; 20% people in possess 80% of the wealth in the society), I actually don’t know much about it. Therefore, I picked up “The 80/20 Principle” from the library.

It’s an eye opening read. The 80/20 principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or efforts usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs or rewards. It’s strategic. To be strategic, it means finding the things that is important to us, not the others; things that are asked by other people but is highly valuable to ourselves. Here’re a couple key takeaways:

  1. Be strategic: concentrating on what’s important to you.

Have you felt exhausted by the end of a work day but realized you hadn’t accomplished anything for yourself? Yes you’ve been kept very busy, answering phone calls & replying emails. But pause for a second. Are you really generating value for your business? Are you building your own skills? Are you driving your business forward? Or rather, are you simply busy answering for other people’s priorities? Email is a prime example – often time your inbox is filled with other people’s priorities, not yours. The author coins a phrase “Productive Inertia” to describe people who’re busy but are really not devoted to their goals.

Take time to think through your priorities. Keep them simple. No more than 3 priorities at a time. Anything more than that turns into a laundry list.

2. “You’re more likely to win again where you have won before.”

I love this saying so much that I don’t know a better way to paraphrase it. Find your strength, become the expert in that niche market you identify and keep at it with determination. The 80/20 principle is about improving effectiveness. A sure way to do that is doing things you both enjoy and are good at.

This has been my biggest objective in the next few months: identifying my very niche. I have some general idea of what I’m good at and have fun doing: marketing, developing strategic marketing plan, analyze quantitative data to solve business issues. In addition, personally I’m concerned with health and fitness, specifically I have this idea of developing a campaign to encourage more physical activities among Chinese teenagers.

3. Give up Guilt & Live in the Moment

Giving up guilt is related to doing things you enjoy. There’s a Chinese saying “Only through working as hard as you can will you come out on top.” The underlying meaning is that one could only achieve success through excessive hand work. No fun seems to be allowed. However, the quantity of work is much less important than the quality of work. Your achievement is not measured by how many hours you work or how late you stay up. Now give up the guilt and be here now. Looking at this matter from a different perspective, guilt is associated with past and future, not present. You’re regretting about the past – I should have worked on my presentation tomorrow, not taking a nice walk in this beautiful weather. Or you’re wondering about the future – what shall I do after work today? Shall I hit the gym or shall I go home and finish the work undone? Among these thoughts, you forgot the most important status: right now. Focus on now, listen to your own voice, and you will know what to do.

The first half of the book explains how 80/20 principle applies in the business world while the second half discusses its application in work and life. Specifically how we can work less and be more effective. Highly recommend this book!


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