Fear of Effective Action

The Pareto Principle is the idea that “roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes (the ‘vital few’).” It’s more commonly known as the 80/20 principle. According to the Wikipedia link above, this principle first appeared when an economist noticed 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. 

What’s so fascinating about the 80/20 principle is how often it appears. Just a quick read through the Wikipedia page shows:

  • 80% of the world’s income is generated by 20% of the population;
  • in the US, the top 20% of earners paid roughly 80-90% of Federal income taxes in 2000 and 2006, and again in 2018;
  • Microsoft noted that by fixing the top 20% of the most-reported bugs, 80% of the related errors and crashes in a given system would be eliminated;
  • also, 80% of a certain piece of software can be written in 20% of the total allocated time;
  • roughly 15% of baseball players are responsible for 85% of the wins;
  • 20% of healthcare patients in America use 80% of the resources;
  • 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of the criminals, and
  • many video rental shops reported in 1988 that 80% of revenue came from 20% of videotapes.

When you start looking, you see the principle everywhere.

  • 80% of your relational satisfaction comes from 20% of your friends.
  • 80% of what you accomplish at work is done in 20% of the time you spend “working.”
  • 80% of what you get out of the best books comes from 20% of the content.

It goes on and on. 

Here are some ways this works out in my life.

It’s not the 80% I spend planning, analyzing, and watching videos about workouts that matters, it’s the 20% of time I spend doing the workouts. It’s not a new rowing machine, squat rack, Peloton, or kettlebell that will make me fit, nor is it all the time I spend researching it. It’s the exercise that does it. The hardest part of the exercise. The part I’m scared of and that I’ll want to quit on.

Healthy food matters, but when it comes to weight loss, we often spend 80% of time focusing on what foods we’re eating and hide out from that 20% of how much. When you want to lose weight, you burn more than you eat. That’s the most effective 20%. But it’s the scary part, so we avoid it by researching keto, paleo, pescatarian, Atkins, Whole30, Weight Watchers, carnivore, vegan, and vegetarian diets while our body stays the same. There’s not a comfortable way to do it.

In business: getting an office, filing a name with the state, designing a logo, building a website, researching which accounting platform is best, researching office chairs, researching the best research methods—all of this is the 80%. The 20% is talking to customers and clients, persistently putting yourself out there, and finishing projects. It’s doing the actual work.

We know what will bring results. 

Which part makes your stomach sink like it did when you were in elementary school and you realized, 20 minutes before bed, that you still had homework to do? That’s the part you need to attack with all your energy. 

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