The 80/20 Principle

I am an avid lapper-up of business books and am currently re-reading Richard Koch's The 80/20 Principle. The premise on which the book rests – what Koch calls the universe's "wonkiness" – is that 20 percent of effort reaps 80 percent of rewards. This has been proved to be the case for everything from the wear on carpets to the percentage of the nation's wealtiest individuals. It was first highlighted by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto while studying wealth and income in England in the 1800s. Apart from noticing the unequal distribution pattern, Pareto also noticed it could be reapplied succesfully to other situations and time periods and thus the Pareto Principle (or Pareto's Law) was discovered.

Of course 80/20 is a catchy simplification. Often the proportions are 70/30 or 90/10, but the truth is there staring us in the face. A lot of us waste our energy and efforts doing stuff that brings little or no satisfaction and no benefits.

How does that affect business – in my case the writing business? Well, contrary to popular belief, being busy busy busy really does nothing at all. What we are after is focussed 'busyness' – analysing the work that brings you the most satisfaction and the greatest revenue and being ruthless about the rest. An example is the client who takes up hours and hours of time and energy through calls and emails and then wants a free article or massive discount. We all know people like this, energy vampires who think of you as their own private bloodbank. In your personal life they are bad news. In your business life they are catastrophic.

Speaking personally, I know that I often do far more than is necessary for far less than I should. Equally I know that I can't apply the 80/20 principle too ruthlessly as I have too soft a heart (and yeah yeah, I know there is no sentiment in business, but a little doesn't hurt). So I will continue to help where I can and deliver more than expected. But I know I must also do some hard thinking and make sure that my skills and talents are used to their best advantage on the 20 percent of things that bring me the greatest personal and professional rewards.

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