Programming and Personal Development

Stick to the essentials – 80/20 principle

80/20 principle
Also called the pareto-principle, states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your  effort.  

We can see examples of it in real life,
80% of time is spent on 20% of your activities.
80% of your communication occurs with 20% of the people you know.
80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers
80% of the wealth is distributed among 20% of the population

Although the exact ratio might not be true, the take away point is that majority of your results come from a few select activities. So the key then is to focus around these select activities.  For sake of simplicity, I will stick to these ratios in this post.

Identify Your 20%
Clarity: Being clear about what you want is the first step to identifying the 20% activities in your life. You can start by making a list of all the things that matter to you at work, family, money, education etc. You can think as ahead as you want, a year from now, 5 years, 20 years, its up to you.  Make separate lists  for each of the areas that you are covering.

Focus: Now pick the 2-3 things that you consider the most important  from each list.  I have found that my list is usually big and often filled with things that don’t make any significant dent in my life, even though its a “list” of important things to begin with. Restricting to just 2-3 items forces you  to rethink and prioritize. But what if there are more than 2-3  important things? Don’t worry,  if its that important, you can always come back to it later. Nothing is set in stone. Remember the idea is to come up with the 20% of activities that you should start focusing on.


Plan and execute your 20%
Make concrete action steps for 20% activities and execute them.

Be specific: Be as specific and as clear as possible with your action steps. My personal experience is that if I don’t take the time to clarify what exactly needs to be done, I tend to procrastinate or slack of.

Here is an example,

Vague action step:
Exercise 3 times a week,

Specific action step:
Exercise on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:00 am.
Monday work out:

Wednesday workout:

Friday workout:


The idea is to not allow your brain to self talk itself into procrastination or slacking off during execution.

Disconnect results from effort: You don’t necessarily have to work hard to achieve the desired results. I know its  difficult for most people to accept it. I still sometimes struggle with it. But take the time to find out the simplest and efficient way to execute your activities.

A personal example, my wife is prep’ing for her exams and she wanted to study with her friend. They decided to take turns to visit each other’s home. They also decided on the time and days per week. Was it the best solution ? It seemed so atleast for a while, until one day they decided to experiment with a Skype session. Not only did it save time and effort, but it also offered far more flexibility.  Now they meet anytime they want and almost everyday.

It takes time and experimentation to arrive at 80/20 solution, but it pays big time down the road. Don’t settle until you find the method that gives the best results for the least effort.

Remaining 80%
If 20% of your effort gets you 80% along the way, it also means that you are applying the remaining 80% of your effort to just make the last  20%. Is it worth expending that energy? It depends. If its an activity that you truly enjoy or if its imperative that you make it to the last mile, then go for it. If its not, find an acceptable point and stop. Don’t overdo it. Stop being a perfectionist.

A stricter argument applies to your activities . Focus only on the 20% activities that fetch you the most results. Do whatever it takes, eliminate, delegate, say no, procrastinate the remaining 80%. Stick to the essentials and you will live a healthy and a stress free life.

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