Welcome to the eighth issue of Wayfinder, your fortnightly compass for navigating life’s toughest decisions.
We'll be trying out a slightly different format for Wayfinder - shorter, denser, but equally actionable.
Every fortnight I'll share a framework or mental model you can use to squash problems and cut through decisions.
Today we'll look at the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.
Maximising Impact with Minimal Resources
You've probably heard the tale of King Midas, the man whose touch turned everything to gold. An enviable gift, it seemed, until his food, drink, and even his beloved daughter were accidentally turned to cold metal.
The story isn't just a parable about greed—it also highlights the importance of understanding where true value lies and knowing where to place our efforts for the utmost effect.
The Pareto problem
We are all often victims of spreading ourselves too thin, fussing over a multitude of trivial things while neglecting the few that truly move the needle.
In 1906, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto noticed something peculiar. He observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. And this 80/20 distribution seemed to recur in various other aspects of his life.
Tending to his garden provided another lightbulb moment – 80% of his pea pods came from just 20% of the plants. This revelation was the birth of Pareto's Principle, more commonly known as the 80/20 rule.
You see it play out in a lot of places. On many teams a small number of people do the bulk of the most impactful work. In your wardrobe there's a high chance you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.
Apply this rule to other facets of your life, and you'll notice the pattern. It's almost hauntingly ubiquitous.
The Power of Less is More
The ancient Greeks coined a term, "Sophrosyne," which speaks to a profound, tempered sense of restraint – a perfect balance, a "golden mean."
It's about understanding that more isn't always better. Sometimes, more is just... more.
The real magic happens when we identify and harness our 20% – that vital portion that truly makes a difference.
The 80/20 principle doesn't just affect what we do, it affects how we think. A lot of information is noise. Think about how many tweets you scroll past before coming across one that resonates.
Harnessing Your Vital Few
Recognising the 80/20 principle is only the first step. The challenge lies in harnessing it. Here's a quick guide:
- Identify Your Power Zones: Pinpoint those vital 20% actions, tasks, or people contributing to the majority of your positive outcomes. The key activities at work that drive the most impact, the hobby that helps you wind down more than just draining time, the supportive relationships that energise your soul.
- Invest Intentionally: Once identified, deliberately allocate more time, effort, and resources to your golden 20%. This might mean prioritising key work projects, honing a specific skill set, or nurturing invaluable relationships.
- Routinely Re-evaluate: Life is dynamic. Regularly take a step back and evaluate how you're allocating your time and energy. The vital 20% today might not be the same a year from now.
A few questions to reflect on:
- In each area of your life, what is one thing you could do regularly that would have an outsised impact?
- What are some things that you regularly spend time on where you're only squeezing out marginal gains?
- Which routine actions do you repeat on autopilot out of habit, regardless of the value you get from them each time?
- What would happen if you cut 50% of the actions you regularly take which seem important, and focused intensely to double the impact of the rest?
Remember Pareto and his peas the next time you feel overwhelmed.
Often, it’s not about more effort, but smarter effort. It's about recognising patterns, learning from them, and ultimately letting them guide you towards a richer, more balanced life.
In the words of Tim Ferriss, who often evangelises the 80/20 rule: “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” So, don’t be busy. Be Pareto-productive.