Success is 20 Percent Intelligent Effort

For the longest time, I was doing it all wrong. I was killing myself with work. And to add insult to injury, I was doing the wrong kind of work. “Wrong” in the sense that I was focusing on everything rather than zeroing in on the most important. I think exhaustion made me stop. That was when I realized that perhaps Pareto was right.

In 1906, Wilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas, and other similar observations. In 1941, Joseph Juran, a management consultant, applied Pareto’s observations to quality issues, coining the Pareto Principle: the “law of the vital few and trivial many” (or as Juran preferred, “law of the vital few and useful many”) which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Putting this into perspective, this means that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. The flip side is also true: 20% of our results can come from 80% of our efforts. In the first instance, you’re working on the important, in the second, you’re not. Many individuals don’t rise above the bar; instead, they devote 80% of their efforts to produce a mere 20% results. But those few that do rise above do so because they’ve mastered the art of work.

Working is essential for good health, happiness, and wealth (i.e., 20% effort for 80% result). But if you’re spending most of your time working on things that don’t matter, you’re probably working to the detriment of your good health, happiness and wealth (i.e., 80% effort for 20% result). Who doesn’t want to work less, getting the same or better results and have more free time? I know I do.

Over the past several months, I’ve listened to complaints about the long hours that people spend at work, but without the reciprocal results for their effort. To put this into perspective for them, I ask them how much time they spend each week working on their strategy or priority projects. Then I ask them how much time they spend socializing (or watching television). Enough said.

What drives success? It’s not the amount of effort or long hours that you put into your work. Success is about using efficient systems and processes that enable you to work less on everything and work more on the important. Think about where you’re wasting your time. Now think about how that time can be used on the important so that in the very near future, you can have time to waste.

Here’s to your success.