80/20

Although I decided to dip out of A Level maths at school after 6 months of struggling, and swap to Geology, I have always had a fascination with numbers, especially when involving patterns that link maths to science, nature, business, design etc. This is why I am turning to numbers for a blog.

FIBONACCI NUMBERS/SEQUENCE

I begin with the Fibonacci numbers, the sequence of numbers – 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 onwards and upwards ad infinitum is formed by adding the two preceding numbers together. Simples! This series of numbers is mirrored in nature through the number of petals that flowers possess, the arrangement of leaves round the stem of a plant, the sequencing of the seeds of a sunflower; the spirals within the shells of animals; even within ourselves – we have 8 fingers, 5 digits per hand, 3 bones in each finger, 2 bones in 1 thumb and 1 thumb on each hand. As a child, once I had heard of this sequence, I set to search out examples of the patterns. In the days well before Goggle was even a figment of the imagination – well, to the vast majority of us that is.  As an only child, it gave me an occupation and I even went as far as drawing Fibonacci spiral patterns in the tiny squares of graph paper. On reflection, it must have kept me out of mischief for ages, whilst simultaneously sending me cross-eyed.

SO WHAT OF THE 80-20 PRINCIPLE?

More recently, my interest has been with the 80 – 20 principle which basically states that around 80% of outcomes/results come from around 20% of the causes/actions. Interesting concept – so why have I flogged myself for so long?

Otherwise known as The Pareto Principle, (after an Italian Economist, who promoted its existence) it is another example of numbers that can be, and currently often are, applied across many different areas of life. In business, the rule states that 80% of sales come from just 20% of customers and 80% of complaints come from 20% of customers. Presumably NOT the same 80 and 20%’s there. Microsoft’s CEO claimed that 80% of the errors and crashes in Windows and Office were caused by 20% of all bugs that have been detected.

In the animal world, the principle is applied to dog training by focusing on rewarding 20% of behaviours which have 80% of the training time focused on them.  As for cats – the clue is in the picture – they spend around 80% of their time sleeping, resting, cat napping, ready for action around dawn and dusk. Sloths hit it about spot on the 80-20, though with the speed they move it can be difficult to tell when they are awake!

For myself, I feel that, as a ‘keeper of information’ I should pay more attention to the claim that 80% of what we file is never looked at again. This probably offers me the opportunity for a good old paper clear-out that I am currently ignoring on the ’just in case it comes in useful’ way of reasoning – information for future blog writing currently adding grist to this particular mill. I guess a positive step would be in the identification of the 20% in order to maybe at least shuffle the rest out of the house into the garage on its first step towards being re-cycled. At present, it takes a good while ploughing through all of the information for ‘that article’ that I just know is in a safe place in one of my many files! How much quicker to only have to look through 20% …. But what if I just happened to want something that had now moved on from my garage to the re-cycling bin?

The same applies to clothes – we apparently wear 20% of our wardrobe for 80% of the time. Maybe a declutter of wardrobe space as well as my book case full of files is called for …. Practical applications of the 80 – 20 rule.

It is felt that most of what we do each day has either no long-term results, whilst a minority has a major impact – once again the 80 – 20 rule? What of those ‘to-do’ lists? I am well aware that probably, as I tend to underestimate how long a task will take me, I therefore overestimate just how much I can fit into a day. I should imagine that many of you are nodding at that – can I ask if you then go on to reinforce that lack of ticked off jobs by telling yourself how useless you are not to achieve it? It’s then time for the big stick to come out and really hammer that negative message home once more …. Now here’s a thought – how’s about beginning by crossing off 80% of the tasks – 8 out of 10 of the tasks you just thought you could achieve. Then, if you do happen to have a bit of time left over, you could go on to do one of the deleted jobs and feel very proud of yourself? Even better, you could have that cuppa, and be kind to yourself.

Alternatively, you could determine the 20% of your day that you know is your best, most efficient working time. Then work to get 80% of your (realistically set) tasks done in that time by focusing on them, eliminating intrusive diversions such as messaging and calls. Remember, multi-tasking is recognised as not being a positive contributor to task achievement.

80-20 APPLIED IN DAY-DAY LIFE

Fitness

You can apply it to fitness and exercise programs  and base a focused program of work at home rather than going to the gym which can add on extra time, either serving as an excuse to give up, or to evade the other tasks waiting to be done.

Diet

Then there’s the 80 – 20 ‘diet’, or as I prefer to call it, way of eating. No surprise that it involves eating healthy, nourishing food for 5 days and for the other 2, the 20 bit, which for most is usually at the week-end, allowing yourself to partake in the things that you haven’t had during the week. OK, for those mathematicians amongst you, there is a bit of leeway given to the actual number work here! In theory, it allows you the best of both worlds, for 5 days, you eat the foods that you know are good for you, and will hopefully, along with exercise, lead to a steady weight loss and improved health. Then for the other 2 days, allow yourself the things that you enjoy, but that may not be as good for you – in fact, probably aren’t if we’re being truthful. However, it doesn’t mean that for those days you binge and over-indulge, rather, add in to your 5 day pattern or slightly amend it to allow some flexibility – a glass or two of wine, a slice of cake etc. Does this sound too good to be true?

I guess there are those, who, having allowed themselves that glass of wine assure themselves that it will be ok to just continue with – just the one – each week-day evening. Those who have allowed themselves that piece of cake, may have baked or bought a cake specially and, rather than waste or not have their ‘fair share’ will also want to continue with this during the week. It comes down to your choice. However, for many others, being ‘allowed’ the favourites means that they can face the week quite happily without them.  The carrot (or maybe the carrot cake) to keep them going until next week-end, so that they don’t need to get the big stick out.

Some dieticians have a concern that calling some foods ‘bad’ – maybe that wine and that cake – will lead people to feel guilty and somehow the healthy option is therefore seen as a punishment for being naughty. Others seem to consider it not a problem. Rachael Hartley, founder of the Joyful eating, Nourished Life progam says ‘being healthy doesn’t require eating ‘perfectly’ – whatever that might be. If 80% of your diet consists of nutritious whole foods, there’s room for 20% to come from fun foods without compromising health.’  Now, she sounds like my kind of dietician!

Guess it’s one of those things that you won’t know if it works for you, and your situation, unless you give it a try.

Relationships

Being in a healthy relationship does not mean being joined at the hip during non-working hours, especially as it is highly unlikely that any one person can completely meet all the needs of another person, from an interests and hobbies viewpoint. Presuming/pretending that this is so can lead to difficulties as each partner begins to feel that all of their needs are not being met. It’s back to the 80-20 rule again with each having their independent interests, hobbies, friends. It doesn’t mean that there is something missing in the relationship, rather that it is a healthy one, thriving on trust and the development of the individuals within the relationship. The problems with such a relationship begin to show when that 20% becomes the most important time, the most enjoyable time and the 80% pales to insignificance.

In General

An article in The Personal Planet suggests ways that you can apply the rule to work and life in general through asking yourself the following questions.

‘Which 20% of activities are causing 80% of my happiness?
 Which 20% of activities are causing 80% of my stresses?
Which 20% of work activities are causing 80% of my work results?
Which 20% of my friends are contributing to 80% of my fun?
Which 20% of my friends are contributing to 80% of my issues?
Which 20% of my skills and qualities are responsible for 80% of my success?
Which 20% of my beliefs are responsible for 80% of my tribulations?’

Using your responses to these questions, you can formulate your goals maybe including cutting out negative ways of thinking and behaving by including more of the ‘good stuff’ such as seeing friends, walks in the country.
Get your goals down in writing and prioritise them – which 20% of your goals will give you the 80% improvements in happiness, financial stability, health etc. We all have lots of goals, be they locked away in the depths of our grey matter or floating around us in an airy fairy way. Get them down on paper and prioritise!  Reflect back on what may or may not have worked for you in the past and use that reflection to guide your choices.

Having chosen your goals, work through to identify your 80-20 way – aiming for minimal effort for maximum achievement.

For example, I had the goal of finishing a course I am doing. As time limited, it was a priority. Before getting on with this I spent a bit of time – starting whilst in the shower considering how I was going to achieve this. I have three weeks of work remaining to be done, so a short-term aim.

I could slot in the coursework whenever I have a spare few minutes. This I felt was low effort, but almost certainly would result in low achievement and a possible build-up of pressure for me.

I could nibble at it between blog writing, gardening, living – but this ranked as being part of high input of activity for little reward (by way of the actual goal achievement), though the garden may look good, as from past experience, I know I can easily divert myself with gardening if the sun is shining.

I could spend a whole day focusing just on my coursework and anything else would be ignored. Whilst likely to achieve a great outcome, the input would also be great, and at the cost of life and living.

Therefore, my low input, high outcome option? To set aside an early morning slot every day whilst my brain is fresh. Get daily chores done – feed cats, fish, me; shower, then onward with phones and social media off for an hour. I have been doing this for a week now and it has worked well – I am ahead of schedule and the pressure is therefore off and I will have time for some R&R at the end. Worth the short amount of time spent in consideration of my options – as I tell clients, there are always choices, just a matter of finding the one that is best for you.

If I can help with information about supporting you in getting a better balance in your life, please do get in touch via this web site.  I offer both face to face as well as distance (via Skype) therapy. Please feel free to leave a comment below - this is always appreciated.

Podcast - Press play to listen or download it here:

Download:Audio icon 80 - 20.mp3

Comments

Fascinating subject. Read and re-read and going to apply to how I do things. Made me want to look into it in greater detail. Thanks so much.
Hi Wendy -thanks for commenting. It is always good when someone is led to read more around a subject I have written about. I love it when I stumble across something I haven't heard about before - I become woman on a mission to find out more!! Dee
I like the valuable information you supply in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and take a look at again frequently. I'm quite sure I will be told plenty of new right here! Best of luck.

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