The 80/20 Experiment–feel free to join in!


You may already be familiar with the 80/20 rule, also called The Pareto Principle. It says that we get 80% of our value from only 20% of what we do. So it follows that if we can figure out what that 20% is and do more of it, we will get even greater value.

There are two challenges inherent in actually using the 80/20 rule:

* One is identifying the 20% that gives greatest value, and that includes defining “value.” Income is one indicator but of course that’s not the only thing we value. However, for the purposes of this experiment, we are going to use income as the measure.

* Actually DOING more of the 20%. This means overcoming the fact that often the 80% is much more enjoyable than the 20%. Sometimes the return on some of the 80% is very quick, while the payoff on some of the 20% may take longer but be much larger. It also means cutting out some of the 80% activities in order to make time for the 20%.

I have had some success implementing the 80/20 rule but have not been consistent about it. The 80/20 Experiment is to follow the basic rule for one working week to start with and monitor the obstacles, what works, what doesn’t, and any results. I realize, of course, that this is a very short period in which to expect results. However, I wanted to make it manageable by using an effective method of breaking down daunting tasks into smaller chucks.

I invite you to join me in this experiment. Today is the Planning Day, the actual first 80/20 implementation will start tomorrow. Today the task is to identify that 20% and to plan some strategies for making it easier to implement them.


Some general areas to look for your highest financial value 20%:

* Work you have already done but have not turned into money. Creative people tend to be most excited about what they’re working on now. If a project they did in the past had some rejections, it’s easier to focus on the new things and avoid the negative feelings around rejection.

My example of this: marketing a novel manuscript and a screenplay that have so far gone unsold. Moving forward on projects for which I’ve already written proposals.

* Work that you know people want even if it’s not as exciting as breaking new ground

My example: looking for people to sponsor the writing workshops that have been popular in the past

* Work that you might get from people who already know you rather than having to cultivate totally new customers

My example: canvassing producers for whom I’ve written scripts in the past regarding their current projects & needs

* Work that builds on a successful previous product or activity rather than one for which you are not known. This is somewhat counter-intuitive; usually our impulse is to focus on the projects that are not doing well in order to increase their success. In fact, it’s easier to increase the success of something that is already successful.

My example: increase my marketing of my book “Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done.” This one has now been translated into 9 foreign editions and is still on the WH Smith travel outlets best-seller list.

Want to play? If so, now identify:

* one project you have already done but not converted into income

* one project that you know people probably want

* one project you might sell to previous customers or clients

* one project that would build on a previous success


Implementing the 80/20 rule is a process of trial and error. Based on previous experience, though, there are a few that I believe will work:

* doing at least one 20% related task first thing every morning (yes, before checking email, or at least limiting the first look at email to 15 minutes–measured with a timer)

* chunking the tasks down as far as necessary to make them more palatable

* focusing attention on the desired outcome rather than the process

* being clear on at least one thing from the 80% you will eliminate (e.g., TV watching, web surfing, etc.)

* being accountable to someone else–feel free to use the “comments” section below to share your 20% tasks if you like, and track your progress with me over the next seven days.


* My goal for each day is to devote at least 3 hours a day to top 20% activities and to make one of those hours the first hour of my work day.  If you’re participating, what is a practical amount of time you can plan to devote to your top 20% for each of the next five days? Is it possible for you to devote the first hour of your day to this?


It’s easiest to start the day with your plan already worked out.

I’m going to experiment with spending each total of 3 hours a day on one of the types of tasks, rather than trying to address several.

Tomorrow’s principle:

* Focus on work you have already done but have not turned into money. (If that one doesn’t fit your needs, look at the other principles above or make up your own category).

My task for tomorrow:

* Attend a meeting about finding funding for a project for which I’ve already written the proposal

* Attend a meeting with my publisher regarding a book for which I’ve already written a proposal

* Find two possible publishers for a novel I’ve already written

Which tasks will you do tomorrow?

I’ll write my next post tomorrow night to report on how it went and specify the tasks for the following day.

If you’re joining me, good luck on our first day! Feel free to leave a comment about your goals, progress, successful strategies, etc. or email them to me directly at

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Categories : Productivity

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