No doubt you’re familiar with the 80/20 principle.

In a nutshell, it states that you get 80% of your output from 20% of your input.

The opposite is also true.

You get 20% of your output from 80% of your input.

And it doesn’t stop there.

If your numbers are big enough, then you can apply 80/20 to every 80/20 indefinitely.

To do that, take 20% of whatever it is that you’re considering and 80% of the results it gives you.

Then rinse and repeat, as they say.


Let’s say that you earn $100,000 each year.

20% of your bills will eat up 80% of your income, and 80% of your expenses will be covered by the remaining 20% of what you earn.

So, you’ll spend $80,000 every year on just 20% of the bills you have.

Think about how much your mortgage, utilities, and HOA fees consume.

Income, property, and sales taxes can take a disproportionately large chunk out of your wallet.

Add to that your grocery bill, maybe the cost of gas if you do a lot of driving for work.

You might have to add in clothes or shoes. Some people spend a lot on these things every year.

And there are those who eat out all the time – a very expensive way to feed yourself.

That, too, might be among the 20% of your biggest annual expenditures.

Then the remaining $20,000 may go for savings, charitable giving, and entertainment, such as concerts or movies.

This 20%, however, will be spent on a myriad of things.

Think of all the “random” cups of coffee you have, for example.

If you spend $5.00 per cup every day for a year, that’s 365 purchases that add up to only $1825, or less than 2% of your total income.

Do you see what I mean?

Giving up

Now 80/20 also operates in realm of giving up.

Here’s how it happens.

Suppose you’re a fast learner.

You’re able to do what you set out to do most of the time without much effort.

For you, it requires no more than about 20% of your effort to get 80% of your results most of the time.

That could be because over time you’ve been able to identify the few activities that give you the greatest results for the time and energy that you give it.

If you have, then you’re to be congratulated.

That’s the goal!

But then you come up against something that challenges you.

You give it your usual 20% and nothing happens.

You give it 30%, and still nothing happens.

Because you’re not accustomed to defeat, you keep upping the ante.

Eventually you reach a point where you’re giving it all you’ve got.

Still no results – at least not the ones you want.

At this point, and perhaps before that, you may be tempted to give up.

What do you do?


Is it important?

It could be that the thing that you’re trying to accomplish isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

If that’s the case, then you might be just knocking yourself out from nothing more than personal pride.

And if that’s what it is, then you need to decide if this is the best use of your time and energy.

What has become known as “keeping up with the Joneses” is a perfect example.


Is it significant?

There is another possibility, however, and that is that while the result you get may be small, its importance is huge.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re trying to start your car.

You’re not a mechanic.

You know that you need gas in the tank, a battery with enough juice in it to get the engine going, and an engine that does what it’s supposed to do.

You can have all those things, but without a key or a button, there is nothing to start the process.

Or let’s say that you have everything but gas.

Same thing.

The gas is a small thing.

And you don’t need much to start the engine.

You need more to travel somewhere, but a few drops will get the engine to start.

Getting two pieces of software to be nice to each other is another example.

If only one character among the tens of thousands of lines of code is wrong, then they won’t work.

Instead, they’ll pout.


Significance trumps pride

So the point is that the amount of effort that’s required to achieve something small may be huge, but the significance of that tiny bit of output might make all the difference.

And that’s what you need to see.

The risk is that you may misinterpret small results as being of no significance.

You must not confuse the two.


The Hack

The next time you encounter what seems like a minor challenge, but which ultimately stops you in your tracks, ask yourself this: What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t figure this out?

If it’s only that your pride will be slightly wounded, then leave it.

If on the other hand, it’s the key to taking the next step, then press on.

Sometimes even smart people have to work hard.

Leave a Comment