Christopher Murphy · 16 July, 2020
If you haven’t heard of the 80-20 rule, it’s well worth reading up on. Also known as the Pareto Principle, the rule is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1895, noticed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy belonged to 20% of the country’s population.
The numbers don't have to add up to 100% exactly, rather the rule suggests that approximately 80% of your results will accrue from approximately 20% of your activity.
I try to apply the 80-20 rule to my life and my work, where possible. For example…
With 50 years – half a century! – under my belt, it’s incredibly important to me that I focus my attention on work with purpose.
Until 31 December, 2020, 80% of my time (more or less) has been focused on Belfast School of Art. From 1 January, 2021, the script is flipped and I'm giving 80% of my time to work that really matters to me.
At this point in my life, the work that matters to me is coaching design-focused founders, helping them to accelerate their startups (and their lives).
Rather than engaging on an endless quest to acquire new clients for my design consultancy and coaching, I focus instead on ensuring that my core clients (who I call ‘the 20%’) are taken care of and treated kindly.
Acquiring new clients is an expensive process that isn’t always guaranteed to pay off, so I focus on the clients that really matter.
- By pricing my digital products – courses and workshops, in particular – at higher price points (with scholarships to allow for inclusivity) I attract committed learners (a different ‘20%’) who have skin in the game and will take what we’re teaching seriously.
On this latter point – of having skin in the game – my friend Andrew Wood this morning made an interesting aside that I immediately noted. Whilst discussing pro-bono coaching, we discussed the benefits of charging even a small, heavily reduced fee, to underline a student's commitment to the work. As Wood put it:
No barrier to entry, no barrier to exit.
I have found this to be the case on so many occasions. When the barrier to entry, in terms of cost, is £0 dropout rates are considerably higher.
Considering the 80-20 rule in the context of this discussion, I wondered about adopting a model where ~80% of learners pay the full fee, 20% of learners pay 20% of the fee. I call this a 'low bono' fee.
The 80-20 Rule Elsewhere
The following are references to the 80-20 rule I’ve found on my travels:
The following reference is from James Clear’s newsletter, in a note on How to 80:20 Your Work, about using the rule at the service of prioritisation:
- Make a list of the 10 things you spend the most time on.
- Circle the two that truly drive your results. Do more of those.
- Look at the others. Eliminate ruthlessly. Automate or outsource what you can. Press pause on the rest.
A variation on the above principle – minus the 80-20, implied – below is courtesy of Farnam Street's @shaneaparrish:
- Write your goals on a sheet of paper.
- Circle the three most important.
- Avoid doing any work on anything that's not circled.