A lazy man’s discovery of the 80–20 rule.
With Christmas upon us and the New Year fast approaching I know there will be a glut of self-help stories being shoved in my face. ‘10 ways to stop being shit at life’ and ‘15 things Elon Musk does in the morning so you should too (number 2 will surprise you)’. Spoiler alert number 2 is he takes a shit.
But why do I spend so much energy trying to change my ways only to fail time and time again? Am I broken? Will I ever be successful?
I’m inherently lazy. I’ve always looked for the easy option in life, the shortcuts to success. As a younger lad, I would shout out to my mum when I finished in the toilet so she could come in and wipe my bum. Literally too lazy to wipe my own arse. The fact I can remember this means I was too old for it to be acceptable. But apparently, this sort of idleness was just the start.
I hated this about myself (my laziness and not my lack of arse cleaning abilities). I tried to fix my inactivity many times, and those attempts were in themselves flawed due to my idle nature. But while laziness is not exactly a desired trait, over the years I have come to embrace it. Let me explain.
Maybe you’re lazy for a reason?
In college, I attended only one 10th of my lectures. I would beat myself up about it too because I could never truly understand the material the way the others did. Oh, I ‘wanted’ to learn the material properly, attend every class, and ace the tests, but I just couldn’t push myself. I was lazy. Or maybe I just didn’t give enough of a shit?
And that’s what I discovered about myself, that the reason I’m always seeking shortcuts is not because I’m super lazy (well I am a bit lazy) but because I’m usually not that interested in the task in question.
Embracing my Laziness
Unfortunately for me, there are many things in my life which I have to do, despite having little desire. Of course, I should pursue my passion were possible. But when I must do something where there is a general lack of motivation, then, instead of struggling to motivate myself to give 100% in these areas I now embrace my laziness. I look to do the bare minimum, the 20% or less of effort that could yield 80% or more of the results. That way I can spend more time on the things I actually love doing (like writing this stuff and having nobody read it…love that part).
The great thing is that I started to love finding that 20% or less, it becomes a problem-solving exercise, how can I do this task with less time and effort and still get a decent result?
So in college, I only attended the classes with no online notes. I targeted a few key areas to study (focusing 1–2 weeks before exams) and I came out with a 2.1 degree (just below a 1st) in Theoretical Physics. The degree sounds impressive, trust me it’s not, but it has been mentioned as a positive in nearly every job interview I’ve done. I’d say that’s a > 80% result for minimal input.
This isn’t a step by step guide to cruising through college. I’m aware many people have and are doing this, I’m not special in any regard, or think I’ve found some secret to life. Nor do I think a general lack of effort should be embraced. But I do know that when I’ve been unmotivated or lacking the will to push forward, that searching for the minimum needed to get across the line, and taking action on it, has worked.
It has a Name
It took me a while until I realised this method of minimal input for maximum results had a name, the 80–20 rule or the Pareto principle. And it’s everywhere. I’m on the tube right now, and it’s evident that 3 out of the 10 stops on my way home are where 90% of the passengers change (the ratio isn’t exactly always 80–20, but it’s more a guideline than a rule).
Not that this is useful (unless you work for London transport I suppose) but the point is, in lots of areas of life just a small portion of the inputs seem to yield a majority of the output, if you’re willing to look for them.
After years of procrastination, scouring self-help tips, and desperate attempts to motivate myself to complete tasks I knew I had to do, I realised that I was looking at the 100% when I should have just been targeting the small percentage that would get me more than enough of the way.
Reaping the Rewards
So I applied the idea in my workplace, and I applied it to my health & fitness, two areas where I had little motivation but a lot riding on it. In minimal time (3 months actually), I was fit and trim (something I had failed to achieve in the 10 years previous), I was less stressed in work and many times more efficient too.
The rewards for this method can vary (and you may have a completely different experience than me if you try it). The first I noticed was time. The most precious resource I have was being pissed away on things I disliked doing, the 80–20 rule helped me take back some of that time for more joyous pursuits, even if it was just watching Netflix and slobbing (which I firmly believe is required now and then to be effective in life).
A more unexpected reward was the motivation this method provided in itself. I approached tasks I disliked as problems I could solve more efficiently, and this alone spurred me on to complete tasks I was previously too lazy to finish, or in some cases, start.
The 80–20 rule and me
The 80–20 rule has given my life some much-needed structure, it has enabled me to achieve more and stop procrastination (or at least some of it).
The 80–20 rule has solved some of my issues with laziness, and I’ll continue to apply it and write about it. Like judo, where you leverage your opponents power (I’ve never done Judo before and to be honest it’s the least cool martial art), I’m now leveraging the power of my laziness over me. If you’re interested in trying this yourself please read my other stuff, think of it as a lazy man’s guide to a good life. Or feel free to comment and hurl abuse.
Happy Christmas and have a fantastic New Year.
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