Book Review: The 80/20 Principle

book review productivity the 80/20 principle

The Mechanics of 80/20

The first section of the book is dedicated to explaining the concept of the 80/20 principle. As I've said above, it is fairly simple: most of what you accomplish is the result of only a minority of your effort. The ratio might be 60/40, 70/30, or 99/1, but it is probably unbalanced if you take the time to analyze it. The principle applies not only to individual productivity, but personal happiness, social programs, and natural phenomenon (the process of natural selection follows the 80/20 principle).

In business, for example, the vast majority of most companies' revenue comes from a small minority of the customers. However, most companies spend equal amounts of time and energy on all their customers, which ultimately leads to frustration for the good customers(who deserve better) and a waste of resources on the bad customers. If your good customers give you most of your money, why not direct almost all your resources to them? This process of finding the inefficiency and using 80/20 to develop your most valuable assets, takes up the rest of the book.

Applying the 80/20 Principle

Here is an example of how I applied the 80/20 principle in my life:

I wanted to determine how I could best produce quality content for my blog. So I looked back to when I have been the most productive, simply by thinking about when I'm most inclined to write, when I've felt best about my writing, and when I've produced the most with the least difficulty. I recalled a Sunday morning, from the hours of 9am-2pm, when I felt so on-the-ball I was motivated to work non-stop and just kept coming up with tons of ideas. I had been so impressed with myself that morning really stuck out in my memory. Thinking back to other late morning writing sessions, I realized that I seem to enjoy writing then, and tend to produce the most.

Then I thought about when I got the least writing done. It didn't take much though to recall that whenever I try to write in the middle of the day, I spend more time checking Facebook and my e-mail than actually writing. I am at least twice as productive in the morning as I am in the afternoon. So why waste my time trying to write in the afternoons? I can write two articles in the morning in the time it takes to write one in the afternoon, and it will be of better quality.

So I simply made a determination to do most of my writing (and other creative work) in the late mornings.

I applied a similar process to exercise and came to the conclusion that I work best in the late afternoon, except for jogging (which I enjoy really early in the morning). So I stopped exercising at 10am and writing at 3pm, and instead now write at 10am and workout at 3pm. I get a lot more done, it's way easier, and I am much happier.

Don't Overcomplicate a Simple Idea

Basically, this is the sort of thing Koch spends the rest of the book describing. He takes the basic idea of the 80/20 Principle and shows you how to apply it to business, personal productivity, and happiness, as well as social reform. I found this useful only because the 80/20 principle is somewhat abstract on its own. However, Koch does over-explain after a certain point. His discussion of personal productivity is very useful, and his explanation of applying 80/20 to happiness is inspiring and eye-opening. In both cases, however, he is clearly trying to take a simple concept and expand it sufficiently to fill a book. His discussion of social reform is so bloated as to be practically useless; the basic idea is conveyed in the first section of the chapter.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking to make their own way in the world, simply because it reveals an enduring truth that most people, by definition, do not take advantage of. By simply focusing your energy on cultivating your most valuable and productive resources or experiences, you can halve the amount of time you spend toiling away and double your output and happiness. Learning how to look at life through an 80/20 lens is without a doubt an extremely valuable skill, and I can say that reading this book has drastically changed the way I view the world and my own capabilities.

That said, I don't think you need to spend much time reading this book. Read the first section carefully and in detail, then pick the chapters and sections of interest to you. Skim most of them, read the most interesting parts, and do the exercises, but don't worry about missing something.

Just from what I've written here, can you come up with your most productive times of the day? Do you actually try to take advantage of those times?