The Vital Few and Trivial Many: Do More by Doing Less

It’s been about two weeks since I published my last post. I hope no one felt abandoned. That wasn’t my intention. Actually, I was following my own good advice and practicing self care.

I’ve been nonstop dedicated – walking my talk – since Art Of Hustle’s inception around early 2010. I’ve written over 75 posts, launched a podcast series, led numerous workshops, and provided personalized coaching to several individuals. I needed a break. And that downtime itself inspired the meaningful insight that sprung this here post into existence.

Intro to The 80-20 Principle

Maybe you’ve heard of Pareto’s Principle? You may know it better by its other name, The 80-20 Principle, which has also been summarized by Quality Management pioneer, Dr. Juran, as the “vital few and trivial many.” Of its many applications, its strongest interpretation suggests that 20 percent of actions accounts for 80 percent of results. Dr. Juran also identified, on the flip side, that 20 percent of defects accounts for 80 percent of problems.

Think about this deeply. It points in a big way to the allocation of resources. If 20 percent of actions accounts for 80 percent of results, that means 80 percent of your actions are a total waste of time and energy! Ring the alarm! And if 20 percent of defects accounts for 80 percent of problems, that means what appears to be a monumentally impossible situation may actually be solved with a few laser beam-focused remedies. Find encouragement.

What Not To Do

So now what? Given this information, what should one do? Hold on now, whoa your horse. Perhaps it’s about what one shouldn’t be doing. This brings me to yet another Jim Collins gem: Make a NOT To Do list.

The cliched image of hard work is a lengthy register of activities with many things checked off one after another. Good to Great author Jim Collins, in line with Pareto’s Principle, says we should also have the equally important Not To Do list. What 80 percent of your own actions aren’t creating forward movement at all? And worse, are any of those actions the very defects that are dragging you down and are responsible for 80 percent of your problems?

For a lot of people, these Not To Do items are hinged upon entertainment: intoxicants, gossip, celebrity news, mindless television, social media voyeurism, retail therapy, and personal drama. For high achievers, ironically, the productivity blockage may be the productivity itself: half-finished projects, tasks that are easily delegatable or should be outsourced, and money-chasing. There’s a natural (but sometimes unhealthy) hunger for “more.” It dictates that space should be filled just because it can be. But any artist should be able to tell you, musicians particularly, that the craft is in harmonizing movement and stillness, content and void, that a song is made of notes as much as it is made of hundreds of pauses between those notes. Without emptiness, there is only noise.

Sit For Ideas

Some of your brightest epiphanies may occur to you when ‘nothing’ is happening. Famed industrialist Andrew Carnegie was known for often “sitting for ideas,” which is exactly what it sounds like – sinking into a chair for hours, allowing your mind to formulate theories and calculations, and homing in on valuable hunches. Sound crazy? It’s not unlike Google’s aptly named 20 Percent Time where engineers may spend 20 percent of their working hours on anything they want. In fact, our favorite of Google inventions, Gmail, was birthed during 20 Percent Time!

Ask yourself, “What do I want to do, to have, and to be?” Now, take inventory of what a typical day or week looks like for you. Honestly, how much of your time is actually spent on the things that you say are most valuable to you? Or do you find yourself in a kind of Groundhog Day, spinning in robotic circles, either partaking in meaningless pastimes or chasing after constant deadlines? Busyness is not the business.

Start by stopping. Pen your Not To Do list. Chip away at the habit to accumulate and to inherit: escapism, objects, chaos. Prioritize openness in your schedule. Give your imagination room to conjure new solutions. Breathe.

You might be surprised by how much “more” you can do, doing “less”.

Thoughts, comments, revelations?
I’d love to hear. Feel free to say something below. Or pass this along to people who’d enjoy the permission to pause!

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6 responses to “The Vital Few and Trivial Many: Do More by Doing Less”

  1. Thank you for this important blog!

  2. Ruby says:

    I needed this today!!!

  3. Jayeesha says:

    Apt post – and blog – as I get the art of my hustle back on. Thanks for the inspiration, Anthem!

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