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How to be happier using the Pareto Principle

I like to take a scientific approach towards building confidence, designing a better lifestyle, and creating happiness in general.

And whenever I feel like things aren’t quite going right for me, I follow the process described below.

This “80/20 Pareto Principle” will help you reduce the amount of time you spend doing unenjoyable things, and increase the amount of time you’re having fun. Basically, it’s a guide on how to be happy, or at least how to be a happier person.

It’s all about creating more fun activities in your life by reducing time spent in boredom.

Vilfredo Pareto was the first to formalise the 80/20 principle, when he discovered that 80% of the wealth in Italy was controlled by a mere 20% of it’s inhabitants. Upon further exploration he realised that this distribution of power applied across many other spheres in life. It led him and others to discover a startling consistency:

About 80% of your results come from 20% of the efforts you put in.

This applies to you as well. 20% of your time is spent very wisely and effectively (give or take), while the rest has little to show for it. At work you are not always worth what you are paid. Often you are achieving results far less than what your hourly rate would require. But a small fraction of the time you are very productive, and worth hundreds of dollars per hour.

80/20 also applies to enjoyment of life. A fifth of the activities you are involved in bring you real joy, while the rest tend to be “time fillers”. We kid ourselves into believing we are productive and happy by staying busy.

But what if “busy” is really just a big waste of time? Wouldn’t you rather spend more time relaxing while you figure out how to get more fun in your life?

Today I’m going to share a method to apply the Pareto Principle to your life. There are many articles about this concept but very few that walk you through the practical application.

Give it a go today – it only takes a few minutes – and complete each of these lists:

1) WRITE DOWN THE 5 MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE

These could be described as emotions, achievements, people etc. These are the kinds of activities you would engage in if you didn’t have to do anything else. Imagine you’re a billionaire – how would you spend time to give meaning to your life?

Throughout this piece I’ll give an example to show each step being applied.

E.g.
1. family
2. money
3. happiness
4. fun
5. health

2) LIST THE 20 ACTIVITIES THAT TAKE UP THE MOST TIME/ENERGY IN YOUR NORMAL WEEK

Write them down in order of how much time or energy they consume (leave sleeping out of this list). You need to be honest with yourself and look closely at the “micro tasks” you complete, such as briefing scrolling through Facebook. How much time per week does this add up to? You might be surprised.

eg.
Watching TV: 21hrs
Traveling to work: 15hrs
Website design: 10hrs
Quality time with my partner: 5hrs


3) GIVE EACH OF THESE A RATING FROM 1 – 10

Rate them according to how much they contribute to the 5 most important things in your life. You could write it out in a grid, with activities down the side and important things across the top.

eg.
Watching TV: 21hrs – 2/10 (some happiness but mostly just boredom relief)
Traveling to work: 15hrs – 3/10 (gets me to work so sort of contributes to money)
Website design: 10hrs – 2/10 (doesn’t really do much, partly contributes to money)
Quality time with my partner: 5hrs – 9/10 (brings me joy, is fun, family is everything)

4) FIND THE “MEDIAN” RATING

Which rating represents the middle of all the ratings? Count the number of points given in total, then divide that by the number of activities. Which activities match that rating?

E.g. about 6/10

5) PUT ANYTHING THAT GETS A MEDIAN RATING OR LOWER ON THE  “HIT-LIST”

List the activities which take up time and energy without really contributing to your enjoyment of life.

These are the “median-rating or lower” activities. They take up time and energy without giving back. It’s time to do something about them. These are the “busy” tasks that feel important but really don’t contribute much to your quality of life.

e.g. Watching TV, website design and traveling to work.


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6) BRAINSTORM HOW TO REDUCE THE TIME/ENERGY HIT LIST ACTIVITIES TAKE

Outsource – who else could do it for you if you paid them? I recommend checking out Elance.com and Odesk.com for virtual assistants.
Minimise – how could you simply do less of the task?
Delegate – who could you give the task to? This is where children and underlings come in handy!
Discard – would your life really be so bad if this didn’t get done at all? You can test it for a week or two. If nothing bad noticeably happens, then you probably don’t even need to do it.

E.g. I could watch much less TV (or none at all), I could pay a virtual assistant $5 p/hr to maintain my website, and I could design a plan to work from home a few days per week.

7) CHOOSE REDUCTION TECHNIQUES FOR ALL HIT LIST ACTIVITIES AND IMPLEMENT THEM

After a week or two of consistently doing this, estimate how many hours this has saved you.

e.g.
I could reduce how much TV I watched by half. This would save me 10 hours per week.
I could pay someone to design my website. This would save me another 10 hours.
I could work 2 days per week from home. This would save me about 6 hours travel time.

Total saved: 26 hours!!!

(This example isn’t even far-fetched. When I personally first did this exercise I saved over 25 hours per week. My quality of life improved significantly almost overnight).

8) TAKE HALF OF THOSE “SAVED” HOURS AND PUT THEM TOWARDS MORE ENJOYABLE ACTIVITIES

What to do with your saved time? If you’re not careful, you’ll just end up being busy again. You need to consciously acknowledge those saved hours and them spend them wisely. This is about applying some smart decision-making. For more on how to do that, click here.

e.g.
Instead of watching TV on Wed and Sat night, I will go on 2 dates per week with my partner.
In the time I was using to build my website I will instead focus on getting more clients. This will end up with more sales which will more than pay for someone else to do my web design work.


9) USE THE REMAINING SAVED HOURS TO TREAT YOURSELF

Make it some weekly time-out, relaxation or other unproductive but rewarding activity.
 
e.g. In the time where I would usually be driving to work on Wed and Fri, I will sleep in and have a relaxed start to the day.


10) REPEAT THIS EXERCISE ONCE PER MONTH


CONGRATULATIONS

You just learned how to apply the “80/20 Pareto Principle” to your life. This will improve your overall feelings of happiness, satisfaction and purpose.

Share this around 🙂

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