What Brian Tracy, Timothy Ferris, and Many More Use to Get More Done in Less Time …

Motivational expert Brian Tracy calls it "one of the most helpful of all concepts of time and life management."

Timothy Ferriss, New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, says it's "the cornerstone of results-based living."

They are both referring to what's commonly called the 80/20 Principle or Pareto Principle (after Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), the man who first identified its existence).

Some ways the 80/20 Principles plays out in business:

20 percent of customers produce 80 percent of a company's profit.
20 percent of a company's staff generates 80 percent of its productivity.
20 percent of the time you spend at work accounts for 80 percent of what you achieve.

As a freelance business person, the core idea is that in order to find more success, you need to focus on the 20% of your activities that bring you the most reward – and all but eliminate (or delegate) the 80% that bring you little or no reward.

The reason it's so powerful is that it allow you to generate the best results and the most money with the least expenditure of effort and assets.

In other words, it helps you get more done in less time.

Something we all want, right?

In his book, The 80/20 Principle: The Secret of Doing More with Less, Richard Koch outlines five steps on how to apply the productivity power of the 80/20 Principle into your routine.

If you feel you're not being as productive in your career or personal life as you'd like, the following five-step plan could put you on the path to wealth and prosperity:

Step One: Giving up guilt

An important part of getting more done in less time is not to feel guilty about it. Enjoying what you do and working half the time and making twice or three times the money as the next guy is nothing to feel guilty about.

If you love what you do, your output on the job will be of greater quantity and better quality. As proof, Koch cites the prolific number of works painters Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh completed. But having said that, he stresses that quantity of work is much less important than the quality of work.

Step Two: Free yourself from obligation given by others

When 80 percent of the time yields only 20 percent of the results, it's a safe bet the 80 percent is undertaken at the request or on behalf of others.

If you aren't in control of what you do with your time, it's usually extremely difficult to make good use of it.

But, of course, you'll always have some obligations to others. You can't change that. The key is to choose your partners, friends, and business associates who understand they can’t pass on work and responsibility to you without good reason. Say you have a friend that likes to call you during your prime work hours for a casual chat. Let him or her know that you'd appreciate it if they'd restrict their calls to your non-work hours.

Step Three: Be unconventional and eccentric in the use of your time

A big step towards not having 80 percent of your time being absorbed by low-priority activities is to adopt unconventional behavior or solutions.

Of course, not all eccentric ways of spending your time will multiply your effectiveness, but at least one or some of them could. Your task is to draw up several scenarios and adopt the one that does. Look for a friend or a co-worker who is both eccentric and effective and ask them what they do and try to duplicate it.

Koch cites William Gladstone, the four-term prime minister of England during the Victorian era, as a successful person who definitely didn’t stick to a normal schedule. Whenever felt even slightly ill, he would spend the whole day in bed reading and thinking.

Here are a few other suggestions to get you thinking unconventionally and eccentrically:

A) Throw out all the rules – Don't feel you have to be constrained by old habits. For example, instead of phoning up a prospective local client, drop in personally and ask for the name of the person who is in charge of hiring freelance writers and then leave them your card. You'll have a good opening line to use when you call them the next day.

B) Try new things – If you drive a certain way to work in the morning, take a different route. Try a new sport. Buy an outrageously colored shirt. Keep looking for new adventures to embark on.

C) Take chances and give yourself permission to fail – In his now famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address, Steve Jobs said, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know of to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." Keep that in mind the next time you hesitate when making a cold call or asking for a referral.

D) Always look for opportunity in disaster – Bad things are bound to happen, but if you try to find the opportunity hidden in every disaster, you'll usually be able to come out on top. For instance, if a client suddenly decides they no longer want to deal with you, evaluate why they might have come to that decision. Ask them to explain their decision under the guise that if you understand what you did wrong it will help you provide a better service to current and future clients. Then use what you learned to improve the level of service you deliver to clients.

Step Four: Identify the 20 percent that gives you the 80 percent

Four-fifths of your achievement, results, and happiness are likely to come from one-fifth of your time. However, the 20 percent that brings you achievement might not be the exact same 20 percent that brings you happiness. So it's important to look at them separately.

Here's an exercise you can do: for happiness, identify what Koch calls your "happiness islands." These are the small amounts of time over the years that have contributed disproportionately to your happiness.

Get out a clean sheet of paper and write "Happiness Islands" at the top. Then list as many of them as you can. Then try to deduce what the common denominator is between all or some of your happiness islands. For example, at work you might discover you're happiest when you're writing sales letters versus writing emails. In your off time, it might become apparent that you enjoy yourself most when you go on vacation with a specific couple.

Repeat the procedure for your "Unhappiness Islands."

Generally, these do not comprise a large part of your other 80 percent – generally, people have large no-man's-lands of moderate happiness. But it's important to identify the sources of unhappiness and the common denominators between them.

Repeat the procedure for "Achievement." Identify the times you are most productive. And then identify the common characteristics (to help you identify areas, check out the top 10 highest-value uses of your time list.)

Then list your "Achievement Desert Islands." These are the periods of time that you have the lowest productivity. To assist you, refer to the top 10 low-value uses of time list.

The next step is to focus on the 20 percent of your time that gives you 80 percent of your success. So you'll want to spend more time doing things in both your happiness and achievement islands (or similar activities).

When you do this exercise, you might discover that in order to be happier and consistently more fulfilled, you need to change occupations.

Step Five: Eliminate or reduce low-value activities

The idea is to eliminate as much of the 80 percent that you do that gives you only 20 percent of your results. It's advisable to do this before you try to increase the time spent on high-value activities.

You might feel initially there isn't much you can do to escape doing some things. But there usually is more room to do things differently than you think. As mentioned above, you just have to be a little unconventional to make it happen: try new things, throw out the rules, take chances, give yourself permission to fail, and always look for opportunity in personal disasters.

If you find yourself always running short of time or that you seem to be always taking "one step forward and two steps back," it's probably time to "80/20 Principle your life."

Follow these five steps and you'll have mastered a skill that everyone in life wants …

 … the ability to get more done in less time.

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Published: January 27, 2012

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