Why the 80/20 Rule Doesn’t Work


Productivity experts around the world have touted the magic of the 80/20 rule.  Basically, the rule states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.  So if you can eliminate the 80% that provides little results and focus on that key 20%, you can create much more value for your time.

In fact, you can take this further. The 20% of what you are currently working on can be broken down into the 20% that provides the 80% of those results.

Imagine the possibilities: by working a mere fraction of time you’re currently working, you can get almost the same results!

Sounds too good to be true.  That’s because it is.  If it was so simple everyone would be doing it.

Here’s the problem:  Your Brain.

You see, your conscious brain – the part that decides which 20% to work on – is only running the show about 5% of the time.  We now know that your unconscious brain is in control most of the time.  And your unconscious brain is afraid to drop any balls.  It’s what reminds you (in the shower) that you need to send that email you promised to get out by the end of the day. It’s what makes you feel like crap when you get home from the grocery store and realize you forgot to get the one thing you went there for in the first place.

The unconscious part of your brain often keeps you stuck working on the low-return 80% stuff.  With hindsight, we can see that some of the things we’ve spent a lot of time working on weren’t really very important.  So why can’t we see this in the present moment?  Because the brain is very good at creating illusions.  It tells us things like, “this won’t take long,” and “I just need to get this done first – to clear my plate.”  Sometimes it’s like we’re zombies just plugging away at something without even questioning it.

Yes, successfully applying the 80/20 rule can drastically improve your productivity and make you a rock star. But to succeed, you have to overcome the “distraction” programs being run by your unconscious brain. To keep you safe, your unconscious brain is programmed to compel you to try and get EVERYTHING done – including the not-so-important stuff.  So even when you try to ignore the less important stuff and only focus on that 20%, your brain will hijack your focus.

I suffered from the unconscious program to “get it ALL done.” In some cases, it helped. When I had a corporate job with a clearly defined set of tasks, it helped me to stand out and climb the ladder. On the surface, my performance was exceptional, but I had to work long hours to “get it all done.”  And I didn’t limit myself to the tasks that were assigned to me – I took initiative to expand my influence.

But as a business owner, this programming really hurt me.  Because when you’re the boss, the amount of work that needs to be done is never ending. While my brain was compulsively driving me to try and get it ALL done, I was exhausting myself and NOT tackling the magical 20%.  Left unchallenged, your brain will find all kinds of creative ways to leave that key 20% for last – and you’ll never seem to get to it.

I’ve discovered that to successfully focus on that critical 20%, you need to rewire your brain.  It truly requires a neural shift – you need to throw some switches in your head that cause your mental train to jump those well-worn tracks and head in a new direction. After years of study, I created the Neuro-Focus Shift Method to help me and my clients overcome the “productivity saboteurs” that are programmed into our brains.  This simple 3 step process literally rewires your brain so you can easily implement strategies that will get you more productive … so you can spend less time working and more time doing what you really want to do.

If you’re struggling to implement great strategies like the 80/20 rule, take a look at what’s going underneath.  Do you feel like you need to read every email as soon as it comes in?  Or do you save them up to respond to them when you can?  Can you throw out mail without even reading it?  Or do you “save it for later” and then never get to it (while a part of your mind is attached to wondering if you’re missing something)? When someone asks you to do something, do you feel compelled to say ‘yes’?  Neural programming like this will conflict with and cancel out your best efforts to implement the 80/20 rule. It may well be time for a shift.

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