Career

How To Work Less and Succeed More (Yes, Really)

How are you feeling today – perhaps a bit tired? A little overworked? How would you feel if I told you that it was entirely possible to work less and enjoy more? The secret behind this incredibly favourable work-life balance could be the Pareto Principle, where 20% of your input apparently equates to 80% of your output – which means that by being a little bit clever about it, you can achieve more in your life by doing not a lot.

But before I tell you how, a brief history lesson. In 1896, an Italian economist called Vilfredo Pareto realised that 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the population, and soon discovered that the 80/20 concept was everywhere – including the productivity of the pea pods in his garden (stay with me here), of which 20% were responsible for 80% of the overall production of peas.

Fast forward a 100 years and the Pareto Principle has become one of the most effective time management tools on the planet, thanks to Richard Koch’s bestselling book, The 80/20 Principle. “The 80/20 Principle can and should be used by every intelligent person in their daily life,” believes Koch, a former management consultant who attributes the principle to his own overwhelming success.

The book – which was originally published 20 years ago but was updated and republished earlier this year – promises to give readers an advantage when it comes to achieving a lot through very little (20%, to be precise) effort. Here’s how:

Focus On What You Do Best

If you’re anything like me, you might have blithely gone through life until now believing that most of your outstanding tasks hold the same value. They’ll all just things on a list that need to be done, aren’t they?

But if we subscribe to the Pareto Principle, 20% of your input equates to 80% of your results – which basically means that if there are ten things on your to-do list, two of them will be more valuable that the remaining eight put together. But how do you identify that elusive 20% that you should be focusing your efforts on?

Your energies should be spent, says Koch, on the things that you are both interested in and enjoy – out of all of the plates you might have spinning, honing in on these is of upmost importance. “The key to earning more and working less is to pick the right thing to do and to do only those things that add the highest value,” says Koch, who adds that if you can’t muster up any enthusiasm for your current career, you should probably change it. “Find your niche. It may take you a long time, but it is the only way you will gain access to exceptional returns.”

Top tip: Write down everything that gets your pulse racing (in a good way) and then work out which of them has the potential to be spun into a career niche. Pursue the one that excites you the most.

Ditch The Tasks That Are Holding You Back

Consider this; four fifths of what you do is actually irrelevant. Depressing, isn’t it? “The 80/20 Principle says that if we doubled our time on the top 20% of activities, we could work a two-day week and achieve 60% more than now,” says Koch. He believes that it isn’t our lack of time management holding us back, rather our tendency to squander our time on low-quality ways.

“There is normally great scope to do things differently within your existing circumstances,” says Koch, noting that it’s a common misconception that you can’t just eliminate some inevitable ‘low value’ activities.

“Even if dropping the low-value activities does require a radical change in circumstances – a new job, a new career, new friends, even a new lifestyle or partner – form a plan to make the desired changes,” says Koch. “The alternative is that your potential for achievement and happiness will never be attained. Be unconventional and eccentric in how you use your time. Do not follow the herd.”

Top tip: Create a ‘to-don’t’ list (geddit?) and establish what tasks are of little to no value to you. Write them down and do not, under any circumstances, do them. You only have so many hours in a day – don’t waste them.

Apply The 80/20 Rule to Your Personal Life, Too

It’s not just your career that can reap the rewards of the Pareto Principle; your personal life can benefit from it too. Koch believes that most people experience 80% of happiness only 20% of the time. So what can we do to even out those margins?

Start by eliminating the things you do perhaps out of habit or a sense of duty that don’t necessarily bring you a great deal of joy – it could be finally cutting loose a toxic friend or even outsourcing some of your most despised chores. Koch calls these “valleys of unhappiness” and tend to be things that make you actively unhappy.

“If the best way to start being happy is to stop being unhappy, the first thing we should do is avoid situations and people that tend to make us feel depressed or miserable,” says Koch.

Top tip: Identify the times when you’re at your happiest and expand them as much as possible. Similarly, identify the times when you’re least happy and reduce them as much as possible.


Nicola is a UK based writer and editor with a special interest in entertainment, lifestyle, tech, travel and parenting. Her ‘likes’ include new stationary, sanitising her hands and not following through on plans to go to that early morning Pilates class. Her (almost) decade-long career as a journalist has taken her to the States, Sydney and back to Blighty, where she can currently be found plotting her next adventure.