The 80/20 Conundrum

Key Takeaways

  • Perfectionism can be the biggest barrier to making progress.
  • Don’t let fear of failure or procrastination get in the way of trying something new—shoot for 80 percent and commit to continuous improvement.
  • Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier or less expensive to build a highly skilled team for any task or project. You can’t expect to do it all yourself.

I wake up every morning with the goal of accomplishing three things every day. Sounds simple, but do you know what my biggest obstacle is? Myself!

We tend to be perfectionists and want to do things at 100 percent, even on our first try. That’s just not realistic. So I turn to the 80/20 rule. I’m not talking about the Pareto Principle in which 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. I’m talking about the first time you attempt something new—don’t expect more than an 80 percent result. The key is to keep plugging away and make incremental progress.

Maybe this story will help

Every summer we go to the mountains, where there’s a beautiful lake to swim in. At the beginning of summer, the water’s cold. Invariably we walk out onto the dock with the intent of jumping into the water. It’s a shock to the body. No matter if we wait one second, 10 seconds or 10 minutes the result is always the same, a shocking experience. Procrastination stops us from jumping in. Are we expecting a different result this year? No matter how well we prepare for the water, it’s just plain cold. And it’s cold every single year. That is how the 80/20 rule works. Start now, because the first result is always just 80%.

As the diagram below shows, you should strive for 80 percent of your goal on your first attempt. If you do 80 percent better on your second attempt, you’re now up to 96 percent. If your third attempt is another 80 percent better, you’re now up to 99 percent. By the time you get to the sixth and seventh attempts, you’re at 99.9 percent. That’s a very good result.


The 80/20 rule applies to teamwork as well. It could be teamwork in the business world, at home, or with your spouse, your family and your friends. You have to be realistic about what you do well and what you don’t. For instance, you may be really good at starting things, but you need help finishing. You might be a strong finisher, but a procrastinator at the starting gate. You might be a specialist at something, but need help with the big picture.

The idea is to team up with people who complement your skill set. Don’t try to do it all yourself. In today’s Internet age, it’s never been easier or less expensive to find highly qualified specialists for every task imaginable and to put together a great team.

Real-world example

We use a geographically dispersed team of specialists to produce videos like the one you’re watching. I shoot the footage then I turn it over to a video editor, who turns it over to a graphic artist, a writer, an editor and then a marketing specialist, who puts it all together and launches it to our audience. They’re all good at what they do, and we get a great result. Believe me, it wasn’t 100 percent perfect on the first try. It’s been a bunch of “80 percents” and we kept making incremental improvements.

Whether you’re jumping into cold water or trying something new in your life, don’t expect perfection the first time out. Make peace with 80 percent and strive for getting three things accomplished every day. You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time, enjoy.

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