It’s almost 2018! All hail the new year’s lads and lasses. Or something like that.
The mass purchasing of new calendars always seems to put people into hopeful and ambitious moods. Gym memberships balloon past actual service limits and lofty new resolutions are cheerily volleyed over beers as people anticipate the good fortunes of a newly minted trip around the sun. I like this spirit of optimism and good cheer. I think it’s a good thing when people aim high and set their sights on something impressive or important to them.
For this year, however, I want to try something a little different. Usually, I take this time to look forward, set goals, and chart my (improbable) course to fame, fortune, and all of the lovely things western society has subconsciously convinced me to believe in. Instead, I’d like to look back over the past year and do an 80/20 analysis. What has been working in my life this far? What hasn’t? What 20% (or less) of my inputs are creating 80% of the positive outcomes in my life, and which 20% are creating 80% of the negative outcomes in my life?
If I can stick to the former and avoid the latter life will take care of itself, right?
Well, maybe. It’s a start, at any rate!
As a brief aside, the 80/20 analysis idea comes from my long-time favorite author, self-experimenter, and entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, though the principle of this kind of distribution (power-law) can be dated back to the 1890’s, where an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, realized that 80% of the land in Italy at the time was owned by around 20% of the population. In many businesses, 80% of sales come from a mere 20% of clients/customers. The list goes on.
The utility of the exercise comes from forcing you to recognize only significant positive forces in your life. Moving my toothbrush from the cabinet to the counter saved me probably 45 seconds of extra work over the past year. While that’s great, it pales in comparison to, say, volunteering at dance events, which not only saved me money in the form of event passes, it also allowed me to make positive impressions and contacts with event directors and managers.
If I can prioritize my time with the critical few (volunteering, yoga, writing) and cut out needless time wasted on the 80% that isn’t really driving results (facebook scrolling, needless laundry, being stuck in traffic) I’ll get more out of the time I have left here on this planet. sounds like a good thing, no?
Let’s dig in:
20% of inputs driving 80% of positive results:
- Sweaty = Happy – Probably my most useful discovery of the year. “Will this make me happy?” turns out to be a terrible question for me, since monkey-mind Joel is pretty terrible at knowing what long-term Joel is going to like (“Of course I should eat this entire bag of chocolate chips while I watch Youtube videos about things I don’t care about!”). If I instead ask “Will this make me sweaty?” suddenly my decision is much more clear, and my long-term wellbeing gets the win. If I catch myself debating something, a quick check of the sweaty test usually straightens me out and gets me back down the correct path.
- Moving to California – Much as I miss you MN, I am able to capitalize on new opportunities here. Win. I’m hoping to make even more of these opportunities in the new year!
- Consistent Yoga Practice – Strength, flexibility, and quietness of mind, all wrapped into one. Triple win. This also passes the sweaty test with flying colors every time.
- Writing for my Blog – I enjoy publishing, and it builds my name and presence. You’re reading this right now and that’s certainly good enough for me!
- Volunteering at Events – Saves money and, much more importantly, builds relationships. Being a fantastic volunteer is a great way to get noticed for all of the right reasons.
- Checklist on Whiteboard – I have discovered that, unless I have an objective marker of success that stares me in the face until I accomplish something, I kick the can down the road. Putting my critical few tasks for the day on a whiteboard has helped tremendously. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of putting a big check mark next to a difficult task.
- Teaching Independently – Being able to set my own schedule and craft my own student experience is enjoyable to me and brings more value to my students. Win!
- Being vulnerable and honest with myself – Now if only I could apply this 80% of the time…
- Drills – I love dancing in general, but drills tend to have the biggest bang-for-the-buck for me. If I want to incorporate something into my dancing, I need to drill it. It’s as simple as that. Finding the 20% of drills that are most effective is a further refinement that I am focusing on for 2018.
20% of inputs driving 80% of negative outcomes:
- Not Getting Quality Sleep – Is this obvious? Yes. Have I heard about it for years? Also yes. The big problem is that it’s easy to kick the can down the road and tell myself that I’ll get better sleep tomorrow, just not tonight. Problem is, it seems that I need several days of good sleep to make up for even one major disruption. When I’ve had consistent, good sleep, I produce good quality work in all areas of my life.
- Reading Articles without Focus – Give me 3 months to write an article about something, and I’ll spend 11 weeks reading other people’s articles for ‘background research.’ In reality, most of that is just spinning my wheels and wasting my time.
- Being Stuck in Traffic – Self-explanatory I hope. I have attempted to ameliorate this evil with podcasts and audiobooks. In LA this is somewhat unavoidable.
- Overscheduling – I find I’m worse at everything when I don’t have a little slack time to play with. I can keep up with a break-neck pace for a few days, but having every second of my time accounted for quickly becomes oppressive, and my mind looks for ways of subverting the system.
- Worrying about Potential Negative Consequences – I suffer much more in imagination than I do in reality. It’s far too easy to spend hours agonizing over a decision that, when it comes down to it, usually has minimal consequences afterward
- Impulse Spending – In-N-Out Burger I love you but I also hate you.
- Unknown Dehydration – Whenever I’m feeling lethargic and useless it’s usually because I haven’t been getting enough sleep and enough water. Of the two, dehydration is much easier to quick-fix, and I’m trying to become better at keeping my water bottle with me as much as possible.
- Social Dancing too Many Nights in a Row – This one is especially difficult to admit given the amount of time I generally invest in social dancing, but there is a definite point, usually after the 4th night, where my experience, my partner’s experience, and the tissues of my body begin to degrade. It’s tough when there is so much amazing dancing to be had, but in order to enjoy some of it, you can’t do all of it. I endeavor to be better about this in the coming year.
It’s as easy as that. Avoid the negatives, and focus on the positives. Easy, right?
No, it’s tough. Tough, but not impossible. Going into the new year I plan to use these as guiding principles, as a to-do list and a not-to-do list, to structure my time in ways that most positively affect my life.
Now, as a challenge to you, dear reader, what 20% of activities are providing you with 80% of the positive outcomes in your life? Negatives? Apply a critical lens (80/20 analysis!) to your own activities and see what you come up with.
I’ll see you out on the floor!