The 80-20 Principle
Ever since I was a kid I’ve always considered myself a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” I get really excited to try out things so often that it’s really hard for me to focus on any one thing for too long. Also, I’ve always been a very competitive person, so I’m often really interested in learning how to get better at things, especially things that involve competing against others. It’s hard to do this, however, when you never stick with anything for more than a few months.
So I was really excited when I stumbled upon Tim Ferriss, who himself is kind of a jack of all trades, but the difference is he has seemed to master many of them as well. He is a champion kickboxer, a champion at dancing the tango, he can speak several languages, and has several New York Times best sellers. What was most interesting to me about Tim Ferriss was that his method to learning these and other skills. Instead of the traditional method of starting with “the basics” and building from there, his idea was to find mentors who could teach him the most important things to study and practice to get the most effects. He was working from the 80-20 theory; the idea that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work, and by choosing the correct 20% to focus on you can become very competent at something in record time.
This idea is explained in detail in all three of his books, The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. Ferriss’s work is primarily about learning “how to learn”, and as these titles imply, how to learn specific things very quickly.
As a person who was interested in so many things all at once, the 80-20 idea is really intriguing to me, and I try to keep it in mind whenever I try something new, or whenever I want to get better at it. But as you might imagine, sometimes 80% is not enough. Particularly for things that are important to us, but even for other things that we might have become passionate about. For those things, it’s probably worth it to start from the basics, and shoot for the full 100%.