The 80/20 Rule (and How to Use it to Be Brilliant at the Basics)
In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re talking about the 80/20 Rule (and how to use it to be brilliant at the basics). We’ll dive into what the 80/20 rule looks like and how it applies to your habits, routines, and actions. Including how to find your own 20% and let the other stuff go.
If you’re ready to focus in on what matters most and release having to “do it all” – this episode is for you! Listen in to the episode or keep reading for all my made-for-real-life tips.
the 80/20 rule (and how to use it to be brilliant at the basics)
What if I told you that just 20% of your daily habits and actions are yielding 80% of the results in your life?
I talk about this 80/20 Rule in my book, The Feel Good Effect: Reclaim your Wellness by Finding Small Shifts That Create Big Change. This is one of those small shifts that really does make a big change.
“what if I told you that just 20% of your daily habits and actions are yielding 80% of the results in your life?”
what is the 80/20 rule?
The 80/20 Rule, which has actually been around for a long time, was developed by Vilfredo Pareto in the early 1900’s in Italy.
He was an economist and he realized that 80% of results come from 20% of actions. Now this is known as Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule – you’ve probably heard of it if you’ve taken any management classes or read any productivity books.
But what if we take it out of productivity and apply it to the Feel Good Effect?
If 20% of our habits and actions yield 80% of the results, that’s important to know – because it’s related to how you want to feel and what results you want to see in your life. It’s not about getting more done or even about getting the right things done. Really, it’s not about doing; it’s about feeling. It’s about how your actions and habits relate to how you want to feel and the results you want to see.
“It’s not about getting more done or even about getting the “right” things done. Really, it’s not about doing; it’s about feeling.”
what the 80/20 rule looks like in real life
The amazing thing about the 80/20 Rule is that it means everything does not matter equally. If you have a never-ending to-do list that you feel like you have to do all of, you probably don’t in reality. Instead, it’s probably true that only about 20% of the items on the list or the things you do in a day are driving results and are related to how you want to feel.
For example, at the beginning of my work on Real Food Whole Life, I was really coming into the food blogging side of things. I still have over 500 recipes on my site and I plan to start sharing more recipes this year – but at one point, I made a decision to stop creating new recipes. The reasoning behind this decision was directly related to the 80/20 rule.
Initially, I had a hamster wheel approach where I posted a ton of content to just see what would stick. I was also working another full-time job outside the brand. So this was nights-and-weekends-work trying to publish two recipes per week. My thinking behind it was “more is better” and I needed to keep publishing at that rate to get to where I wanted to be.
But it simply wasn’t sustainable. Even when I moved into this brand full-time, I needed to write the book and produce the podcast. So even in the most ideal circumstance where this brand was my full focus – the recipe publishing schedule I’d been doing still wasn’t going to work long-term.
After several years of this approach, I had to have an honest conversation with myself. I thought I was going to have to stop publishing food recipes altogether (hello, all-or-nothing thinking). But what was interesting about the website’s analytics – which allows me to see how many people come to the site and which recipes are the most popular – was that I was able to see the 80/20 Rule in action.
When I looked at the hundreds of recipes I had published, I saw that only a few of them were driving 80% of the traffic. I realized that if I could figure out which posts would drive traffic the most, then I wouldn’t have to post every single week. My effort, energy, time, and money to produce a recipe from start to finish is not actually equal across the board. There are some that are going to pay off way more than others.
This is what I call being brilliant at the basics.
“sometimes we overlook the basics because we think we have to do more, be more, spend more time, and check more things off – but if everything doesn’t matter equally…then that’s not true.”
what it means to be brilliant at the basics
Sometimes we overlook the basics because we think we have to do more, be more, spend more time, and check more things off, but if everything doesn’t matter equally, then that’s not true. If we can figure out what the basic things are for us, we can be brilliant at them and create a lot more space in our lives to focus on the things that really matter.
The thing about the basics, though, is that my 20% may not be the same as yours – which is one reason that comparison is so toxic when it comes to how you want to live your life. With all that’s involved in running a full-time brand and business solo, I had to take some things off my plate. Recipe development was one of the things I took off. It was less of an all-or-nothing decision and more of a boundary-setting and mental health decision.
At the same time, I was able to look at the basics, those 10-20% of recipes that were doing the best, and focus on helping people continue to reach them. Amazingly, after a year of not posting a new recipe, the website is still seeing the same amount of traffic with this approach.
“if we can figure out what the basic things are for us, we can be brilliant at them & create a lot more space in our lives to focus on the things that really matter.”
how to apply the 80/20 rule to your health habits
This rule applies to anything that’s important to you, but let’s say you want to apply this to health habits.
We often feel like there’s always more to do, the new fad diet or exercise program, all those shoulds, but my guess is that you don’t have to do all of the things. A lot of them are probably in the bucket of the 80% that don’t really matter. Think about what your 20% is and how you can get really brilliant at those.
You can get more tactical with it by keeping track of your habits. One of the ways I was able to see the 80/20 Rule in action with my website was with the data over time. If health habits are important to you, I would suggest starting with documenting and tracking our health habits over time. Whether it’s sleep, hydration, movement, nourishment, taking time for hobbies, time on your phone, connection, or time for quiet and still, if you start tracking them, you’ll find that some are really moving the needle in terms of results and how you want to feel, while others just don’t.
“We often feel like there’s always more to do, the new fad diet or exercise program – all those “shoulds” – but my guess is that you don’t have to do all of the things. A lot of them are probably in the bucket of the 80% that don’t really matter.”
which health habits are in my 20%
One health habit for me in my 20% is hydration. There’s a practice for this in the book, and when I did it, I found that there was a clear connection between my hydration and how I felt. This data told me that if I want to have energy to be resilient and have stamina, water is crucial and a basic thing I need to prioritize. As a result, it’s something I am going to prioritize every day. If I have a day or two that are off, I am going to make sure I reprioritize it so it gets back into my routine. The basics, the 20%, are often the unsexy things. It’s not juice and celery in the morning for me, it’s just having water. It doesn’t have to be overcomplicated.
Another habit that is part of my 20% is moving my body. I believe consistency without perfection is key so I might miss a day. I do know, though, from paying attention and tracking, that when I move my body I really notice a difference in how I feel, specifically my energy, stamina, health, and happiness. The type of movement I have found is less important for me than just moving for 20 or more minutes. I’m not moving my body to calorie count or change my body, I’m doing it because it is the 20% that makes everything easier, that gets me the results, that helps me feel the way I want to feel. That makes it pretty easy for me to prioritize.
A third habit for my 20% is getting outside and getting some daylight on my face. There’s a lot of physiological research on why that matters, and for me, even living in a northern hemisphere, northern climate it’s hard for parts of the year. But I know that this is one of those few things that is really going to lead to results for me, which still makes it so easy to prioritize. It’s not another thing on my to-do list, it’s one of the things that allows me to do all the other things, or to just be in my life.
Adding a habit is easier than eliminating a habit, but another of my brilliant habits that I want to mention is not drinking, especially on weeknights. I noticed that even a small amount of alcohol was affecting my sleep and making me a little less interested in moving my body the next day. It’s not that having a glass of wine left me hungover the following day, I just noticed a small shift in my energy level the next day. So, when I look at my 20%, it just became an important part of my habits to not drink on weeknights.
“I have my whole list of what my brilliant-at-the-basics are & I found those by doing these experiments in my life, documenting, tracking. And doing it all without judgment.”
how to find your own 20% and make your brilliant-at-the-basics list
I have my whole list of what my brilliant at the basics are, and I found those by doing these experiments in my life, documenting, tracking. And doing it all without judgment.
When I talk about tracking and documenting, I’m not talking about a habit tracker that I’m checking off tasks from. A habit tracking makes it about whether you do or don’t do it versus focusing on why you are doing it.
This documentation that I’m talking about is about noticing (1) if you did it, (2) how it made you feel over time, and (3) how it’s connected to the results you want. You’ll find that you can create your own 20% list, your own brilliant at the basics, write them down, and see how connected they are. It’s your own personal constellation for the foundational habits in your life.
In the last year, another important one for me has been finding time to be alone. Being at home with my family constantly left me feeling depleted. Spending some time by myself really fills me up and gives me energy. Some of you might be missing the energetic boost you get from being around people; either way, it’s helpful to know what your 20% is so you can make efforts to adapt. For example, my pandemic walks have been hitting a lot of my brilliant at the basic checkpoints: outside time, movement, and alone time.
Think about your habits, routines, and actions in the context of 80/20, knowing that everything does not matter equally. You can focus on the 20% and prioritize those, getting brilliant at your basics and let a lot of the other stuff go.
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