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Focus Challenge Day 4: 80/20 Your Life

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Focus Challenge Day 4

Welcome to Day 4 of the 5-day Focus Challenge. If you haven’t yet, make sure to complete Day 3 before attempting today’s challenge. Today’s challenge is all about identifying the ONE thing that will provide the most momentum towards creating the future you’ve always dreamed of and focusing on that.

Let’s get started.

We’re all busy. We’ve all got too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. So how in the world are we supposed to find time to focus on and consistently do the things that will create the future that we’ve always dream of?

It’s not as difficult as you think. But it does take a mindset shift. Once you understand that not all tasks are created equal, you can find the time to take significant action on your goals – even amidst the business of everyday life.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (or law of the vital few) states that for many events, roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. For example:

  • 80% of sales come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of the errors come from 20% of the code
  • 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the population

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Pareto principle was actually named after the Italian economist Vilfred Pareto, who observed that roughly 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Story has it that he recognized this after noticing that about 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained about 80% of the peas.

The Pareto principle teaches us that roughly 80% of the value is achieved from only 20% of the effort. The same is true when deciding what to work on that will help you create your ideal future. You don’t need 40 extra hours per week in order to create the future you’ve always dreamed of. You just need to work smart by picking the things that will provide you biggest return on your time, attention, energy, and focus investment. So if you can identify the 20% of things you could be doing that provide 80% of the value and focus only on those things, you can maximize your results and create your ideal future faster than you ever thought possible.

You just have to make it a priority.

Finding your one thing

In the book Essentialism, Greg McKeown talks about how the word “priority” came into the English language in the 1400s as a singular noun. It literally meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for about the next 500 years or so.

It actually wasn’t until the 1900s that people started pluralizing the word and talking about multiple priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality and somehow we would be able to have multiple “first” things.

Even though this makes absolutely no sense, people and companies routinely try to do just that. In the book, Greg talks about how one business leader in a company that talked about “Priority 1, Priority 2, Priority 3, Priority 4, and Priority 5, etc.” This gave the impression that many things were the priority, but in reality, it actually meant that nothing was.

Your goal today is to identify and prioritize the ONE thing you can do tomorrow that will provide the greatest movement towards creating your ideal future. It doesn’t have to be big or important, it just has to be significant. Leverage the Pareto principle and apply the 80/20 rule to creating your ideal future.

80/20 the 80/20

While many people have never even thought about their life in terms of the Pareto principle, where things get interesting is when you apply the 80/20 rule to the 80/20. If you apply the 80/20 rule to the 20% of things that are providing you 80% of value, you end up with only 4% of actions creating 64% of the value!

This is important because it means that no matter how much time you have to devote towards creating your ideal future, you can still make significant progress by choosing the right things to work on.


Look back at the the five things you identified yesterday which will help you achieve your ideal future. Which one will provide the biggest impact? This is not the same as how big the task is – the smallest task might actually be the one that makes the biggest impact.

Make sure that you select the thing that will provide the greatest return on your time investment if you could only do 1 of them. This is the 80/20 for your ideal future, and what you are going to work on tomorrow during your focus block.

Once you’re done, let us know what your one thing is in the comments below. Then get ready to take action tomorrow!


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Posted by Simon  | November 13, 2017 at 1:57PM | Reply

My primary task is to make myself more employable. I will do this by learning a relevant skill, one per month, and getting the associated accreditation as proof / a target.

Posted by Oliver Saunders  | November 12, 2017 at 5:40PM | Reply

I know that this will change later but it’s absolutely clear to me now that to make better progress with my MA I need to make sure that I get in the habit of reading something every day. This keeps me thinking about things more of the time and that is when my understanding really moves on. This is the focus for now.

Posted by Karusha  | November 12, 2017 at 2:01PM | Reply

I changed my new focus areas around slightly after I did the focus day 3 challenge. But my 1 focus area, my absolute priority, in achieving my ideal future is my 1/2 hour a day on personal development.

Posted by Anesh Naidoo  | November 12, 2017 at 5:39AM | Reply

I’m going to focus on getting content built into our company website. This small change in what I work on will make big effort to shifting my energy and taking control of where I want to be in the next 6 months.

Posted by Steve W  | November 11, 2017 at 2:59PM | Reply

Thinking about the five activities made me realise that the one that will have the most impact (and which is causing me the most pain) is exercise. I need to focus on doing some form of exercise each day, and to create focus blocks for it (which are non-negotiable). I think that this will have knock on, or domino, effect on other habits (e.g. meditation, journaling), and will also help me to move forward in other areas of my life.

Posted by steven  | November 10, 2017 at 11:11PM | Reply

Taking action vs being too analytical.

Posted by Diana  | November 10, 2017 at 4:26PM | Reply

I need to rebalance my time to schedule family time and less time sitting at my computer.

Posted by Tamika Sykes  | November 10, 2017 at 3:09PM | Reply

For me it was moving forward with onboarding a new paralegal.

Posted by Dan  | November 10, 2017 at 1:35PM | Reply

Interestingly, what I chose as the ONE thing to do was not the one most closely aligned with my future, but rather one that would free up more time for me to pursue that future. I chose to prioritize implementing systems I’ve been thinking about using that would help to automate and/or simplify my daily life at home and at work. Developing a mindset that just because I CAN do something myself doesn’t mean I SHOULD do it myself.

While there is a personal satisfaction that comes from knowing you can accomplish a complex or difficult task on your own when it is something that needs doing, but isn’t aligned with your goals, it can be too easy to get lost in the details and discover that you have spent the better part of a day (or week, or month, or life) learning how to do these things on your own that, if resources weren’t an issue, you would never think of doing.

Posted by Katie Alexander  | November 10, 2017 at 11:25AM | Reply

Taking daily action on my new business is essential and would make the biggest impact.

Posted by Steven  | November 10, 2017 at 11:12AM | Reply

I need to write an outline for email outreach to test a side business idea. Find a way to give them something valuabkeu first before asking for something.

Posted by Lisa Young  | November 10, 2017 at 11:04AM | Reply

Writing a blog entry- I would really like to do more writing and work part time in medicine with consulting and writing as a major part of my work.

Posted by Jeremy Brown  | November 10, 2017 at 10:21AM | Reply

I need to make my newfound habit of journalling stick. Hopefully this will help me be more grateful, as well as act as game film on where I am spending my energy.

Posted by Jon  | November 10, 2017 at 9:48AM | Reply

My priority has recently been, and will continue to be, improving my physical health via exercise and otherwise. I can’t do the other things I want to do without more energy. Better prioritization helps a little here and there, but more energy helps me take advantage of times where I come home at the end of the day or week completely dead, and need to rest instead of do something else.

Posted by Alice Ferris  | November 10, 2017 at 9:36AM | Reply

I am also doing the 12 week year and my theme for this period is “clear what’s holding me back.” My one thing is to create a standard operating procedure for ptoposals and onboarding new clients so that someone else can do it. I spend far too much time doing admin stuff, and I’d like to hire a virtual assistant, but I don’t have the processes in place.

Posted by Diane Thompson  | November 10, 2017 at 9:03AM | Reply

I have been one of those people who have had multiple priorities. That was interesting to point out that priority is single.
In reading some of the comments , I also realized that it is hard to prioritize one action in a time when so many actions are required of us. The one comment I found helpful was in discovering which of your many roles is the most important and prioritize the actions for that role. eg. for many, being a parent is the supreme priority.
I will still have to think a while on that one because I still have more than one role that is important to me.

Posted by Ella  | November 10, 2017 at 7:54AM | Reply

You’re going to laugh, but the 4% thing I need to do is have a very clear plan for my study, not just my other tasks. ‘Study for exam’ in contrast with with the far more well defined ‘Email X to fo low up on Y’ means that I do those tasks because they are defined and measurable, and not the important but often not urgent study. That unease because am not doing what I ‘should’ is what leads to many of the things I want to reduce on my list!

Posted by Corinna  | November 10, 2017 at 7:46AM | Reply

My family is important to me. Setting aside time everyday to do something fun together. Leaving work at work and be more present at home and to my family will have a great impact.

Posted by Susan  | November 10, 2017 at 7:12AM | Reply

Without my health being optimum, the rest goes down the drain, so the 20% is paying more attention to self-care. This is going to include the reading, meditation, exercise, diet, and sleep that I will be improving so everything else I want to do is optimized.

Posted by Bob DeSilets  | November 10, 2017 at 6:14AM | Reply

Looking over my impact list from yesterday, my one thing stood out clearly: wake up earlier. Just about everything else on the list would be impacted by this one change, even if it concerns me that I won’t be getting enough sleep overall. Bedtime then needs to become important in order for this to become sustainable in the long run

Posted by Mario  | November 10, 2017 at 6:09AM | Reply

In my case it definitely is: Define workflows for all the things that I procrastinate because I do not know, how to handle it.

Posted by Randy  | November 10, 2017 at 2:26AM | Reply

Planning a realistic schedule not only prepares me for the next day, but also alleviates the stress caused by seeing too many ‘must do’s’. Being realistic about how much time and effort is required for each task is key to determining how much gets added to any one day’s schedule.

Posted by David  | November 10, 2017 at 2:15AM | Reply

This is another good exercise. As a researcher, the best way of maximising my output is to involve my research students. This could be better achieved by teaching them more goal-setting and productivity skills, as well as stoic philosophy to help them with their resilience to the failures routinely encountered in academic life.

Posted by Oliver Glenn  | November 10, 2017 at 1:10AM | Reply

Task: Put the iPhone into airplane mode.

– being more present and in the moment
– enabling an undistracted environment to ask the “why” question, and the focus to answer it! :)

Posted by Johanna Granlund  | November 9, 2017 at 11:00PM | Reply

Focusing on one thing at a time instead of trying to multitask.

Posted by Donny  | November 9, 2017 at 10:59PM | Reply

Feel that exercising is both urgent and signaficant to me. Need to start right now.

Posted by Bob  | November 9, 2017 at 10:49PM | Reply

After the first exercises, this is easy. I have a phone call to make.

Posted by Bill Garrett  | November 9, 2017 at 9:45PM | Reply

Wow! I actually discovered one activity I enjoy which will likely preclude a good amount of the preventative work I do, bringing me more in line with the 80/20.

Posted by Keith  | November 9, 2017 at 9:21PM | Reply

So my top three things that I valued are:
1 Being the best father/husband I can possibly
2 Being the best coach/most efficient boss/employee I can be
3 Be the healthiest me I can be for myself and my family.

Yes, very general goals here, but they are more specific on my list. The one thing that I found would have the most immediate impact is something I mentioned yesterday. I can be more present at home, more refreshed at work, and get to sleep easier so I can workout in the morning by simply putting my phone down when I get home for work. It would have IMMEDIATE impact, and it did already when I came home this evening.

Posted by Kacy  | November 9, 2017 at 9:12PM | Reply

The one task with the most impact would be to make logo assets for my Etsy shop rebranding. I’ve already decided on a new logo and it’s just a matter of making the right sizes for social media/etsy/stamps/etc.

Posted by Laurie  | November 9, 2017 at 8:54PM | Reply

For me this is definitely exercise. It helps me maintain the energy to do everything else, and I have been extremely lazy about it. I blocked time in my schedule to get a workout in tomorrow.

Posted by Jonathan  | November 9, 2017 at 8:02PM | Reply

For me, it will be to do my weekly review on Friday PM and stick to the scheduled event in my calendar.

Posted by Thomas  | November 9, 2017 at 6:56PM | Reply

Looking through my 5 things from yesterday, I discovered that the one thing that has the greatest impact is the daily focus block itself! It allows me to narrow my sight and keep my eye on the prize and in reflection I’ve noticed that my best and productive days are when I take time before the day begins to focus and hone myself in.

Must be a remnant from my athletic days where you want to get “in the zone” before a game. Had no idea that I still operate this way – and I love it! :)

Posted by Anton  | November 9, 2017 at 5:33PM | Reply

I think by zoning out three times of 90 minutes per week in my electronic diary for my special projects will help me get the best results. I must treat these appointments with myself just like important work meetings. Be there on time and prepared.

Posted by Michael Breen  | November 9, 2017 at 5:06PM | Reply

My 4% task is being deliberate with my time. I will use my focus block to review my use of time the day before and to plan out my time for the upcoming day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

My updated 5 activities:
-Learn Something
-Engage w/ People
-Quality time with Family/Friends

Another great exercise!

Posted by Simon  | November 9, 2017 at 4:47PM | Reply

In my life scenario, this One Thing is to spend just one hour a day by investing for income (having an asset portfolio producing certain regular monthly income). After achieved, I won’t have to work full-time, which will result in desired free time for my family and my other 10% entrepreneur activities.

Posted by Srilekha  | November 9, 2017 at 4:21PM | Reply

I think that mediation would be most beneficial to me. Or maybe taking up journaling.

Posted by Árpád  | November 9, 2017 at 3:35PM | Reply

Perhaps it looks strange, but meditating two times per day in the morning and at the evening. It is so relaxing and refreshing the same time, charge me with energy and leads out the unnecessary stress.

Posted by Teejay  | November 9, 2017 at 2:28PM | Reply

Well, based on my work from yesterday … the ONE thing I could do would be to pay off my debts. I can’t do that tomorrow, but AM working it very aggressively right now.

So the NEXT thing I can do is more training in my selected field. That’s pretty broad, so the actual next thing I’ve put on my task list is searching for a local class or boot camp to learn Python.

Posted by Jeremy  | November 9, 2017 at 2:23PM | Reply

My current 20% will be updating *how* I schedule and plan my projects (6-week sprints plus buffer and time off).

Posted by Todd  | November 9, 2017 at 1:49PM | Reply

As simple as this is my one thing needs to be planning out my day the night before.

Posted by Rajesh Iyer  | November 9, 2017 at 1:47PM | Reply

Super Simple for me, My Health. From where I am currently, to what I should be. If I achieve that, My other values will automatically get pushed.

Posted by Alexander Malmström  | November 9, 2017 at 1:43PM | Reply

My 20 is absolutely planning. When I spend just minutes every day planning my next day and on fridays planning my next week my results are hugely higher then when I don’t plan.

Posted by Mike  | November 9, 2017 at 1:19PM | Reply

This is a great exercise! My final list is
– self care
– focus time
– “work” on my most valuable tasks
– a consistent review
If I have to boil it down, I would say the most important thing is to abide by my success routine!

Posted by Georfe  | November 9, 2017 at 12:57PM | Reply

With family as my priority- making my work more effective means that I can spend more, and higher quality, time with my family.

Posted by Tomas  | November 9, 2017 at 12:44PM | Reply

Thanks to the challenge, I’ve noticed a greater amount of time dedicated to my main goal, and feel that I´m making significant progress. This will definitely have an impact in my life.

Posted by Jason  | November 9, 2017 at 12:30PM | Reply

They’re all important, but I think #1 has to be, “Get and keep my task management system up to date”. When that slips, everything slips, and I feel out of control. When my task management is together, everything is more clear, and the other items on my list start to come together on their own.

It’s kind of silly that I’ve known for a long time that I need to get on top of it again, but going through this exercise makes it so clear just how valuable that is.

Posted by Julia  | November 9, 2017 at 12:20PM | Reply

Can I find a way to safeguard my focus time so that urgent and important things simply cannot come up then? That would be the “one thing” I could do …. Can it be done? Let me think this through.
1. If I were working somewhere that did not have any communication options, that is not in my work building, and is not in my home, I would be unlikely to be interrupted, because I have disabled notifications on my phone except for urgent matters from family, which is not the category of interruption I am worried about.
2. If I am working in my home, I will be interrupted by family for non-urgent things. There is not really any way to avoid that.
3. If I am in the office, I will be interrupted by students and colleagues for urgent and non-urgent things, and I seem unable to prevent that, but if I am not there, even the urgent things seem to wait without catastrophe.

Conclusion: I need to stop in a coffee shop or hide in the library or otherwise be physically somewhere else during my blocked off focus time, or I will remain unlikely to succeed in defending it against interruption. Uninterrupted focus time will allow me to move ahead with my writing, which is the main item on my 5-year list (other than feeling calmer) that is not already true.

Now I just have to figure out if that is actually workable since the materials I need to write are bulky and not easy to haul around.

Posted by Christine  | November 9, 2017 at 12:05PM | Reply

Energy management is my one thing that would help me to do the two actions I identified yesterday:
1) Increasing the meaning and mindfulness of tasks I cannot avoid (commuting and chores) can only be accomplished if I have the energy to re-frame the “why” or “how” of what I am doing. Otherwise I go into autopilot.
2) Shrinking the two time-wasters including TV and internet. I end up wasting time on these because I am too tired (and have used up my willpower) to spend time in activities I want to prioritize (creative hobby and reading).

Posted by Jason Mellen  | November 9, 2017 at 11:54AM | Reply

I agree for me that planning would be the one thing that makes the biggest difference. During my busy time, I carry out a number of business processes quickly. But I’ve noticed that I’m inconsistent and try to find solutions on the fly. In the end it means I spend more time cleaning up and trying to fix things later. By planning out procedures ahead of time, I can easily follow those and know I’m getting the best result.

Posted by Don Pavlik  | November 9, 2017 at 11:52AM | Reply

Small as it may seem, but seeking out council for more understanding appears to be one small thing I can do.

Posted by Deleone  | November 9, 2017 at 11:46AM | Reply

I want to spend more time reading my Bible. As well as books about those areas/subjects I’ve pinpointed that I’m good at that I would like to learn to master over the rest of my lifetime.

Posted by e.e.  | November 9, 2017 at 11:42AM | Reply

The biggest impact will definitely be adjusting my career goals frequently and actually working on them. I usually have a lot of ideas and then I literally FORGET that I had that idea and by the time it’s revisited in my crazy brain, it’s too late to put it in action. If I focused that would never be an issue. Need to focus!

Posted by Kristen Smith  | November 9, 2017 at 11:28AM | Reply

Gosh, this is tough. As an editor, wife, and mom, I often feel as though I’m walking a tightrope and if I change *anything*, I’ll lose my balance and fall. For instance, if I try to focus more on fitness, I’ll lose out on family time. If I try to focus more on family time, I’ll lose out on healthy meals because there won’t be time to cook.

So I really like the idea of using 80/20 for the 80/20—getting value without a huge additional time investment (which so many of us simply can’t make).

This might sound silly, but my priority will be to find a mom group in the area to join. I think that would (1) help me find a greater since of community in a place where I don’t yet know very many people, (2) allow me to continue spending time with my baby, and (3) get us out of my husband’s hair so that he can study—and hopefully have more time to spend with us later.

Posted by Deb Garrison  | November 9, 2017 at 11:00AM | Reply

Working on cleaning up my surroundings, organizing, and developing business plans for the future appears to be where I get the most traction. I guess I need to concentrate on this area and add it into my daily routine.

Posted by Saju K  | November 9, 2017 at 10:54AM | Reply

Getting that weekly planning in place is what should get me to the next level. Working smart is definitely on my cards

Posted by Troy Patterson  | November 9, 2017 at 10:20AM | Reply

I need to work on my planning and review time. If I spend the right amount of time planning my day the rest falls into place. From work, to family to sleep.

Posted by Russ Fellows  | November 9, 2017 at 10:14AM | Reply

This was easy because of yesterday. I recognized there were two things I say I value but wasn’t spending much time doing those things. Because of that epiphany, I had the chance to do something last night that was more inline with what I really think is important. Uncomfortable? Yes, but definitely worth it. Now to make these behaviors a habit.

Posted by Ben  | November 9, 2017 at 10:03AM | Reply

After reflecting on the five things I wrote yesterday, I realized just how right Mike is: The biggest *impact* for me would be the “smallest” task. I need a routine for winding down and getting sufficient sleep. That alone may play a significant role in my ability (e.g. energy, focus) to achieve all other goals.

Posted by Michael  | November 9, 2017 at 8:07AM | Reply

Spending time in prayer/meditation and reflecting. I believe that will help “center” me and allow me to focus more.

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