80/20 is Always Plenty (An Affirmation for Perfectionists)

Monday, June 25, 2012 - 01:00
80/20 is always plenty

Perfectionism has killed more goals and dreams than the most intimidating teachers, the most oppressive governments, and the worst economic conditions.

Perfectionism is that incessant voice in your head that has the audacity to nitpick and dwell on insignificant details contained within your most impressive creations.

Perfectionism is that sucking sound in your head trying to siphon away the meaning out of your 100+ victories while placing a magnifying glass over your one defeat. And finally, perfection

And finally, perfectionism is that illusory carrot and stick trying to make you follow it along a mobius strip… forever keeping the attainment of your goals and dreams just out of reach.

Thank God for the Reality of the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle (e.g. “The 80/20 Rule”)

Ever notice that some of your activities produce a lot of results after very little effort while other tasks take an eternity and yield little to no value? Well so did a smart fellow named Pareto who popularized the principle that is essentially summed up as the 80-20 rule.

Basically it boils down to the following observations:

  • 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort.
  • 20% of the result comes from 80% of the effort.

Logically, it would behove us to spend more time in the first category as it has the greatest bang for the buck. And said a different way, it would also make sense to eliminate, delegate, or defer as much of the second category as we can (if our current situation allows for it).

Where perfectionists really get stuck is they insist that the second category must get done, even in the situations where the balance is 90/10 or 99/1. Taken to the extreme, perfectionists will even create an infinite number of additional requirements to push the ratio to infinity to 0, which is a situation where there is nothing but effort and zero reward.

That sounds like a terrible game to play! As a recovering perfectionist myself, I’ve been very mindful in which games I participate in and where I can find more situations that have an 80/20 split where I don’t necessarily need to go all the way to 100% to get the juicy rewards. In short, I’m looking for more situations where 80/20 is plenty!

Perfectionism Isn’t ALWAYS Bad

I’m not knocking perfectionism in all contexts. Obviously there are some goals in life that require such a hyper focus on a single activity (athletes competing in the olympics, musicians playing in a world class orchestra, etc). But not every goal requires an 8+ hours of daily dedication over a 12+ year period. Sometimes you just want to learn how to knit a hat, play some chords on a guitar, or make a simple 1 page website. In these scenarios, you don’t need a surgeon’s level of expertise on the subject matter. You just need to get started! And the 80/20 rule is the perfect means to convert a mountain into a hill, allowing all us to take the first step.

My Recent Jump

There is no sense in hiding it anymore: I absolutely LOVE the personal development, metaphysical, and alternative healing or “energy work” genres. I’ve both studied and actively applied the knowledge I’ve learned over the past decade. Not only have I been able to transform my own life, but I’ve had lots of success helping others. And after doing a lot of soul searching about what I wanted to achieve in this lifetime, I decided I had to take this beyond just a hobby.

But then I introduced perfectionism into the equation and it started to kill the vision before it started.

Perfectionism came in and started to tell me all the crazy things I’d have to do before I was even able to accept my first client. Perfectionism tried to tell me that I needed to do 50+ hours of warm up practice before even advertising my services because I’d be too rusty. And so on and son on.

I had to eventually tell myself to STOP waiting and START doing. The conditions are never perfect. There is always one thing that could be a little bit better or make it a little easier.

So instead, I jumped and gave myself a 4 hour time limit to put up a basic shell of a website (side note: short time limits do wonders to undercut perfectionism because it HAS to be done, details be damned!) And then my wonderful friend Shaymee booked me a few sessions and I was open for business. And boy did it pay off big! My first sessions kicked ass and I got some great feedback and testimonials.

Had I let perfectionism have its way with me, I would have spent 100 hours getting the perfect theme, updating my content, picking the right picture, coming up with a marketing strategy, etc. Now all of those things are SUPER important, but not if your the type of person that will never know when to say enough is enough and finally execute against the plan.

But for me, I had already been sitting on this idea for years and the inspiration inside of me couldn’t wait another minute. So with only 4 hours of build out, I launched… and I got a great start despite not having a fully vetted system in place.

The New Rallying Cry for Perfections

80/20 is Always Plenty is my new meme/affirmation/slogan as my MIT training of “gotta be the best” perfectionist streak can put a hurting on me if I’m not careful. But if you and I keep reminding ourselves that for MOST of our goals, wishes, desires, we can get started NOW with all the additional baggage of the things we think we need.

So please… take the graphic at the top and share it here, share it there, create your own and paste it on your wall, whatever. Just do it! And keep reminding yourself that you can make a big dent in your dreams if you just get started.

PS. I started and stopped this article 3 times, not knowing if I should subtitle it, or pick the right title, or add a tagline, or blah blah blah. Again, I almost missed the essence of my own message: that getting this information out there is more important than letting it sit on my desktop forever while I try to perfect every single line.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.