What if you focused your life only on the activities, purchases, decisions, and behaviors that brought you the most happiness and satisfaction?
If you poured all of your actions and behaviors into a sieve and allowed the least vital stuff to fall through the holes, you'd have about 20% remaining. This is a real observable phenomena known as Pareto's Principle or the 80/20 Rule.
This rule suggests that 20% of anything is always responsible for 80% of the results. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world.
Now, if you apply this principle to every aspect of your own life and focus with intensity on that 20%, imagine how pristine and amazing your life could be. You can manipulate the 80/20 Rule so that for you, it's the 20/80 Rule — or even the 10/90 Rule. When you focus on the best 20%, 80 or 90 percent of the time, you are living your best life.
Is that possible? Absolutely. But you have to plan for it and arrange your life to support it.
Think about these questions:
- How much space in your home do you really use?
- How many of your material possessions do you rarely or never use or notice?
- How much of your wardrobe do you never wear?
- How much of your time do you spend taking care of things you don't really enjoy?
- How much money do you spend on things that you could do without?
- How much of your effort at work is really productive?
- How much time with your family is quality time?
- How much of your “free” time is spent doing things you enjoy or that are uplifting?
- How much time do you spend on trivial tasks, errands, and driving?
This exercise has forced me to embrace two facts:
1. I acknowledge that I can't have, be, or do everything in life, and I no longer want to attempt that. It's a waste of my time.
2. Over the years I've realized what's most important to me, and I want to spend my time and energy on those things.
If this intrigues you, the place to start is with that ideal 20% in all areas of your life. Some of your existing top 20% might or might not be part of your ideal. The goal is to define the ideal and then shift out of most of the 80% of trivial pursuits and create the 20% to match your ideal.
Start by defining the kind of lifestyle that would make you happiest. You'll need to figure out how to pay for this lifestyle, so you must first define it. You may discover that by paring it down to the most essential 20%, you will have more time and money to work with. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I like the most about my current lifestyle?
- What is missing from my lifestyle?
- How do I want to spend my leisure time?
- What are my top 4-5 activities and/or possessions from this list?
Take a good look at the home you are in. If it's possible that your home is causing you more stress, expense, and energy than it is giving you pleasure,then perhaps it's time to make a change.
Sometimes we hang on to our homes for sentimental reasons or because a move feels overwhelming. But it's possible to hire someone to handle it all for you and still come out ahead financially, especially if you move to a smaller home.
- What is the least amount of living space that would feel comfortable for you?
- If the move were handled by someone else, how would it feel to move to a smaller or less labor-intensive living space?
- If you want to stay in your current home, how could you simplify upkeep and/or minimize expenses?
Look around you. There are so many things in your home that you don't use or need. They seemed imperative at the time of purchase, but now they are just taking up space. It is hard to have unfettered happiness when you are surrounded by useless objects. They suck energy from you, consuming your attention and causing indecision and distraction.
- Create a staging area in your house. Then tackle one room a week.
- Ask yourself, “Which belongings create stress in my life?” Eliminate ruthlessly.
- In your staging room, make piles for give-away, toss, and sell.
You can easily sell things on Craigslist, as well as using their “free” category for giving things away. Freecycle is another great resource for giving stuff away. If you need to get rid of clutter or large items, contact 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
There are probably people all around you who would love your stuff. Let them have it!
You might be surprised when you design your life around your top 20% of activities and possessions, you may not need as much money as you do now. We fritter away money on useless purchases and activities all the time. Once you've set aside a budget for the most essential expenses (food, shelter, utilities, gas, an emergency fund, and maybe a few others), create a lifestyle savings account to fund your top 20%.
Maybe you're saving for travel, tango lessons, a bicycle, a guitar. Make saving for those things a priority. If you contribute $50 a week, you'll have $2600 in a year. If you sell things, put the money in your lifestyle account.
If you start to purchase something, stop yourself and ask if the money would be better used toward your lifestyle account. Think hard about large expenses — a second home, another car, a pool, or any luxury item. Do you really want something else you have to maintain and fund? Will you grow tired of it in short order?
If you are currently spending beyond your means, you are digging yourself into a deep hole of unhappiness. Success has far more to do with living the life you want, not with having things. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness if you need help with managing your money and getting out of debt.
So many of us believe we are “stuck” in our jobs, but nothing could be further from the truth. The recession has created unwitting entrepreneurs who are now blessing their “bad luck” at losing their jobs. Now they have freedom, flexibility and enough money to fund what's really important.
It's a matter of changing your perspective about what's keeping you tethered to your job or preventing you from negotiating a different arrangement with your employer. If you are more productive working from home, and you can demonstrate that to your boss, then you can set yourself free from the grind of traffic, disruptions, office politics, and the 9 to 5 schedule.
The internet has provided a way to make a great income, even working part-time. Even if you have no savings to fall back on and you are living paycheck to paycheck, there are ways to transition from this entrapment into more freedom and flexibility and often more income.
One of the best resources for busting free from the old work paradigm, becoming an entrepreneur, and creating a lifestyle by design is The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss. It is truly a life-changing book.
Much of our unhappiness in life stems from feeling out of control. When we feel trapped by our circumstances, our stuff, or our work, we lose our ability to thrive. Set yourself free from the trivial in your life, and focus on the most productive, positive, and energizing 20%. That is the sweet meat of a happy and flourishing life.
The Habit Course, with Leo Babauta, Barrie Davenport, and Katie Tallo, coming May 23. Registration begins May 16.
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