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80/20 Principle in Action

We are currently on vacation.  Because farm life is very involved and the animals need to be taken care of seven days a week, we try to get the family off the farm several times a year.

One of our favorite places to visit is the Atlantic ocean.  I actually grew up on an island (Long Beach Island) off the coast of New Jersey and often joke that I have salt water running through my veins.  Since we live in the Midwest, Jim has learned that I’m a lot happier if I know that I can walk barefoot at the ocean’s edge at least once every year.

Once we are here, we do nothing but relax, play in the water, and on the beach, do puzzles, play cards, and generally just enjoy each other’s company. (OK, so I also answer emails that the employees can’t answer and blog, but I can do it whenever I want to – and that makes a big difference.)


The difficult part of course, is actually getting to the point where we can leave.  It’s not as simple as just packing, and packing for a family of ten isn’t exactly simple.  What takes the most effort is getting the farm ready for us to leave.  And really, it’s never quite as ready as I would like it to be.

In my mind, I’d have (at bare minimum) all the following accomplished two days before we left:

  • All goats hooves trimmed
  • Barns spotless
  • All soaps bagged
  • A couple of hundred pounds of laundry soap made and packaged
  • All “other stuff” completely stocked
  • A two week supply of caramels and toffee made and packaged
  • The garden completely weeded
  • The garden completely harvested and the produce “put up”
  • The house spotless

And so on and so on.

So – do you want to know what we’ve actually accomplished 100% on that list?

Nothing.  None of it.

But, we have accomplished all of it to about 20%.

While I’m definitely an “All or Nothing” kind of girl, I’ve also learned that if I try to do everything in my life to 100%, not only will I burn out, but I will make my family miserable while I am in the process of burning out.

Let’s talk about the 80/20 Principle and what it is for a moment.  In the book The 80/20 Principle* by Richard Koch*, the first chapter (Welcome to the 80/20 Principle) says:

The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.  Taken literally, this means that, for example, 80 percent of what you archive in your job comes from 20 percent of the time spent.  Thus for all practical purposes, four-fifths of the effort – a dominant part of it – is largely irrelevant.  This is contrary to what people normally expect.

… The reason that the 80/20 Principle is so valuable is that it is counter intuitive.  We tend to expect that all causes will have roughly the same significance.  That all customers are equally valuable.  That every bit of business, every product, and every dollar of sales revenue is as good as any other.  That all employees in a particular category have roughly equivalent value.  That each day or week or year we spend has the same significance.  That all our friends have roughly equal value to us.  That all inquiries or phone calls should be treated in the same way.  That one university is as good as another.  That all problems have a large number of causes, so that it is not worth isolating a few key cases.  That all opportunities are of roughly equal value, so that we treat them all equally.

… Why should you care about the 80/20 Principle?  Whether you realize it or not, the principle applies to your life, to your social world, and to the place where you work.  Understanding the 80/20 Principle gives you great insight into what is really happening in the world around you.

The overriding message of this book is that our daily lives can be greatly improved by using the 80/20 Principle.  Each individual can be more effective and happier.  Each profit-seeking corporation can become very much more profitable.  Each nonprofit organization can also deliver much more useful outputs.  Every government can insure that its citizens benefit much more from its existence.  For everyone and every institution, it is possible to obtain much more that is of value and avoid what has negative value, with much less input of effort, expense, or investment.

The 80/20 Principle Books

Have I mentioned that I love this book?  When I start podcasting again, don’t be surprised when I dedicate a few episodes to how I use the 80/20 Principle in my life.

But for now, I want to share how I applied it to getting ready for vacation.

I always have grand plans for how everything will be perfect before we leave for vacation. In my head I know it isn’t going to be, but I try to encourage everyone so that they help me try to make this vision happen.  But really, I’m just going for 80% of the results that I want.

According to the Pareto Principle (another name for the 80/20 Principle), I just have to identify the 20% of the tasks that will lead to these results.

So let’s go through my goals.

All goats hooves trimmed.  The goal of this is for the goats to not have any foot problems while we are gone.  We normally do all the goat hooves every month.  But in reality, 80% of the goats could go every other month without any difficulty either because their hooves grow slower or because they wear them down more on the concrete in the barns and milk parlor.  So instead of doing all of the goats, Greyden and Hewitt focused on the goats with “problem feet”.  They know exactly who these goats are – Payton and her daughter, Thalia are the two that jump to my mind.  Because they care for the goats daily, they can just trim the hooves on 20% of the goats before vacation and know that everyone’s hooves will be fine til we trim them again next month.

Barns spotless.  Let’s face it – we could make the barn spotless and the goats are just going to poop and pee again and mess it right back up.  So the trick is to isolate what 20% makes it look the most clean.  This is easy – shovel out the stalls and sweep the aisles.  Yes, there are still cobwebs that need to be removed, and the tool room needs to be reorganized, but that can wait til we return.

All soaps bagged.  It would be very nice to be completely caught up on bagging.  But it rarely happens because there are more important things that need to be accomplished.  When we bag our goat milk soap, we usually bag in order – that is, the soap that was made first gets bagged first.  But this would defeat our purpose.  Instead, we did an inventory of the shelves, and bagged only the soap that we could possibly run out of while we were on vacation.  This meant that we could skip hundreds of bars because we already have plenty on the shelves.

A couple of hundred pounds of laundry soap made and packaged. Our laundry soap is very popular and we never have enough of it made.  The reason it can become a problem when we’re on vacation is because shredding the laundry soap and making it is very loud.  We have a small room where that is all done.  The person who is making the laundry soap can’t hear if a customer enters the farm store or if the phone rings.  To get our 80% of benefits, we need to make sure all the laundry soap itself is made.  Any packaging can be done later in small increments of time.

All “other stuff” completely stocked.  As with laundry soap, keeping lip balms and lotion sticks stocked is important.  Since we couldn’t get it all finished.  We focused on making just the most popular flavors (peppermint & vanilla lip balms and OMH & unscented lotions).  These compromise 20% of available flavors/scents make up 80% of what will be sold while we are on vacation.

A two week supply of caramels and toffee made and packaged. We sell a lot of candy in the Sweet Shop, but the fudge, toffee, and caramel are the most popular.  The caramel and toffee are the most labor intensive.  We could have made a lot more candy before we left, but by concentrating on just the caramel and toffee, we got the biggest results for a smaller amount of effort.

Goat Milk Toffee

The garden completely weeded.  I love weeding my garden because it relaxes me.  I do a lot of thinking while weeding.  I also feed the weeds to my rabbits which makes me feel good because I am feeding them for free.  But I knew there was no way my garden (which is huge) would be weed-free before I left for vacation.  So I focused on the 20% that mattered – and that was the weeds that were going to set seed.  Instead of weeding just one area, I went through the entire garden and removed all the largest weeds that would set seed while I was gone.  This prevents the further propagation of weeds in my garden.

The garden completely harvested and the produce “put up”.  There is tons of food that needs to be harvested and stored.  I decided to harvest the stuff that we can like the blackberry jam, dilly beans, and pickles.  We left the tomatoes and peppers and such because Mason can harvest them and freeze them whole if he has too much work and can’t turn them into salsa or sauce.  This was kind of “reverse” 80/20 in that we did the 80% that produces only 20% of the benefit.  But I wanted to make it easier on Mason, so I left the 20% (tomatoes and peppers) for him.

The house spotless.  Ah yes, the house.  Our house is very lived in because we’re here all the time (unless we go on vacation).  As  result, it is never quite as clean as I would like it.  But I know where to get the 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort.  And that is the kitchen and dining room.  If those are clean, my whole house “feels” clean because it is where we congregate as a family.  My children also know that I want their beds made, their toilets clean, and the garbage all emptied before we leave.  With all that done, I can go on vacation knowing that while the house may not be spotless, it is good enough.

Those are the examples of where I spent my effort (and concentrated my children’s effort) on the days leading up to our vacation.  We picked the areas that were going to give us the biggest bang for our buck.  And it worked.  There were a lot more tasks I would have liked to accomplish, but I’m confident that those we left behind will take care of the goats, the farm, the business, and the house.

Want to hear a funny story?  Twice we’ve gone as a family on vacation to New York City. Our most recent trip there was a couple of months ago to see Hamilton,  and Mason stayed at the house.  The day we were coming back, Mason cleaned the house and mopped the entire kitchen and dining room just for me (he’s very caring and is going to make a great husband!)

But when we walked into the house, we all started sniffing.  There was a very unpleasant aroma.  Apparently a part went out on our septic pump and it back flowed into the basement bath tub!!  Poor Mason, had to clean that up, but there was no way he could remove the smell fast enough.  But he totally gets points for trying!  Hopefully this trip will go more smoothly for him.

So what about you?  Are you familiar with the 80/20 Principle?  Have you been applying it to certain areas of your life?  There are so many areas where it can be used to improve your life. I’d love to hear about how you put it into action.




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