When Life Gets Too Tough… 80/20 the F*** Out of It!

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80/20 Rule Don't Let Perfect Become The Enemy of Good

Life is not fair. I often share this “wisdom” with my daughters, as if it'll make things better. It doesn't (of course), and even as adults, “unfair” can be frustrating.

It's been on my mind lately. Some people push mountains to achieve their goals and get nowhere… while others seem to effortlessly glide through life having fortune fall in their lap.

Of course, things are not always as they seem. As a 20-plus-year personal development junkie, I'm not supposed to believe in luck. We make our own luck, right? We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and achieve our goals with true grit.

That would be nice… if it were true. But we all know that fortune falls on some more than others, and it falls on each of us at different times in our life. But sometimes… working hard and doing the right thing doesn't work.

That doesn't mean we can't (or shouldn't) control the things we can. As they say… We can't control the seas, but we can adjust the sails.

So, it's this “effortless” vs. “pushing hopelessly on mountains” imbalance that had me thinking. Why does success (seemingly) come easy to some, but not for others? Is it luck, or is it something else?

If I'm being honest, luck probably plays a part. But there is also something else.

Often we want something so bad and push so hard, working day and night towards a goal… that we become our own worst enemy. It's impossible to give one hundred percent effort, one hundred percent of the time.

In fact, maybe those who succeed (seemingly) without effort, do so for that exact reason. They don't put in the effort. Or… to be more exact, they only put in the amount of effort required and no more.

This reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago (for a different blog). I had been feeling burned out lately from pushing so hard, and realizing I needed to pull back a little… I thought it might be a good idea to revisit that post for anyone feeling the same.

Is Perfect the Enemy of Good Enough?

perfect the enemy of good enough feature image

Do you feel like you're always up against the clock? I do. From the minute I get up, to the moment my head hits the pillow at night, it feels like a race. I need to get more done, but I just don't have the time.

Sound familiar?

My wife and I, with our two daughters, have perfected the fine art of stacking dishes. The dirty ones. We don’t even have to try. It’s a circus act. In fact, I’m not even sure how we do it, just that we do.

I can walk into a sparkling clean kitchen, open the fridge and stare blankly inside for… wait, what was I looking for again?

The fridge is full inside, but there’s nothing in it I want. So I close the door, turn around, and Bam! There it is. A tall shaky stack of dirty dishes carefully balanced in the sink, pouring out onto the counter. I don’t even remember eating. Where did these dishes come from?

This is a daily experience.

The 80/20 Rule. What Can We Learn From The Dishes?

Yesterday, pressed for time, I decided to experiment. I have this thing with dishes. When I eat off of them, I like them clean. I know, it’s weird. But it’s my thing.

So, when washing them… I do it twice. Not really, but it feels like it. I spend what seems like an hour soaking, scrubbing and rinsing just to prepare them for the dishwasher.

Preparation takes time, but at least the dishes come out squeaky clean. Time though, is what I don’t have and I’m tired of wasting the little that I do, on dirty dishes.

My experiment? Apply the 80/20 rule to this tedious task.

This rule, also known as the Pereto Principle, states that for many situations 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts.

Certainly you've heard of it before.

Forget about the 80 percent and 20 percent. I’ll use those numbers in a moment when I come back to the dishes, but only to illustrate my experiment. In real life, it's simple enough to say don't let perfect become the enemy of good enough.

The Perfect Workout

The Perfect Workout Image

Recently this has been most useful to me when going to the gym (which I’ve neglected for weeks due to a minor injury… thus breaking the habit and giving me material for another post).

Every time I plan on going to the gym, I expect it to be the best workout I’ve ever had. I’ll burn more calories than ever, lift more weight, do more reps. I’m going to be an animal in there! It’s going to be THE PERFECT workout.

But wait. There’s a big problem. My expectations don’t match reality. I’m tired, I’m rushed for time, breakfast isn’t sitting so well… There is an endless list of reasons why my workout is actually going to suck. Might as well not bother at all. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll have more time, more energy…

Of course, tomorrow (and the next day… week… month) is the same story. Soon, weeks go by and the habit of going to the gym is broken, and it’s twice as hard to go back. This is what happened with my injury. It became one more excuse not to have a perfect workout.

The way I overcame this (and the way I’ll have to overcome it again) is to stop expecting great workouts. In fact, I now match my expectation to how I feel. Quite often I tell myself, I’ll just go in for half an hour, do a few exercises and go through the motions. It won’t be great, but at least I'm doing something.

9 times out of 10, it turns out to be a great workout.

This goes against the many high energy self-improvement lectures we've all listened to. Aim for the stars and you’ll hit the moon they say. Focus, and visualize having the best workout you’ve ever had. Get pumped!

That advice has tremendous value for many areas in life, but for me, getting to the gym is not one of them.

The Perfect Blog Post

For those of you with an online business, you know the importance… and the challenge of content creation.

Whether it's a blog post, your About page or a product review… you need to decide when good, is good enough.  If you're aiming for perfect, you may never hit that publish button.

One of Wealthy Affiliate's founders…Kyle, explains it well,

You cannot perfect content on your first try and you are better to push out 5 “pretty good” pages than to try to perfect one page (which will typically take the same amount of time as 5 pretty good pages).

That doesn't mean we should be pumping out garbage content, but we do need to keep moving forward.  You can (and probably will) refine your content as you go.  The important thing though if you're running an online business is to have an online presence.  To have an online presence you need to publish.

At some point, you have to let your article go, and share it with the world… perfect or not.

The Perfect Sales Call


Among other things, I have spent many years in sales. Endlessly going into businesses, day after day, hoping this visit and that visit would result in a new customer. When you run the numbers, you quickly learn that expecting success on every call is a quick recipe for frustration.

On some days, there was no way around it. I had to lower the bar. I’m not talking about carrying negativity around, or expecting failure. It’s important to be positive, but I had to match expectations with reality. We can only carry around false optimism for so long before we hit a wall.

This is why so many people leave personal development seminars pumped, ready to take on the world and within days they are completely defeated. There are few who can keep up that level of energy and optimism.

To maintain a career in sales, just like the gym, I had to tell myself on those low energy days that I was just going to get through the motions.

I can’t say 9 out of 10 visits turned out to be great, but certainly a few were successes. Day after day, landing a few new customers adds up and eventually leads to a profitable business.

I met a lot of people that way, many who became friends. For the others, I had established a relationship that could be built upon in future visits.

Had I expected perfection, I would have given up the first day. In fact I may have never started at all.

Don’t let the pursuit of perfection bog you down.

Back To The Dishes

I had two choices. Walk away from the kitchen and return to doing something productive, or stay and clean the dishes.

Well, I really wasn’t in the mood for dishes (if such a mood exists), but if all I had to do was throw them in the dishwasher… that I could do. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in.

Instead of soaking, scrubbing and rinsing beforehand which would be 100 percent effort to get 100 percent clean dishes, I could just throw them in the dishwasher.

For arguments sake, this would be 20 percent effort and I’d probably get 80 percent of them clean. The few that didn’t quite make the clean cut, I’d just leave in there to be run through with the next load.

This was my theory. If truth be told, I did rinse most of them, but just briefly. No scrubbing. And, all of them turned out to be clean.

I got the same result with much less effort. Was it 20 percent effort? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. Will they always come our 100 percent clean? Probably not.

The point is, I gave up my pursuit of perfectly clean dishes, and they got done. The way my day was yesterday, had I not lowered my expectations so to speak… the stack would still be there today.

I conducted this highly unscientific experiment just to remind myself that life doesn’t wait around for perfect.


The young man who is terrified to talk to the girl because the conversation might not go right, or the would-be entrepreneur that never tried because conditions were never ideal… Again, life doesn’t wait around for perfect.

Make more mistakes. Take more chances. Live the life you want to live, you only have one!

It might not work out, it could end up in failure and it certainly won’t be perfect. But, don’t live miserably waiting for the right moment, wishing you had done something.

The 80/20 rule is technically a principle of efficiency, and when used correctly is very effective.

However, it also speaks to the fear, indecision, and doubt in all of us. Perfection requires 100 percent effort, and for many reasons… we’re not always able to give 100 percent. It might be a lack of knowledge, lack of confidence or a lack of resources.

But, if we stop aiming for, and expecting perfection… a world of possibility opens up.

I’m not entirely happy with this article. It’s not exactly perfect… but I’m going to post it anyway.

Has the pursuit of perfection ever stopped you from doing something?

Please share a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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