Guidance from the Father of Living an 80/20 Life: An Interview with Richard Koch

Guidance from the Father of Living an 80/20 Life: An Interview with Richard Koch

The80/20 Principle and Richard Koch Interview

Written by: Scott Dinsmore

Average Reading Time: 4.5 minutes

Ask Richard Koch and he’ll tell you that life efficiency can be summed up in a sentence: 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. My guess is we’ve all heard it before (especially if you read my resent post summarizing his book). But what might surprise many of you is that he sums up life happiness and fulfillment in just the same way.

I had to learn more. After virtually following him between his homes in South Africa, Portugal and Sevilla, I learned two things. 1. He’s not the easiest to track down and 2. He lives what he writes, to the T. He IS the 80/20 Principle. He of course wouldn’t give a phone interview, only email–it was an 80/20 thing…

An Interview with Richard Koch, the author of The 80/20 Principle:

1. What has been your most successful experience with the 80/20 principle in your personal life?

Realizing that I derived most of my enjoyment and fulfillment in life from people with whom I spent relatively little time, while spending a lot of time with many people I didn’t really like or admire.  I suspect it is like this for most people.  Since then – and this was over twenty years ago – I have made sure that I spend time pretty much only with people I like, or am meeting for the first time and expect to like! This applies in my business life as well.  I think it’s that simple – and spending time on things that you enjoy or that benefit other people.

2. How often should one take the time to do an 80/20 assessment of their life? Do you have a process/routine of your assessment that you could explain as a guide for the readers to follow?

Good question. Nobody has ever asked me this before!  How about this answer – Every morning and once a year.   Take a moment to sit down and relax and ask yourself what was the most satisfying thing you did yesterday, and what might it be today. “Satisfying” can mean anything related to work or life – what is the single thing that you might do that will give meaning to the day.  Usually it means doing something that only you can do and that will mean something to other people as well.  It’s interesting that when I ask myself this question, I often realize that the most satisfying thing yesterday didn’t take much time. And likewise the thing that you are planning to do today – so perhaps you should devote more time to it.

Once a year, rather than doing New Year’s Resolutions, I ask the same question. What did I do that meant the most to me and my family and friends – and sometimes strangers too? And what could I do in the next year?   More of the same is not a bad answer, but something fresh too. Once again, more is less – a couple of things to focus on is quite enough, if they are 80/20 activities.

3. In a world of “I need it yesterday” mentalities, how do you apply 80/20 to your email and other communications that can often get out of hand in their quantity?

Another excellent question. We all email too much. So a radical solution is the only one that will work. I don’t have a mobile phone. I tell people to phone at particular times of day when I am deliberately available – and not for the rest of the time. Screen your calls.  As for email, the only way to avoid distraction is to limit send/receive sessions to particular times, and to reply in chunks as well. If you can’t resist seeing who’s been in touch, don’t be tempted to reply right away unless it’s really urgent or you really want to!

4. What have you found to be the most productive way to apply 80/20 in an intimate relationship, given that the other side likely expects more than 20% of your time?

I guess the first thing to say about a romantic relationship is that it should be in the 20 percent of things that are most important – so you should be available when needed.  Having said that, I find that being apart for large tracts of time can sometimes work as well as being together a lot.  The key thing is to really enjoy the time together, so make sure you organize to do the things you both really love doing – and avoid the things you don’t!

5. What are the biggest risks of an 80/20 overhaul? At what point, if any, has one gone overboard with 80/20?

The danger is taking too short term a view of 80/20.  For example, you focus on what is important or productive now, without thinking that this may change.  In the realm of people, for example, it’s a good idea to spend time with the people who are most important to your quality of life.  But random connections with new people, or with acquaintances from the past, could be very important to your future creativity and happiness. I have come to the view that the 80/20 principle must be balanced by an understanding of networks and the way they work.

One of the great findings about networks is “the strength of weak links”, the insight that if we want new information we are most likely to get it by cultivating a very large range of contacts, people from different worlds to ourselves, who have different perspectives and knowledge. This sounds contrary to 80/20 focus but I think it is complementary – the insight itself is one of the most powerful few ideas that can really change our lives (and perhaps the most useful thing to emerge from nearly 200 years of sociology).   I have written a book about this and other great network ideas – with co-author Greg Lockwood – so watch out for Superconnect, launch date in the U.S. beginning August 23.

6. Do you offer any follow-on workshops, courses, books or resources that go through the practical hands on application of 80/20?

No – apart from The 80/20 Individual which is a slant on 80/20 for our careers – for managers and entrepreneurs – and Living the 80/20 Way, which is about our whole lives, especially our personal lives.  But I am happy to recommend speakers or associates who organize workshops and courses, people whom I respect and might be able to help – and I don’t take a cut!   The 80/20 Company in New Zealand of all places is highly recommended, and the head of that company, Geoff Vautier, is very often in the U.S.


Note from Scott:

The 80/20 Principle has been applied to every walk of business and life imaginable, with profound data to support it’s success. Richard Koch and Tim Ferriss are walking inspirations for this lifestyle. Study them and find a model for your own life.

Applying 80/20 to business is the easy part, and even commonplace. But the road less traveled leads to finding your 80/20 stride in your life with the people you love and enjoy. Spend your time so very wisely. It it will pass this way only once.

Take out a piece of paper and end your week with some 80/20. Put down the top most enjoyable experiences of the week. How long did they take?How can you allow more time for them tomorrow, next week and the rest of your life?

Share your 80/20 findings in the comments section!

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Read of Summary of Richard’s book The 80/20 Principle

Pick up the 80/20 Principle at Amazon: