When I was younger, the 80/20 rule always stymied me. For those unfamiliar, the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle, suggests that a small percentage (you guessed it—20) of your effort brings most of your results, while your biggest time drains usually result in a much smaller part of your achievement.
I struggled with this concept because I was raised in a family in which the end game was excellence. If it was worth doing, it was worth giving 100 percent of your effort; if you could not give your all, you did not take undertake it.
Good in theory. Impossible in execution.
No one is 100 percent full throttle 100 percent of the time. Burnout would occur in less than a week, even for the fittest among us. No wonder I was such a neurotic, I’ll-do-the-extra-credit-twice kind of kid.
I was counseled in my twenties when I hit the corporate world, to remember the 80/20 rule. It wasn’t until I was trying to juggle a career and earning my Masters at a prestigious, high-pressure university that I actually experimented with it. Turned out, it was true. If I focused on the areas of high impact, I could make more headway on what was truly important. I never did quite find a comfort level with what fell by the wayside. Hard to disappoint others—particularly as a woman raised not to do so.
Enter 2011, 2012 and 2013. For those of you new to my blog, challenging years. Lost both of my parents. Sister battling ovarian cancer. Divorce. And with the divorce, financial complications that I have inherited.
Hmmm. 80/20 does not work when the areas that produce the most results number too many. There’s not enough of me to go around.
So, I seem to be disappointing folks with alarming regularity. When my sons’ teachers call to ask if I realize they have fallen behind in assignments, I simply say, “No.” When the counselor asks why we’ve been late for school so much lately, I honestly answer, “Because I’m working multiple jobs and am exhausted.”
When the doctor’s office calls to remind me we’re a couple of months behind on check-ups, I put it on my list. When friends ask me to lunch, I take a rain check. When book club rolls around, I try to remember the last time I was able to really sit down and read. When housekeepers arrive, I try not to remember that I think I told them the last 10 times that the next time they came, that closet would be decluttered, that wall would be painted, that picture would be hung.
I’m not playing sad life poker here. My point is—we can’t do all we’re asked to do. Especially not as a divorced parent with little support. Many of us focus on the area of prime impact—keeping a roof over our heads, our children loved and well-schooled, and food on the table.
When people ask me about what I previously considered “big” things—my son’s homework from last week, my RSVP for a friend’s goodbye luncheon, what’s for dinner tonight—I try not to let the sarcasm—oh so easy, oh so tempting—flow.
Instead, I silently affirm to myself that for now, even 60/40 is OK. My children are loved and they know it. I’m paying the mortgage and a boatload of bills—and they don’t know it. Which is probably the way it should be. Seamless to them. I will live on into a time when the extras in life take their respective places again. It’s just not now. And when I find a precious few hours, honestly, I won’t focus on the 60-80 percent everyone else thinks should be my priority. I’ll probably grab a bubble bath, a good book, a glass of wine, a quick coffee with a friend. Unapologetically. That’s called sanity, not selfishness, for all of you self-sacrificing types.
If you’ve been particularly hard on yourself today, opt out. Disappoint a few people and show up for yourself and your kids in the ways you most need to today. The rest of it? Well, it falls into that 80 percent that won’t make a whit of difference 10 years from now.
Focus on YOUR 20. Not anyone else’s. It’s the ticket to your future. The one you want. Not the one others think you should have.