How to… Live an 80/20 Life, Part 1

If 20 years of marriage taught me nothing else, it showed me that people view and handle stress uniquely. My husband and I sit on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to how we handle stress. Simply put, he can handle a lot more than me. About 10 years into our marriage, I finally became okay with sitting and reading while he worked around the house. I realized that we were both dealing with the stress in our lives, just in very different ways.

Managing busyness also looks very different from one person to the next. My husband takes a “handle it as it comes” approach, while I tend to limit how much comes at me in the first place. While I can see how he handles stress and busyness, I don’t really understand it. I have come to accept it simply because it works well for him.

Over the past 2 ½ years, learning to better mitigate the stress in my life and to keep busyness in balance has brought what a friend of mine called “a peace” about me. And I feel more peaceful too. With that being said, the following two approaches largely shape how busyness and stress stay minimal and margin stays optimal in my life.

Schedule Only 80% of My Calendar

This leaves a 20% margin for surprises that pop up and for extra opportunities to minister. I’m not naturally spontaneous, but this 20% at least gives spontaneity (often initiated by my husband) a good chance for success upon occasion.

Mostly, though, the 20% is for the down time that my laid back personality needs. Some days and even weeks go over 80%, but that’s okay when I have margin in sight. I make sure it’s always in sight too. Yes, this means saying “no” to some good people and activities. But, I have found that saying “no” actually allows me to more fully say “yes.”

Say Only 20% of What I’m Thinking

As an introvert, there’s a lot going on in my head. My husband loves me, but he doesn’t want to hear it all. (He actually gets more than 20% anyway.) No one but God wants to hear it all, and saying too much detracts from listening, which is more important anyway.

This 80/20 “rule” also keeps sarcasm at bay, which also comes a bit too naturally for me. Not only that, but my melancholy personality also gravitates toward the negative initially. So keeping those thoughts to myself really does benefit everyone.

My point in saying this really goes toward balance. Keeping much of my thoughts to myself brings more value to what I do say. I feel like it also shows more value for what others have to say. At least that is my intention. To me, that helps bring balance to my relationships.

You Decide!

These two 80/20 “rules” do not exist like rigid accounting principles. They simply provide guidance and help keep life simple. After crashing 2 ½ years ago, I was forced to rethink my approach to balance. These two rules are the result.

If one take-away exists from this post, let it be the importance of managing overload and maintaining balance. Overload happens when you do nothing to stop it, while balance and simplicity must be deliberately and uniquely pursued.  Decide now which state of mind will get the victory in your life.

Next week’s “How to…Live an 80/20 Life, Part 2” will discuss some specific tactics for living an 80/20 life.

DISCUSSION: What approach do you take to achieve and maintain balance & simplicity in your life?

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16 Replies to “How to… Live an 80/20 Life, Part 1”

  1. Hi Kari, hope u are feeling better. Sometimes I laugh because you sound like me in so many ways…yes, my husband hears way more than he should! And WE, Nate and I deal with stress differently, deal with weekends differently. For him working around the house and shop is “play”. for me it is “work”…and I struggle to stop the work and go have fun together, which is what weekends for us should besince we work together on the road all week. SO your advice is great. I am going to try to apply it more! The Serenity prayer is one of the most helpful things I use, that and PRAISE. God Bless. MJM

    1. Well, I wish I could say I was feeling better. Rough week. Focusing on Christ and letting Him work in my life has been the best way to discover this balance and simplicity. Yes, and PRAISE is essential.

  2. I've learned a difference between an extrovert and an introvert is where we do our thinking. I'd ask Ellen a question and a long silence ensued. "Did you hear what I said?" "Yes, I'm thinking about the answer." She'd ask me a question and a response came automatically. She'd take that for the answer then be surprised when I changed my mind. She did the yes-no thing in her head. I did it in conversation.

    I had to learn to wait for her answer. She had to learn to wait for my final answer.

    In both cases, I learned the importance of your 20% rule. I don't need to say everything I'm thinking. That would be scary for anyone listening in on my thought process. Good word, Kari.

    1. That is certainly one of the major differences. My husband can think so quickly, and I just can't keep up with him. Another major difference is where we get our energy. Introverts tend to get their energy from quiet time, while extroverts tend to get it from being around others. Thanks for the examples! They mphasize the points very well.

  3. Kari, I laughed out loud when I read "say only 20% of what I'm thinking." I'm a Sanguine, so controlling what I say has always been a challenge for me. That's another reason why I work so hard at controlling my thoughts. If I keep them in check at least most of what I say is positive. Continuing to keep you in prayer! Deb

    1. My Sanguine friends like to push me to say more of what I'm thinking. They are somewhat entertained by my sarcasm at times. My problem is that what I want to say that is relevant to a conversation usually comes well after the conversation is over. I just don't think quickly enough. So, what I have to say is often not very timely. You have a good approach of keeping them in check in the start. I need to improve at that. Thanks for the prayers!

  4. I think most people do not schedule their time. They just react to whatever comes up. Scheduling makes one more productive and effective. 80 percent is pretty high and depending on what you do you might have to adjust that up or do knowing how your days might get changed due to having to respond to something not on your calendar. Change has a way of causing stress so keeping time out of your schedule to handle the unexpected is needed.

    I think you have to adjust what you say to someone based on your relationship. I would think you can tell more of whats on your mind to a closer friend than someone not so much. You have much more leeway to say stuff that you can go back an say I do not really believe that or they will let you have a good rant and forget it.

    1. Reacting definitely produces busyness and overload. Scheduling really does help, and the percent needs adjusted based on the person's definition of being too busy. I don't "do the math" by any means for this, but it's just a general principle that I follow and that works well for me. Relationship is another key. Developing them before they are needed for the tough stuff is so important.

  5. This is a great concept – the idea of leaving lots of margin. But I think that there's difficulty in managing it simply because so many people are horrible at estimating how long tasks will take. They'll try to schedule 80% of their time, and it will end up taking up 130% of their time.
    How do you personally combat that? One thing that I've found helpful is to have a rather detailed daily schedule. Making the schedule out forces me to flesh out my day and hopefully over time recognize what I can and can't do.

    1. Really, I am not precise about the numbers at all. I just personally know when I am reaching a point where I need to either stop accepting anything more or to scale back. It's a feeling of knowing the point where I start to become overwhelmed. I get cranky and anxious. So, unfortunately, it's kind of a subjective thing that's hard to teach and pin down. I do believe that keeping options minimal is important and self-knowledge is crucial. I also believe that time spent with God daily is essential. Without the Holy Spirit's leading, I would end up where I was 3 years ago, and I don't want that ever again. With all that being said, next Wednesday's "How to…" post is a follow-up to this one and tries to get at answering your question. So, that will have some more specific ideas.

  6. The part about saying 20% of what you think made me LOL. I feel much the same way even though I'm a Sanguine. I like the idea about only scheduling 80% of your time, too. They're both equally hard for me!

    1. Yeah, simple but not easy. That's for sure. I just remember what it was like to be over-scheduled and to say too much, and that provides motivation to keep up with it. Don't want to go back there again.

        1. Mine isn't great for some things, but boy do I remember the burned out and crashed feeling. That memory doesn't seem to be fading. I think the Holy Spirit reminds me of it a lot to keep me on the right track.

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