What is the 51/1 Rule? I thought this concept was really interesting. Below is the full detailed The full, detailed explanation of this rule, but here is the gist:
Apply the 80-20 rule three times to get to 51/1. Essentially, 51/1 asks, what is the one thing I can do to make fill in the blank happen?
With this thinking, here are my thoughts:
–Do things that truly matter
–Clarity of purpose, goals, and milestones are paramount to finding the 1 thing
–Say “no” to a TON of things.
It is January….work on 51/1 rule for all of 2022 and see if you have a Fantastic year.
Rule # 2 from my book The Fantastic Life: Be Crystal Clear on What You Want
The 80/20 Rule Is Counterintuitive — You Need the 51/1 Rule Instead
Level up your life with the 51/1 rule
By Leo Sharp
March 27, 2021
Created by the author on Canva
My jaw dropped when I was sitting in a project management lecture.
No, it didn’t drop because I had to yawn. Although, admittedly, I was just about to do that: we were discussing the 80/20 rule. Again. A principle that authors, coaches, and gurus have milked to its very last drop — at least I thought so at the time.
“80% of outcomes come from 20% of the causes,” the professor explained as my eyelids were getting heavier. “Focus on your customers and set priorities, …”
Suddenly, the sound of chalk screeching on a blackboard rang me awake. It was to my fortune, though, because I couldn’t believe what I now saw written on the board.
It was the actual reason my jaw dropped:
80/20 → 64/4 → 51/1
Now facing us with total confidence, the professor continued: “This is how I stay on top of my projects. It’s how I prioritize my privacy and how I make the most of life.” My mind was blown.
This lecture dates back two years now, and I’ve discussed the principle with various people since then. Most of them knew about the 80/20 rule, none of them knew about the 51/1 rule.
By reading this article, you will grasp the full implications of the 80/20 rule:
- The 80/20 rule is an unwritten law of nature.
- The 80/20 rule is counterintuitive.
- The 80/20 rule can be applied to itself.
Hold on tight to your productivity hats — we’re up for a ride!
Fundamentals of the 80/20 Rule
First, I want to make sure we’re all on the same level. Here are three ground rules and misconceptions when dealing with the 80/20 rule:
- The 80/20 rule describes the unequal distribution of cause and effect. For example, 20% of the population holds 80% of the wealth.¹
- The 80/20 rule does not have to add up to 100. Although the numbers 80 and 20 suggest a neatly filled up bar, we are dealing with two sets of data. We thus have two independent bars, each of which can hold up to 100%.
- The 80/20 rule does not have to be exactly 80 and 20 — it could also be 90/20, 75/15, etc. See it more as a rule of thumb.
Now that we got the basics out of the way, let’s move on to the nuts and bolts.
The 80/20 Rule Is an Unwritten Law of Nature
The 80/20 rule dominates nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s like an unwritten law of nature, thus creating a lot of buzz around it. Here are some examples:
- Productivity: 20% of efforts generate 80% of results.
- Marketing: 20% of customers operate 80% of sales.
- Software: 20% of bugs cause 80% of errors.
- Sports: 20% of players cause 80% of wins.
- Super-spreading: 20% of people account for 80% of virus transmissions.
Without a doubt, several reasons justify the principle’s popularity: it’s easy to remember, helps us set priorities, and gets us back on track when we are losing ourselves in the tiny details.
But how can it be that so few people correctly employ such a basic principle in their own lives? Did we get the 80/20 rule wrong?
The 80/20 Rule Is Counterintuitive
Psychological bias plays our brain a trick. No matter how simple the 80/20 rule might seem, we have difficulties applying it for multiple reasons.
- Linearity bias: our brain wants to plot straight lines in an exponentially changing world.
- Intensity matching: our brain tries to assign equal values to two given factors based on experience and emotion.
Moreover, 80/20 thinking opposes conventional thinking of success and productivity. According to Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, this implies:
- We don’t have to go all the way, and it’s okay to take shortcuts.
- We can be truly productive ourselves and don’t need to delegate tasks.
- We are allowed to calm down, work less, and target valuable goals instead of pursuing every opportunity.
This counter-intuitiveness is the reason so many people think in terms of 80/80. They do so despite knowing the 80/20 rule. It’s also why most people are not aware of its full implications. If applied correctly, however, you can score even higher productivity than 80/20.
This brings us back to the day I sat in lecture with my jaw wide open.
From 80/20 to 64/4 to 51/1
Here is my professor’s message when he wrote this on the blackboard: 80% of the top 80% come from 20% of the top 20%.
Simplified, that means you can apply the 80/20 rule to itself.
This will make much more sense with an example. Let’s say you look at your phone in the morning and you see 1000 new messages.
Question: how many messages do you need to respond to for 50% impact?
Let’s find out:
- Applying the 80/20 rule helps you to reply to the 200 most substantial messages. You cut down the other 800 because they are spam or don’t provide value to your life.
- By doing this, you will still create an 80% effect compared to replying to all 1000.
- Two hundred messages are still a lot of work. Applying the 80/20 rule again will leave you with 40 messages and a 64% effect.
- 40 messages? Still too much if you ask me. You know what to do.
- After applying the 80/20 rule for the third time, you only have to reply to 10 messages. Nevertheless, you make 51% of the impact. (See the footnotes² for the math behind it.)
Your initial thought might have been to reply to 500 messages for 50% impact. Instead, responding to the ten most important messages has the same effect.
You can put this in perspective by calculating the productivity coefficient.
Productivity = Output/Input
We can now determine the productivity coefficient for the 80/20 rule, the 64/4 rule, and the 51/1 rule. The results are 4, 16, and 51, respectively. Thus, when applied correctly, the 51/1 rule is nearly 13 times more productive than the 80/20 rule!
If one must apply the 80/20 rule, one must apply the 51/1 rule.
Do the Things that Truly Matter
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself:
The 51/1 rule is fantastic, but how can I find that 1%?
I have to admit this can be tricky. Depending on where you are in your journey, it might take months or even years of introspection until you find what truly matters. Maybe it’s only after failure or adversity you realize the substance of your 1%.
However, there is a simple question you can ask yourself right now:
Without whom or what could I not live?
Once you’ve identified the crucial 1%, fully commit to it — you will see it pays off.
Keep in mind, though: the true power of the 51/1 rule does not lie in only doing 1% of your work. Instead, it lies in having the wisdom to reallocate your resources to the things that truly matter.
Yes, you still need to do all the work. But focusing your attention on the vital details distinguishes productivity from perfectionism.
Putting It All Together
The 80/20 rule and its implications boil down to two takeaways for your life and work:
- For the things you have to do: Set your perfectionism aside and evaluate how much you need to get done. Then, find the things with the most impact to accomplish your task. (Remember: maybe 1% is all you need.) Finish as soon as you realize that you’ve reached your goal.
- For the things you want to do: Find the 1% that truly matters to you. Then, fully commit yourself to that 1%. Be mindful of what you consume. Spend time with the people that mean the most to you. Do the things you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing.
And for everything in between? Say no! This may sound radical, but let’s face it: things you don’t enjoy doing, things others want you to do, and things you’re not good at, provide the lowest value of your time spent.
Take it from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the greatest German literary of the modern era. He already figured it out 200 years ago:
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
When doing the things which matter most, substantial outcomes follow little effort, and complete commitment will generate extraordinary achievements.