Intelligently Lazy: How Doing Less Can Skyrocket Your Productivity

Intelligently Lazy: How Doing Less Can Skyrocket Your Productivity

Time is money. It’s cliche, it’s overworked, but it’s undeniable. When I was younger I always found the saying rather callous, but now as an adult- an adult marketer, nonetheless- all of my findings point to the same conclusion: time really is money. The allocation of our time to the priorities which produce the most of the results we’re seeking has remained one of the most critical yet tragically misunderstood things that we can do in our day-to-day. We seem to be conditioned as a society to find time to be “the enemy.” We accept the narrative that there’s not enough of it to go around. 

Prime example: “I wish I could do ‘x’, I just can’t find the time.”

Let me preface this by saying: I’m a new mother, and I work in advertising. In both those spheres, your most elusive asset? You guessed it. It’s time.

  As a parent, you’re constantly receiving warnings, “It goes fast,” “Make sure you enjoy every second,” whilst in the midst of sleepless nights, keeping the house somewhat intact, making sure you and your spouse still interact occasionally, etc.

 Meanwhile, in the marketing world, every day you boot up the computer (or grab your smartphone) you are absolutely inundated with the latest and greatest personalized targeting of what you should buy, what you should look like, what the people around you like, what the people around you do not like, etc, etc. Everything changes every day, and there is a persistent demand to remain current and up-to-date in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem…at all times. 

 All of this is to say: I have felt like a slave to time. I don’t have enough of it.

 But actually, I do have enough time. More than enough.

And so do you. So does your business.

Enter the 80/20 Principle. 

Not long ago I stumbled upon Richard Koch and his interpretation of Pareto’s Principle, which in the most basic terms theorizes that about ⅘ of our needed results (in almost any scenario) comes from about ⅕ of our total effort. That is to say, the ⅘ of our effort that we put into any given task is, well…


Cue the interjections of: “All my work is vital, if I take a break, even for a day I seem to get overwhelmed.” “I’m not a lazy person! I work hard from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.” “Also how dare you?!”

Believe me, I hear you. Three months into sleep deprivation, increased workload, and more and more instances where I was feeding the baby while doing a slick one-handed type-job on my laptop, I was at my breaking point. It felt like if I stopped moving, I’d drown. I turned to self-help/time management resources, which had proved relatively effective for me in the past. When I was introduced to Koch’s work and his hypotheses, I was so relieved I was nearly in tears. 

Let’s break down, from a business standpoint, why this principle is so useful.

(DISCLAIMER: Koch is clear in his writing that these are not to be interpreted as indisputable laws, but rather frequently recurring instances that almost always support the claim that only a small amount of input is responsible for the majority of the output in any given situation.)

The 80/20 Principle/Pareto’s Principle suggests that:

 80% of value when tackling a project is achieved with the first (or last) 20% of effort put forth. 

80% of your sales come from 20% of your client base.

80% of your sales come from 20% of your products. 

80% of sales come from 20% of your advertising.

80% of your work output comes from 20% of your team.

See the trend? 

Nearly immediately after reviewing these theories I could reflect on my own work and see how they measured up to be true. I did seem to have intense periods where I seemed to accomplish the majority of my work, whilst the rest of the time felt more like wading through molasses towards my end goal. I researched further. 

Turns out, you can apply this trick to the ‘life’ side of your work/life balance, as well:

80% of your relationship satisfaction comes from 20% of your relationships.

20% of your belongings bring you 80% of the joy of having possessions.

80% of what you spend your money on probably yields about 20% of what you get the most use out of.

“Right, well, this is all great, but what are some concrete examples of all this that I can apply to my life immediately?”

I’m glad you asked.

Shifting back to our business lenses: for starters, sit back and really evaluate the state of your business. What does the small amount of advertising that renders the most sales look like, and how can you generate more content like it? What’s in the small number of tasks you do each day that make up the bulk of the results you’re looking for, and how can you do those tasks more and do the more menial ones that don’t produce results less. It will take some reflection and bonafide brainstorming about your state of affairs and what works for your business/job (and what doesn’t) and being willing to cut down the unnecessary things.

 Of course, a common rebuttal is that people feel like they don’t have the freedom necessary to really dictate their actions- which of course is a mindset that ultimately leads to unhappiness. There are solutions to this, regardless of who you are, and Koch goes into detail about these things in his work (I’ll leave references to his book as well as some other resources at the end of this blog post if you want to learn more) but the gist is to be “intelligently lazy”. 

This is just a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that you pick how you use your time very wisely. You never work yourself into a tither over the 80% of tasks that only provide 20% of your productivity. 

 And it will take stopping, breathing, and really analyzing your day-to-day tasks to decide what serves you and what doesn’t- with a fairly unforgiving eye.

 And make no mistake, it will take an adjustment period and some possible trial-and-error, but the end results will be returned senses of freedom, happiness, and -you guessed it- increased productivity. 

If you’re still a skeptic, just look at the economy. As the years go by, the economy has succeeded because it has consistently found ways to make more with less. You can see it in the tech industry, too. Every year devices get smaller and more compact, with more capabilities within them than ever before. Because less is more. 

If you’re constantly seeking to make ‘more with more’, and constantly seek to push output with no recharge, no restock, nothing but continued ‘effort’, eventually, you’re going to falter and run out of resources. 

Aka energy, stamina, creativity, so on and so forth. 

At its core, the 80/20 Principle seeks to remove this notion of “more is more” that people still cling to, opting instead to focus on the few things that really matter as opposed to giving equal attention to tasks of lesser value. 

I’ll leave with you a parting reminder that the beauty of the 80/20 Principle is that it isn’t a rigid method for existence meant to be taken to extremes.

 Much the contrary, simply view it as a very relaxed way of optimizing your net output and bringing back that beautiful feeling of having all the time in the world. 

(I find audiobooks a perfect option for people who feel strapped for time, as you can listen when you’re driving or doing other tasks)

What Inspired this Blog:

“The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch Audiobook-


“Essentialism: The Art of Doing Less” Audiobook-

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