John Paul DeJoria says, “Pay attention to the vital few and ignore the trivial many”. Considering the fact that he is a self-made billionaire, we ought to heed his advice. But, it is such an unfair concept – vital few! Does he mean to say that most of the work we do is trivial? Well, in an ideal world, the efforts we put in would be equivalent to the results we achieve. Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair.

Way back in the 1970s, an Italian Economist, Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of the land in England was owned by 20% of the population. He derived the 80/20 Rule, which states that 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. While Pareto was talking about economics in the rule, the management consultant, Joseph Moses Duran applied it to the daily lives of people. Duran applied the 80/20 Rule to production in Japan, and focused on reducing 20% of the defects. Today, ‘Made in Japan’ is a mark of quality in itself.

If you speak to the experts in their respective fields, they would tell you how the 80/20 Rule seems to work everywhere. 80% of the work would be completed by 20% of your team; 80% of sales comes from 20% of your products, clients and salespeople; and 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the people. Sir Isaac Pitman discovered that 700 words make up almost 70% of our language!

The whole concept of working hard to achieve success seems to be quite the delusion, doesn’t it? Have you ever wondered, how is it that the daily wage laborers work so hard, and are barely able to make a living, while your boss hardly comes to office, and is enjoying his beach-money? There’s definitely no substitute for sheer hard work, but the one thing that sets apart the mediocre from the successful is that the latter work hard in a particular direction – the direction of vital few.

What Is This Direction You Talk About?

Now, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there’s no prerequisite to have the correct direction. The bad news is that most people spend their lives without ever realizing it. Turns out, the Pareto rule applies in this case too – only 20% discover and work with a sense of purpose!

You will find about a million different sources of information on Pareto Principle on the Internet (Google it!), discussing how to use it in your life. I am not here to tell you how to work hard; I am here to give you an idea of the direction of the 20%. I’ll attempt to point out the way, you decide whether you want to walk that path and if so, how much and how far.

  1. Knowledgeable vs. Know-it-all

The vital few understand that they don’t know what they don’t know. Stephen Hawking had said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”. Believing that you know it all, or that you must know it all, you shut down all doors of learning. And once you stop learning, your decline phase begins.

It is easy to fall into the trap of the illusion of knowledge; no wonder most people do! They say that our mind is the best teacher and the worst student. If you manage to remind yourself to be honest to yourself and remain a lifelong student, you are on the right path.

  1. Important vs. Critical

What do you think is more important – critical things or important things? If your answer is ‘critical things’, you are yet another victim to the ‘firefighting’ approach towards life. Whatever is critical today, was important at a point of time; most just ignore important things till they become critical. If you have waited till the last night to complete a report, which has been lying at your desk for a week, you know what I am talking about.

Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, the President of the Northwestern University, once said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”. Eisenhower has given a practical solution to this dilemma in Eisenhower Matrix, which helps one to prioritize actions and avoid life-or-death situations.

  1. Delayed gratification vs. Instant gratification

We have always been taught that short-term gain would lead to long-term pain. Unfortunately, our impulses did not quite digest the concept. We have a tendency to go for smaller instant rewards, rather than the larger delayed delight. It is, quite simply, the easier choice.

Let’s say, tomorrow your boss tells you that he will not be paying your monthly salary to you for the next 12 months. Instead, you will be awarded double of your salary in lump sum after 1 year. Would you be willing to forgo your monthly income for a delayed benefit? Most likely, not. Ultimately, the question is what is the worth of the award you are going to receive to delay the immediate benefit. If you can see your goal, and if you want it enough, you will take the immediate pain of working without results, to see a day of results without efforts.

  1. Competing vs. Comparing

There’s a thin line of difference between comparing yourself with others and competing with self. A wise one has said “Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you”. The vital few understand this concept; they embrace their weakness and work on their strengths, realizing that each individual is unique.

While, most people compare their lives with others’, and that is it. You would either end up feeling great about yourself or sinking down with self-pity. Neither of the thoughts helps you to improve and work on yourself. The key to growth is to move forward, and a competitive attitude will help you constantly improve.

It is not just important to do what the successful do, but also think what the successful think. Your thoughts drive your actions. Once you realize what you want and why you want it, you will figure out the ‘how’ along the way.