Richard Koch: How to Stop Wasting Your Life

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Do you feel like you’re wasting your life? How can you stop wasting your time on things that don’t contribute to your happiness?

Most of us waste tremendous energy and effort on things that don’t ultimately matter. According to Richard Koch, the 80/20 principle can help clear out the waste in your life and devote your energy to the people and activities that bring you joy and success.

Here’s how to stop wasting your life by applying the 80/20 principle.

The 80/20 Principle: Making the Most of Your Life

Although our lives tend to be increasingly busy and complex, only a small fraction of the actions we take—and the people we interact with—contribute to our joy and success. In his book The 80/20 Principle, Richard Koch explains how to stop wasting your life on things that don’t matter by taking advantage of the 80/20 rule. We’ve consolidated Koch’s advice into five tips:

#1: Work Less and Find Creative Ways to Use Time

According to Koch, the key to success and happiness is not hard work. The future, he says, rewards creative innovators who are savvy enough to manipulate the 80/20 Principle for their advantage, allowing them to work less and earn more. 

According to Koch, we can observe this among the successful few, who work less by finding unconventional ways to use time. They turn down superfluous meeting requests, outsource the tasks they aren’t good at, and focus exclusively on the things they know lead to high returns on happiness, profits, or both. For example, it may take someone four hours to create an intricate spreadsheet whereas it would take the accountant on staff 30 minutes. In this case, it’s much more time efficient to assign the spreadsheet task to the accountant. Koch insists we need to do similar time reallocation to work less and be more productive. 

If you think this is unrealistic, remember: Koch says you must ditch your skepticism because you have more control over your life than you think. He asserts that most of what we’ve been taught to believe about advancing in our lives and careers is wrong. If we compromise and conform to expectations of working long hours, we’ll sacrifice our happiness and freedom and undermine our earning potential. So, Koch tells us to define our own “rules” by applying the 80/20 Principle. 

#2: Do Work That You Love and Can Do Exceptionally Well

Aside from using time in creative ways, Koch says the key to happiness and success is to choose work you love and can do better than the vast majority of other people. According to Koch, it’s fruitless to spend time doing things you’re not great at—or trying to shore up your weaknesses—because doing so will erode your sense of self-worth and diminish productivity. Instead, you should focus on amplifying your strengths—your top 20% of skills that earn 80% of your success—to multiply your satisfaction and results.

When we excel at something, Koch says, we’re more likely to enjoy it, so these two qualifiers go hand-in-hand. And remember, according to Koch, enjoying your work helps you be more productive. 

#3: Choose Valuable Allies and Nurture Important Relationships

No matter how independent and skilled you are, Koch says you will not achieve success on your own. You need allies. But don’t waste your time on low-quality relationships. Instead, choose your personal relationships and professional allies with extreme care. Only invest your time and energy in people who help you the most and make you happy.

In your personal life, Koch recommends that you only devote time to people who help you and bring you joy. Reduce—or ideally eliminate—the time you spend with people who take more than they give. For example, if you routinely spend time with a friend who complains about everything and never offers anything positive or motivating, it’s in your interests to end that relationship.

(Shortform note: Research supports Koch’s claim that spending time with people who make us happy improves the quality of our lives. Studies show that spending time with family and friends helps us cope with stress and boosts our happiness, even more so than increased income. Further, spending time with supportive family and friends gives us a stronger sense of purpose in life and can even benefit our physical health by lowering our blood pressure and pulse, thereby reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease.) 

Koch provides guidelines for how to choose professional allies who can help advance your career interests. Build a network of six or seven top performers who you trust and respect, broken down as follows: 

  • One or two mentors with more industry experience than you
  • Two or three professional peers with similar work experience
  • One or two mentees who can keep you informed of emerging trends

By building alliances with people in different stages of their careers, you can benefit from diverse perspectives and knowledge. Just be sure to devote time to nurturing those relationships and be proactive in supporting your allies. High-quality professional allies, Koch says, yield high returns.

#4: Become Self-Employed

According to Koch, you should aim to become self-employed as early in your career as possible. Initially, it might make sense to work for and learn from people who are already successful in your chosen field, but as soon as you have sufficient expertise, you should leave to become your own boss.

Why? Koch says that—as a top-performing employee—you’re not likely to be compensated at a level that reflects your contributions. Therefore, he recommends becoming your own boss so you get paid by results. Then, you should seek to employ as many top performers as possible so you capitalize on the profit-generating power of other people.

#5: Establish a Daily Happiness Routine

Finally, Koch recommends that you schedule and prioritize daily happiness practices. This will help you stay focused on the top 20% of activities that produce 80% of your happiness, thereby reinforcing habits that continue to multiply your freedom and success. 

For example, take time every day to meditate, exercise, or do something nice for yourself. You have to prioritize your happiness, Koch says—if you don’t push to have it all, you’re guaranteed to never get it.

(Shortform note: Many people agree with Koch that we should schedule and prioritize our leisure and self-care activities, but they also caution against relating to this as another to-do list, which can add to our anxiety. To avoid anxiety, use this powerful mental trick: Think about your daily happiness practices not as things you have to do, but as things you get to do.)

Richard Koch: How to Stop Wasting Your Life

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  • How you can work less, earn more, and multiply your happiness
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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