Monday, 23 January 2017

Applying the 80/20 rule to my personal RAGE model

Last year I shared my RAGE model (Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations) that could be applied to both personal and professional development (I also created a template that other people could download and use for their own use here). My aim was to make sense of my life-work balance (I used to call it the popular "work-life" balance, but later decided that life is actually more important than work, and now I use "life-work" balance instead. I'm not yet won over by the "integrated work-life" idea just yet although I see the point that you really can't separate out "work" as it's an essential part of your "life" - but I maintain the separation as it helps me categorise my personas better). 

I started by defining personas (basically activities like husband, father, professional, individual, friend, colleague, etc) where each persona reflected some facet of my life, that would consume time & energy. For each persona, defined related aspirations and goals for the year(s). As time is the most critical resource, I needed to understand:
  • What activities were consuming the most amount of time?
  • How did reality (of actual time consumed) compare against my wish-list of aspirations (desires, wishes, fancies)
  • Find a way of relating my time spent on activities relative to the value / happiness gained from such activities
I used Harvest for time-keeping, which I maintained with as best discipline as I could, and started tracking all my activities from the end of January 2016 till December 2016. Going into 2017, I will continue to track my time, making a few modifications going forward.

Last year, my reading centred around self-improvement - I also studied the works of Richard Koch on the 80/20 principle (after having read about it in Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Work Week). The 80/20 principle was inspiring and relevant to my experiment in exploring my life's activities. Since I was collecting the data of time logging my activities, I would have enough data to use the 80/20 tool to gain additional insights: Which 20% activities consume 80% of my time? Which activities do I most enjoy compared to my actual time spent? What are the vital few activities that have the highest impact in my life? What activities or personas did I start out with are actually irrelevant and can be assigned to the trivial many?

In this post I will examine 2016 under this 80/20 lens and share my revisions for 2017 year ahead. The experiment continues ...

I often get asked why do I invest my time in this experiment? Why do I share this stuff on my blog?
I believe in this experiment - when I started this journey I felt I really needed to inspect my life and not live on auto-pilot, doing the same things day in, day out (which most people do) ad infinitum. I wanted to examine myself, explore my value system taking myself to task: Am I really living the life I had pictured in my head or am I just fooling myself? When I began this experiment, I had not even heard of Tim Ferris or Richard Koch for that matter, or the group called Quantified Self. Now, after studying these people, I know I'm not alone in this, that reaching a state of self-awareness is crucial to making sense of the world, and most importantly coming to terms with reality and finding peace with ones self. Personally I've learnt that it actually does help to write things down, create personal plans and logs with some goals that can be measured and tracked using journals, introspection and other self-reflection tools (it does not have to be a thing assigned to your job in the workplace). This experiment calls me to order: why am I complaining I don't have enough time to pursue my own goals and interests? Why am I blaming the world and passing excuses on to others (like family commitments) when the reason for not achieving my goals comes down to just plain laziness, distractions & lack of motivation? Did I bite off too much that I could chew, am I being over ambitious? Do I need to slow down and see reality for what it really is? How do I adjust myself, re-calibrate on the few essential things that make me happy?

I write about this stuff because blogging is a hobby. It might not get me anywhere, I do it for myself, and take the risk of sharing this stuff in the public domain because it just also might be relevant to someone else, who knows. I also use this medium as an outlet. A lot of my blogging in the past year has been on self-improvement & self-discovery, both personal and professional, which is a phase I currently find myself in...the feedback I've got from both colleagues and friends have nevertheless been encouraging and thus further motivates me...I've shared the RAGE model with a few people, it strikes very interesting conversations indeed. Some people have even suggested I teach this stuff!

Inspirational Quotes

"Finding out what you love to do is a great feat in and of itself"  Derek Dolin

“There is no satisfaction that can compare with looking back across the years and finding you’ve grown in self-control, judgement, generosity, and unselfishness.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” – Aldous Huxley

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too.” – H.W. Shaw

“The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” – Muhammad Ali

For more quotes on self-discovery, click here.

2016 under 80/20 lens

Richard Koch's 80/20 Principle is a book that everyone should read. I'm not going to rehash the 80/20 principle, except state in the general terms of the greatest output / reward (80%) is achieved through 20% of the input (vital few), the law of non linearity and unbalanced systems; that 80% of success results from 20% of input.

Examples abound: 20% of a product's features are used 80% of the time (80% of a product's features/functions go unused), 80% of business profits come from 20% of products (or 20% of sales), 20% of customers generate 80% revenue, 20% of product bugs/defects account for 80% customer complaints, 20% of office carpets get 80% of most wear-and-tear; 20% of project tasks account for 80% of successful project execution, 20% of the clothes in your wardrobe are worn 80% of the time, 20% of things that you do result in 80% of your happiness / joy, etc, etc. It is the vital few that has the most impact, focusing on the vital few would be more than good enough. Applying the 80/20 rule needs to variables to be measured, it's about relationships between two criteria - in my case, it's about the personas (activities) that consume my life, and the time I spent on each of them.

The hypothesis is that of the personas I decided to focus on in the last year, roughly only a handful would've consumed the most of my time, leaving the rest (the trivial many) for examination. It may even turn out that the stuff that I gain most enjoyment from, maybe things that I've not given much time or focus on, and thus need to recalibrate this year, if I want to see an improvement in my overall enjoyment and outlook of life...

Looking at the data
In 2016 I broke down the areas of my life into 22 personas as shown in this picture and had set up 30 tasks under Harvest to track time spent associated with these 30 personas.

I would log a total of 8146 hours for the year, starting late January 2016, which is around 340 days, of 24-hour/day tracking.

Using the 80/20 rule, it would suggest that roughly 6 of the 30 activities (20%) would consume roughly 80% of my time. The 80/20 rule is not specific, it is there as a guideline, it could be 90/10 (10 percent of input accounts for 90% of output), or 70/30 or even 85/15 - the point of the 80/20 rule is that it surfaces the largely unbalanced relationship between input/output - that in the midst of the many activities (trivial many) there are just a handful (the vital few) that are truly worth focusing on.

Below is a table showing my logged life for 2016 - the highlighted block in red accounts for the top 6 (20% of activities) that consumed the majority of my time (87%), stated as 87/6 that 6 activities consume 87% of my time, the remaining 20 activities (80% of the things I thought were an important facet in my life) consumed a mere 13% of my time:
Time Consumption related to Activities / Personas
Interesting indeed . . .

Now, if we ignore the "Rest & Sleep" activity since the chances of me improving the time to rest, short of making some serious improvements in fitness and human endurance cheats, is unlikely going to change - that I just consider "Rest & Sleep" as immutable, vital function of the physical human body, a reality constraint that must be accepted, the picture looks like:
80/20 Table
Wow - that is frighteningly close to an 80/20 rule - just 5 of the 29 activities account for 81% of my time consumed!

What is this picture telling me? Let me go back and check how I ranked my personas, the last version update was in July V3 below. Remember the way this matrix works is a simple 1 or 0 which reads as "which persona is more important (do I value more) than the other?"

Personas / Activities according to my last value system from July 16
In terms of the goals that I'd set out for 2016, the top 10 areas are shown below. Remember to prioritise what to focus on, I decided not only to use the ranking of the persona (the matrix), but also took into account Aspiration Level & Importance - multiplying them ending up with an overall score for planning / focus priority:
Top 10 Goals for 2016
Now time to take myself to task - only 5 of my activities accounted for more than 80% of my time consumption - how much of this time was actually spent achieving the goals I set out originally? What are the vital few versus the trivial many? What do I need to change going forward into 2017?

The picture below summarises. Green arrows show I've met my goals/expectations/aspirations, Red indicates a failure and shades of orange show I needed to focus more (that is, in 2017 I need to work on improvements):
80/20 associations with 2016 top 10 goals
So ... I've shown the 80/20 principle indeed applies to personal / life tracking - wohoo, it works!

I've also shown that my life-work ratio is in balance (if not more), with life (family, husband, individual, spiritual) making up just over 50% (top 5) compared to 30%, it's actually 70/30 split between life and work (if work assumes direct consulting work, excluding my muses into new ideas, research and company tax admin) - which probably isn't that bad at all. But yet, I feel there's still additional refinements to make, as it doesn't feel right just yet (will it ever?).

One last bit of insight - I've grouped the activities a little further:
2016 Categorised into Major Areas
Using this, I can revise my outlook into 2017, the key realisations (taking into account lessons from Richard Koch's insights as well) are:
  • In the business of consulting, it's not a big problem if the majority of your income comes from one big client. Better to focus on this client, and take time to build and extend the current good relationships in place, the likelihood of the client seeking help elsewhere is pretty low and the pipeline is still flowing -- so I've decided to commit and maintain the major client I have now, instead of being distracted by looking elsewhere. I will stop searching for alternative clients (the risk is low) but still work on building outside networks by attending meet ups. So job-hunting is out-the-window for 2017.
  • I am happy being a management consultant specialising in project & program management coaching / project leadership, and even though there's ups and downs, the overall sentiment is one of happiness (so if someone asks me "Are you in a good space at work?" the answer is "Yes, absolutely"
    • I've tracked my levels of happiness/unhappiness at work from October 2015 to present day - see the picture below - the areas are largely green. I started tracking levels of enjoyment so that if I found myself in a negative space (bad) for too long (consistently experiencing negative vibes) then that should trigger me to make a change in my work life. As the picture shows, there have been indeed some bad times experienced, but for the majority of the time spent working, it is largely green or neutral. 
    • I also had a fair amount of personal time (leave, holidays or time for my own personal muses) dotted around the work-year; so the picture isn't too bleak - which points to a fact that I have a good thing going for me. If it was indeed bad, then I should just stop what I'm doing and find a new line of work. This doesn't seem to be the case, the reality is that work will have some bad days, some good days, and mostly run-of-the-mill neutral days (neither excitingly good nor devastatingly bad). 
    • And when emotions get the better of me, I can go back and look at my data. Data like this is one way to tame your emotional, irrational mind...
    • One has to be practical about ones work being all fun - have to take the good, with the bad. Consider upside versus downside. When you find there's too much downside, then that is a trigger for change, otherwise stay the course.
    • The idea is to carve my job-space to contain more of the stuff I enjoy doing (like strategic adviser, facilitating, coaching & starting/shaping up big projects, designing frameworks and project charters, setting big picture strategy, having great conversations and getting commitment, interacting with C-level people, principles of software engineering) and move away from the things I enjoy less (tracking too much detail, drawing detailed project plans and micromanaging instead of empowering owners, project admin at task level, following process-for-process sake dogmatically, basic project/program management, and company politics). 
Enjoyment Levels at Work (Largely positive - green)
  • I am tracking way too much detail in the personas, and will have to simplify personas for 2017
  • Hard reality constraints are a fact of life, very hard to change. 
  • In terms of activities neglected that should have a bigger focus in my life, contributing to increased enjoyment, I should dedicate more attention to my social life (friends outside of work).
  • I should also look at creating more time on my personal ideas for product development or new business ideas (which means I may need to work less or take time away from family activities).

2017 revisions 

If you looked at the matrix from 2016, I had 22 personas. On further reflection, starting 2017, I've simplified this list down to 8 (over 50% reduction!):
Revised Personas as focus for 2017 (2016 had 22)
Now some people might say this is common sense, that one doesn't need a model to unearth one's responsibilities and priority areas - fair enough - however, I still maintain that if you don't spend time truly understanding and accounting for your personas, how would you know if your life needs changing or not?

In 2016, I had 22 areas I thought defined me. On reflection, I boiled them down to the current 8. In doing so, I had some difficult conversations with myself for example:

  • Spirituality / Religion is not really a separate thing, it's integrated as part of my life as an Individual, it's not a separate activity that needs its own space in work/life - it's integrated in everything I do or am, so I got rid of it and is part of being an individual.
  • In the same way, hobbies (cycling, 3D printing, JSE share trading, coding, blogging) represent my interests as an individual, time spent in these areas will wax and wane, depending on my mood at the time. Last year I wanted to create space for me to get back into coding, it didn't work out too well, realising that in the stage I'm in now, I value high level strategy & ideas more than learning to implement code (I can find other people to code for me).
  • I went too granular with the family stuff (son, brother, uncle, son/bro-in-law) when these didn't account for much focus or energy - so they're all gone and fall under "Family". Family is separated into Core: Husband, Father which are tracked separately, the extensions are left to "Family"
  • Social is an area I need to improve on, and has to remain separate.
  • I still want to make a break as an entrepreneur, so this remains separate.
  • Consultant / Business Owner ( is a major component of my work life and hence still remain as separate focus areas.
  • My needs as an individual is lower priority that being a 1) Father & 2) Husband - this is my core focus: Happy Family = Happy Life!
  • If I were to update my twitter profile it would look like:
    • Father | Husband | Management Consultant | Wannabe Entrepreneur | Blogger

Last year I used Harvest for time-keeping, which I maintained with as best discipline as I could, and started tracking all my activities from the end of January 2016 till December 2016. Going into 2017, I will continue to track my time, making a few modifications going forward:
  • Start tracking the output of the activity (was I productive, did I enjoy it, capture some measure of happiness)
  • Context-switching: Throughout the day's activities, how much of my time is spent context switching from one activity to the next? 
Have you ever wondered about people's twitter profiles?
As an experiment, check some people's twitter profiles out - why do people describe themselves the way they do? Are they sharing their value system (personas) I wonder? Check out the ex-president Obama:

Family first... work second??


  1. Thanks for publishing the actual results of your RAGE project Muhammad. It is very interesting and your perseverance in doing it is admirable. I tried to track my time for about a week and then ...well you gets in the way. I like the simplification of the personas but acknowledge that you need to start with the detail to accurately summarize eventually.
    Love reading your blog. Keep at it.

  2. “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important.” – Barack Obama