Tag Archive | 80/20

Beautiful Systems: Simplicity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Simplicity as a system?”

“It’s a deconstruction and systematization of the simplification process. A practical blueprint.

The system visually looks like this: 

All the components of the system are mental models.”

“Can you give a few details on how it works?”

“Let’s say you have a set of data-points you want to simplify. How can you do it optimally?

One way is through filtering. That’s essentially asking two questions:

What 20% of the inputs are responsible for 80% of the outputs?
What’s the most important / impactful thing? (from within the 20%)”

“What if there’s more than one most important / impactful thing?”

“Think of it as your focus-point. Isolating them individually allows you to explore each of them in depth.

Another way to simplify them is through elimination of data-points. 

What can you eliminate?

“Would you eliminate the 80%?”

“Depends on what you’re after. In some cases, yes, that’s the optimal approach. But in other cases, you just want to refine the data set. You can metaphorically think of it as editing, or pruning. You’re cutting away some branches to allow the rest to grow.

Another elimination approach is paraphrasing, eliminating data-points by rephrasing the language.

What can you express with fewer words?

The final way to simplify them is through integration. Joining data-points together to form a new emergent whole.”


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

To understand something, is to form a mental model of it, which means to represent it in terms of other models. The more relevant models you use, the deeper your understanding.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Let’s take the Pareto principle for instance, also known as the 80/20 rule. 

The Wikipedia definition reads:

The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The definition describes it in terms of the Cause/Effect model. But we can use other models to describe it.

For instance, using the Input/Output model: 20% of the inputs are responsible for 80% of the outputs.”

“Is the distribution really that precise?”

“It’s an approximation. However the actual values are not important. The essence of the idea can be expressed using the higher-order model of Leverage: a small number of inputs are responsible for a large number of outputs.”

Painting with Meaning 4: Representation-Stacking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“We’ve talked before about beautifying representations [<link; medium length]. By making an activity more meaningful, you can make it more attractive, hence more likely to engage in it.

One way to do it is by stacking representations – what I call representation-stacking.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Think of your Presence practice.

In order to deliberately practice something, you need to think of it. You activate it with a thought. 

The likelihood of regularly engaging in it depends on how meaningful it is for you. 

Why are you practicing Presence?”

“Because it’s beautiful.”

“In this case, you can activate it by thinking ‘Beautiful Presence‘ instead of just ‘Presence’, thus connecting it with the meaning of it. 

Another question to ask yourself is:

How do you want to practice Presence?”


“So you can think of it as ‘Joyful Beautiful Presence‘. This is the stacking part.

As a side note, you can add more nuance to it. Beauty, for instance, can answer both the Why and the How questions. Beautiful Presence can refer to both the beauty of the practice, and to engaging in it beautifully, aestheticizing the practice. 

Representation-stacking is a process of selection and amplification. Making an 80/20 selection of the representations that are most powerful for you, and sequencing [<link; short] them to make them build on one another, in order to amplify their effect.

For instance you can end up with something like ‘Loving Playful Grateful Beautiful Joyful Sacred Presence‘. It’s longer, but if it makes you always remember the essence of practice, it’s worth it.”

Soul Music

If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”. 

When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”

(Derek Sivers)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I love that idea from Derek Sivers.” 

“That’s a really profound idea. It’s basically the 80/20 principle applied to your life. To really grasp this idea is to realize that it applies to EVERYTHING. Every single aspect of your life. 

Take music for instance. Everyone has a lot of music they like. However there’s that 20% of that music that touches the deepest core of your being, that makes your Heart soar. I call it Soul Music.

What if you focused mostly on it?”

“How do you apply this in your own life?”

I see music as a beautiful resource.

I collect Soul Music, save it in a special playlist, and listen to it every day, as a beautiful sacred ritual. 

Some of it is a reminder of who I want to be. 
Some of it is an energizer, it has a powerful energizing effect. 
Some of it is both. Like this one:

Learning Cycles

When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by. For why should I fear any consequence from my mistakes, when I’m able to say, ‘See that you don’t do it again, but now I forgive you.’ (Seneca)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Donal Robertson called this beautiful daily Stoic practice ‘learning cycles.’ His suggestion is, at the end of each day, to ask yourself three simple questions:

What did you do well?
What did you do badly?
What could you do differently?

I like to optimize everything, so I modified it a little to suit my needs:

Celebrate: What did you do well?
Understand: What did you do badly?
Optimize: What can you do differently?
Implement: What will you do differently?

The problem is, I can’t remember every detail at the end of the day.”

“This is good memory practice. However, you don’t need to remember every detail. Only the most important ones. 

Think 80/20, always.

Think of it as data.”

“What’s the most important data at the end of the day?”

“I’ve identified two: failure-points, and decision-points.

There’s a quote I love from Ray Dalio’s book Principles: Life and Work:

I have found it helpful to think of my life as if it were a game in which each problem I face is a puzzle I need to solve. By solving the puzzle, I get a gem in the form of a principle that helps me avoid the same sort of problem in the future. Collecting these gems continually improves my decision making, so I am able to ascend to higher and higher levels of play in which the game gets harder and the stakes become ever greater.

All failure-points and decision-points hold a hidden gem within, which allows you to optimize the systems of your life – decision-making being one of the most important ones –, and ascend to higher and higher levels of the Game.”

Systems Optimization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize this (life-)system?”

“First, identify the components of the system. Make a list of them.

Second, identify the interconnections between the components. For instance you can actually draw lines between them, thus creating a network. This helps with evaluation.

The goal is to identify the 20% of components responsible for 80% of the output.

“How would you practically do that?”

“One way to think of it is by using the top-down/bottom-up model.

The top-down approach means removing components until you’re left with only the desired ones. This is highly inefficient, because you have to remove 80% of components. The more components the system has, the more work it entails. Moreover, removing things is psychologically difficult.

The bottom-up approach means removing all components, and adding them back in one by one. This prompts a fresh reevaluation of each component, and often results in the serendipitous creation of new essential connections, thus creating a new emergent pattern.

I like to do it by using two lists. One with the components of the system; the other a ‘blank slate‘ which I populate by adding items from the other list.”

“Do you do this with pencil and paper?”

“You can, but I prefer to do it digitally. I use Google Keep for this process.

The Optimization System

I have a section called ‘Optimization‘, in which there are two lists: one called ‘80‘, the other ‘20‘. I start by copying the contents of the system I’m working on in the 80-list. Then I start copying / moving items from the 80-list to the 20-list.”

Gratitude Flooding 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I want to own as little as possible. So a while ago I did an inventory of all my possessions, 80/20 style.”

“Have you thought of making that information usable?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“You can use it in your Gratitude practice.

You can turn it into a Gratitude List.

“I’m thinking Gratitude Flooding [<link; short read].”

“I’m thinking that’s a great idea.”

On Gratitude and Implementation

Are you sitting right now as you read? If so, then a chair, sofa, or bed is supporting you. You probably have not paid much attention to this fact until I mentioned it. Nor have you been thinking that someone designed the chair (sofa, bed, etc.); someone manufactured it; someone brought it to where you are sitting; someone paid for it – perhaps it was you. It is likely that many people (mostly unknown to you) had a hand in the chair’s creation and journey to where it is now. It is fair to say that you are receiving a service from the chair and from all of those people whose efforts were part of the story. Whether you notice it or not, whether you thank it or not, the chair offers you support, comfort. The chair is a silent gift. (Patricia Madson, Improv Wisdom)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“You can practice Gratitude in many ways.”

Do you practice Gratitude in all those ways?”

“When I remember it.”

“So quite infrequently?”

“Frankly, yes.

How can I stop forgetting?”

“There’s two aspects to it:
– remembering to practice
– remembering what to practice

Each requires different strategies.

An important thing to remember, on a meta / higher-order level, is this:


Have a default practice, ONE focus you keep coming back to, the most powerful practice you know.

What might that be? Express it as a directive.”

“Take NOTHING for granted.”

The directive you chose, while good as a reminder, is non-specific, it has no built-in actionable components.

To enrich it, connect it with ONE actionable question and ONE actionable model.

“Question: What am I taking for granted?

Model: Silent Gifts”


You’ve thus created a little network. The directive will serve as the access-point.

As concerns the rest of the practices, you can use randomness as a tool [<link; medium read].

Make a selection of the practices, 80/20 style, either on paper or digitally. Whenever you want to practice, extract one at random. That will be the theme of the session.

I call this random thematic practice.”

Randomness as Tool

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I discovered a browser extension that solved my problem of opening too many tabs. It’s called OneTab. It saves all open tabs into one page, and allows you to organize them.”

“How do you organize them?”

“80/20 style. I actually have two categories, one named ’20’, the other ’80’.”

“How many tabs have you got saved in there?”

“Over one hundred now.”

“The purpose I presume is to save them for later reading.

Are you reading them later?”

“Frankly, no.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I think it’s because there’s too many of them, which makes the perceived effort of going through them seem overwhelming.”

“Then it seems to me that you haven’t really solved your problem. Tucking them away is a non-solution.”

“How would you optimize it?”

“Create a better system.

I see it as a two-phase process: organization and retrieval.

From what I understand, your system looks like this:

Organization: You save the pages in OnePage, and you organize them 80/20 style.
Retrieval: Despite the organization, due to the amount of data, you freeze.

So the failure-point is in the retrieval phase. More specifically, it has to do with decision-making.

What if, instead of deciding what to read from the list of saved items, you randomly selected one?

This way, you completely bypass the failure-point. Moreover, it creates a nice little surprise every time, because you never know what to expect.

In terms of specifics, the system is simplicity embodied:

– Install a browser extension that can randomly extract a bookmark from a folder (eg Random Bookmark From Folder [<link]).
– Save all bookmarks in two folders: one titled ’20’, the other ’80’.
– Whenever you want to explore some of the saved resources, randomly extract one from any of the folders.
– Once read, remove it from the folder.”

Contrasting 3

There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. (Robert Greene)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Use opportunity cost as a Tool.


“Make it a habit to always ask yourself:

Did I waste time?

If yes, think of the deeply meaningful things you could have done in that time frame. Those things that make you feel radiantly and vibrantly alive.

That’s the opportunity cost.

In practical terms, you can make a small selection of them, and recite them like a mantra. Choose only the most powerful, 80/20 style. By uttering them one after another, it will amplify their effect.

Feel those things that are most meaningful to you.
Feel the contrast between that deeply alive time and the dead time.

Then anchor this feeling to the wasteful activity.

Turn any and all wasteful activities into a reminder of what’s truly important.