Adding a Fifth Habit and the Pareto Threshold

30.08.2022 |

Episode #5 of the course Multihabit: A radical new approach to habit-tracking by John Robin


Welcome back to the course!

So far, we’ve worked on how to manage 4 habits, and by now you might just be wondering: how far can this go?

Let’s see now where adding a 5th habit takes us!


Discovering Your Fifth Habit: The Pareto Threshold

You might have heard of the Pareto principle. This states that 80% of outcomes can be explained from 20% of causes.

Let’s apply this to our habits.

We have been tracking our time, down to the minute, on 4 habits, so we can start to think of what percent of our day we put in on the habits that are most important to us.

Let’s make this more concrete.

There are 24 hours in a day: 20% of this is 4.8 hours. Applying the Pareto principle would mean spending 4.8 hours of every day on what gets you 80% of your results.

We can consider this also from the perspective of the week and the year:

• There are 168 hours in a week: 20% of this is 33.6 hours. Applying the Pareto principle would mean spending 33.6 hours of every week on what gets you 80% of your results.

• There are 8760 hours in a 365-day year: 20% of this is 1752 hours. Applying the Pareto principle would mean spending 1752 hours of every year on what gets you 80% of your results.

In the last lesson, I suggested you consider whatever you think of as “work”. At this point now, as we consider a 5th habit, we will want to think of the Pareto principle. Your goal will be to hone the habits that you want to spend 20% of your time on, to get 80% of your results.

This variable of 4.8 hours/day, 168 hours/week, or 1752 hours/year we will call the Pareto threshold since once you get your most important habits to add up to this, you have hit 20%.

Now, all of that considered, what does “80% of your results” even mean?

Sometimes, value is intangible and can’t be measured just by money. For instance, I considered my “reading” habit part of my 20% which gets me part of my 80% results as a successful self-employed writer. However, I could never measure this result exactly—I simply knew that my skill with words gets better when I read lots. The same could be said about piano practice—though it’s not directly related to writing, it changed how I thought creatively and rejuvenated me so I could make better decisions when I was working with words.

So, don’t worry too much about the specific number in “80% of your results”. Just think of it as “the majority of what makes me successful”.

In picking our 5th habit, we all thought about the Pareto threshold and asked if, of the habits we’re tracking time on, we’re tracking 20% of the most important time that gets us 80% of the results we want.

We created a category for these: “professional habits”.

Rod’s lesson: You can’t avoid the “evil day job”.

Initially, Rod didn’t want to consider his “day job” habit a professional habit, since when he considered what “80% of my results” are, he thought of his business and goal to someday quit his job.

But earning a livelihood can’t be neglected when it comes to “80% of my results”—without this you can’t pay the bills!

Rod kept “day job” in his professional habits and discovered something interesting in his professional habit tally:

• 4% producing
• 5% writing
• 22% day job

He was way over the Pareto 20%!

Because he understood the Pareto threshold now, he no longer felt bad at all about “only” getting in 9% of his time on his side business. He noticed that if he halved his time on his day job, and put that same time into his business, he could put 20% of his time into the thing that really mattered to him. It gave him aspiration to eventually get a half-time job.

For his 5th habit, Rod chose “reading”, which he considered leisure. Notice also that he didn’t include his “workout” habit in the tally.

This reinforces an important point: your 5th habit doesn’t have to be a professional habit, nor do your previous habits all have to be in the “professional habits” category.

My lesson: Peter Drucker’s wisdom.

Since I am self-employed, I was able to use the 20% Pareto threshold to limit the total of all my professional habits. Assessing my time over months, I arrived at the following breakdown:

• 5% writing
• 8% reading
• 5% piano
• 2% business

For my 5th habit, since I didn’t have any other professional habits to pick, I chose my “workout” habit.

What a great idea too. I used to try to do an overly-ambitious workout that took lots of time, but now that I was tracking my time, I scaled it down. This is another case of top-bounding.

But once you start tracking time like this, you start to realize an important principle: “What gets measured gets managed.” We can thank Peter Drucker for this bit of wisdom.

I didn’t have to measure workout time, but neither did Rod need to measure the hours he’s at his day job. However, by deciding to just go for it, our perspective on exactly how we spend our time changed drastically.

Mary, Susan, and Joe’s insights on what “80%” means:

Mary, because she is retired, had a radically different outlook on what “professional habits” meant. She spent her life working hard and had no desire to be filling her days with the equivalent of a day job again.

But because of how I’d defined “80% of your results” she realized, if she had to come up with what her “new career” might be at this stage of her life, then it was being meaningfully retired. With this in mind, Mary picked “social” for her 5th habit, and made it a professional habit, since a large part of what made her feel meaningfully retired was time spent meeting friends for coffee, and spending time with family.

As soon as Mary did this and discovered she spends 10% of her time on it, she had no problem at all hitting 20%.

Susan picked “tutoring” for her 5th habit, after thinking about her Pareto threshold and what might be missing.

Her professional habit breakdown came out to:

• 4% tutoring
• 6% lectures
• 6% homework
• 4% studying

Like Rod, Joe picked “reading” as his 5th habit, but considered it a professional habit, since he usually worked through books on harmony, music history, or composer biographies.

Joe’s professional habit breakdown was:

• 10% practice
• 3% listening
• 4% reading
• 3% producing

What will you pick for your 5th habit? Just be sure that at this point, you figure out your professional habits, and be sure you’ve got them all together.

Where will the 6th habit take us? I promise, this process only gets more and more interesting as it goes, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s lesson!


Your next spreadsheet

Tracking 5 Habits • 2 Weeks • Group of 5 (See first tab for instructions)


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