Enemy Of The Best

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” ~ Joshua Becker

“I had seen successful people let go of very good things that were not the best things to them.” ~ Dr. Henry Cloud

Don’t let the Good crowd out the Best.

In the book 9 Things You Simply Must Do To Succeed In Love And Life, Dr. Henry Cloud identifies one of the 9 Things as “pull the tooth”. If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know that temporary measures to hide or mask the pain do not work for long. You may be able to forget about it for a short time, but the pain always returns. Until you deal with the source of the pain, the problem keeps coming back.

Dr. Cloud points out that it isn’t always immediately painful situations we may need to “pull”. He gives an example of a friend of his that took over a successful company with sales in the millions of dollars. Under his friend’s leadership, the company’s business soared, growing to be more than 15 times its original size.

How did he do it? By selling off most of the company’s business – about 80%! And often at a loss! [Cloud]

According to Dr. Cloud, his friend explained it this way. “‘I looked at everything the company was doing and it was making money. But the more I analyzed things, I could see that the <i>life of the company<i> was really in abut 20 percent of its overall activity. Although the rest of it was okay, I thought it was a drain and a distraction from where the real life of the company was. The real life was in the 20 percent that I decided to keep.'” [Cloud]

Dr. Cloud’s friend was following the 80/20 rule with no apparent qualms. And it paid off. Just as it pays off for you and me when we follow it.

80/20 rule

The Pareto Principle or “80/20 Rule” was named for an Italian engineer and economist named Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto developed a mathematical distribution showing that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  Then in the 1940s, a quality assurance engineer named Joseph M. Juran stumbled upon the work of Pareto and began applying the principle to quality control. He observed that 20% of possible problems were responsible for 80% of defects. Juran called this phenomenon the “Pareto Principle”.

The Pareto Principle has been shown to hold true in almost any situation. For example, typically 80% of a company’s profits come from roughly 20% of its customers. Most of us wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. 20% of the carpet in your home sustains 80% of the wear. 80% of automobile traffic travels on 20% of our streets. 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.

The “Vital Few”

It isn’t always a clean 80 / 20 split and the two numbers don’t always add up to a 100. It could be 60 / 40, 70 / 35, 90 / 15, 99 / 1, and so on. The point is that there are a few inputs, or causes, that have a significant impact on the outputs, or results. We have been conditioned to expect a 50 / 50 split, where any activity is as important as any other in terms of the result. The Pareto Principle says this isn’t the case — a few activities (sometimes only 1) are responsible for the majority of the outcomes.

We mistakenly believe that one task, activity, or input is as effective as another in terms of the outputs produced. We need to realize that there are a “vital few” activities or inputs that contribute results far out of proportion to the resources expended. When we understand this, we become substantially more effective, We produce and contribute significantly more with far less effort. It also benefits us when we realize that some efforts can – indeed, must — be abandoned so that we can focus on the vital few. We may need to let go of some things, even though they are good things. We must not allow the Good to be the enemy of the Best.

Ask A Big Question

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” ~ Gary Keller, The ONE Thing

Gary Keller, in the best selling book, The ONE Thing, ramps up the 80/20 rule by paring down to its quintessence. What’s the ONE thing that will produce the most / biggest / best results?

Keller tells us that there are 4 ways we can think about making an improvement to our lives: 1. Big & Specific 2. Big & Broad 3. Small & Broad 4. Small & Specific [Keller]

Go for Big and Specific

Let’s say you desire to be more fit and healthy. You could ask yourself one of these questions.

4. Small & Specific: “What can I do to lose 5 pounds by my birthday?”
This is a specific question but it is probably not a stretch (unless your birthday is tomorrow!) It’s not very challenging and not very inspiring.

3. Small & Broad: “What can I do to lose weight?”
This is so broad as to be nearly insignificant. You could ask yourself this question to begin thinking about a small goal but you’re not there yet.

2. Big & Broad: “How can I get into the best physical shape of my life?”
Now you’re starting to ask a big question. But this is too broad to be very helpful. You need to narrow it down more.

1. Big & Specific: “How can I get into the best physical shape of my life and complete a triathlon by my next birthday?”
Here you have a BIG question. It’s exciting and a little scary (which is a good thing – it means you are getting pulled out of your comfort zone). It’s specific enough that you’ll know when you’ve reached it.

Once you have your big question, Keller tells us to plug it in to the Focusing Question. [Keller] “What’s the ONE Thing I can do to get into the best physical shape of my life and complete a triathlon by my next birthday such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This question allows you to weed out the “trivial many” – all those things you could be doing. Even though they may be “good” things, they won’t help you achieve your objective.

Action Items

Here are steps to help you put the 80/20 Rule and the focusing question to work.

  1. Read through this list of characteristics for a balanced life and select one that could use some attention.
    – professional
    – financial
    – physical
    – spiritual
    – intimacy
    – social support
    – family
    – learning & growth
    – home / office environment
    – play & fun
    – overall life satisfaction
  2. Thinking of your selected area, ask yourself a Big & Specific question: How can I _________________________ ?
  3. Plug your result in to the Focusing Question and begin thinking of ways to answer that. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do to _________________________ such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
  4. Once you have your answer, take the step. Consider the things you need to let go in order to focus on your desired outcome.

“The thick of thin things”

“It’s incredibly easy,” said Dr. Stephen Covey, “to get caught up in the thick of thin things.” [Covey] It’s easy to get distracted from our true desires by other good things. These things aren’t “bad” except in the sense that they keep you from what you really want. Pull the tooth, even though it appears to be healthy. It isn’t. Use the 80/20 Rule and the Focusing Question to home in on those actions and events and situations that will move you forward toward self-actualization – being what you can and must be. Let go of everything else.  That is embracing the Excelerated Life!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Excelerated simplicity — freeing yourself from unnecessary complexity — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of happiness and well-being.


Cloud, Ph.D., Henry. 9 Things You Simply Must Do To Succeed In Love And Life. New York: MJF Books, 2004

Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989

Keller, Gary with Jay Papasan. The ONE Thing: The Suprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinay Results. Austin, TX: Bard Press, 2012

simplifying life

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