The biggest danger posed by procrastination is that it undermines individual confidence. But there’s another danger closely linked to this: Procrastination also prevents teamwork. These two dangers, if not eliminated by The 80% Approach, constantly reinforce each other, making it more and more difficult to increase either individual confidence or teamwork. You can see this in perpetually poor sectors of a society, where a great number of people have long histories of deprivation and failure. An individual growing up in this environment finds it difficult to improve his or her life. First of all, personal confidence is lacking, but, second, and perhaps most important, teamwork with others is also lacking. Individual improvement in any area of life always depends on teamwork with other self-improving individuals. In impoverished environments, therefore, individuals procrastinate about taking any action to improve themselves, and they also procrastinate about doing those things that would improve their teamwork with others. So everyone stays poor and depressed.
Successful societies procrastinate the least.
If we turn 180 degrees and examine wealthy parts of any society, we notice an opposite set of forces at work. Because many individuals have long histories of abundance and success, they find it easy to improve their lives. They are constantly increasing their own personal confidence and their teamwork with other self-improving individuals. Unlike their deprived and depressed counterparts at the opposite end of society, successful people have far less reason to procrastinate because their experience tells them that almost any initiative will produce progress and improvement, both for themselves and for many others.
Why and how the most successful people become more so.
Having made this comparison, however, I must state that many highly successful people suffer from procrastination. I say this from having had tens of thousands of hours of in-depth discussions over the past quarter-century with over 6,000 highly successful entrepreneurs. If they still procrastinate, why are they successful? My first response is that they have more confidence, creativity, communication skills, and courage than the general population. But my second response is more important: As successful as they are, they would be ten times more so if they would learn just one simple rule: Always get the first 80% of any project done as quickly as possible.
Immediate increase of confidence and teamwork.
Anyone who applies this rule on a daily basis until it’s a habit will immediately notice a dramatic change in two areas of experience. One, the elimination of procrastination by doing the first 80% as quickly as possible will provide a burst of personal confidence. This will be increased further by a sense of personal achievement, progress, and improvement. Two, out of this higher personal confidence—and with an actual achievement in hand—it will be easy to attract the teamwork of anyone else who would like to self-improve. In this way, both personal confidence and teamwork increase, leading to greater success for everyone involved. But everything depends on one person taking the lead. By eliminating your own procrastination, you enable others to do the same.
The Advantage: In any situation, you can immediately increase your own personal confidence and teamwork with others by getting the first 80% of any project done as quickly as possible. The 80% Approach has many different dimensions to it, some of the most important being emotional and psychological. For example, both from my own experiences and from interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed the following: Striving for 80% seems to produce a better result—that is, a larger and higher-quality result— than striving for 100%. We’ve already examined how The 80% Approach generates increased confidence, better teamwork, and faster results. Now, let’s look at why it produces a superior result.
Making things worse than they were before.
If someone demands that you achieve 100%—or you demand this of yourself—I can predict what’s going to happen to your mind, your body, and your relationships. Mentally, you’ll start thinking about failure because that’s what anything short of 100% will be. Physically, you’ll tighten up. You’ll become obsessed with 100%, making it difficult to relax or sleep, causing increased strain and fatigue. In addition, you’ll become over-demanding with the people working with you, and you’ll neglect everyone else who isn’t involved with your 100% goal. Anyone of these three problems would undermine the quality of the result you’re striving for. Combined, they present serious obstacles to creativity, teamwork, productivity, success, and satisfaction. What’s worse, not only are you unlikely to achieve 100%, you may fail altogether or produce only a mediocre result. Your striving for 100% may make things worse than before you started. This experience makes it more difficult, instead of easier, to make progress in the future.
Riding the “80% wave” of accelerating confidence.
Striving for 100% increasingly strikes me as working against life, against human nature. It’s like sailing against the tide. Striving for an 80% result, on the other hand, seems to let the most powerful forces of human nature work on your behalf. It’s like surfing on a big wave. You’ll experience constantly growing confidence. Because you’re only striving for 80%, you make rapid progress, find it easy, and want to move even faster.
You’ll experience increased energy and enthusiasm.
The 80% Approach, as we have discussed, invites and produces much greater teamwork. Everyone involved feels energized by the collective progress and is carried forward by their enthusiasm. You’ll experience much higher creativity: Out of their growing confidence and enthusiasm, individuals involved in 80% teamwork maximize their intelligence and Unique Abilities in ways that surpass anything they’ve achieved before. The image of a whole team being carried forward on a huge, accelerating “80% wave” is very accurate.
80% versus 100%: Community versus isolation.
In the final analysis, the biggest reason why striving for 80% is superior to 100% is what it does to people. The 80% Approach makes them feel like integral, invaluable members of an extraordinary community. The 100% approach makes them feel isolated inside their own fears and uncertainties—unable to utilize other people’s abilities and resources.
The Advantage: Because striving for just 80% taps into and utilizes powerful forces of human nature, it always produces a superior result over striving for 100%, which invariably works against human nature Since discovering The 80% Approach, here’s how I’ve learned to work on projects. When I analyze how products, such as issues of my quarterly publications, are completed, my own contribution has six parts. In each case, I will give you my pre-80% and post-80% approaches.
My first contribution: the concept.
Before discovering The 80% Approach, I would procrastinate for a long time before committing to a concept. I wanted to make sure that it was absolutely the right one. But at any time, I have four or five concepts in my mind that would work. Operating from The 80% Approach, I now simply choose one and go with it.
My second contribution: the outline.
Prior to The 80% Approach, I would take up to a week to outline a document. This would involve a great deal of detail. At this point, no one else’s abilities can be utilized. Now, I can complete a rough outline—all that’s really needed—in about an hour. Then I immediately move on to the layout stage.
My third contribution: the layout.
I used to take 15 to 20 hours doing a full-size, page-by-page layout. Sometimes, I would do three or four drafts, which took three workdays. Meanwhile, the whole production team would be waiting—with nothing to work on. The finished layouts were beautiful—and totally unnecessary. The graphic artists knew what my style and formats were. They didn’t need an extensive layout. So now, after adopting The 80% Approach, I sketch out the entire layout on a single sheet of paper and submit it. This takes, at most, two hours.
My fourth contribution: the text.
Previous to The 80% Approach, I would take whole weeks to complete the text, sometimes doing as many as five drafts. Now, I do the first draft and submit it as quickly as possible. I have skilled editors who can make all the necessary corrections and refinements. This means I can complete an issue in 12 hours. What’s interesting is that my fast, single-draft approach is generating a better result—with two-week savings in overall production time.
My fifth contribution: the illustrations.
Before The 80% Approach, it would have taken me 20 to 30 hours to create the illustrations for the issue. Now, I make rough sketches and submit them to our team of skilled graphic artists within two days.
My sixth contribution: the recording.
Most of my written documents also have an audio CD component. Before utilizing The 80% Approach, it could take as many as four working days for me to prepare and record a 60-minute presentation. Now, I simply use the printed first draft of the text as my preparation. I go into the studio and record a two-hour presentation in three hours. If my studio team says that it’s a good recording, then it is. I seldom do a second recording. By adopting The 80% Approach for each of my contributions to the overall team effort, I’ve dramatically decreased the time it takes to delegate the next stage to any one of ten other people who have dozens of their own contributions to make. Since I get mine done as quickly as possible, so do they.
The Advantage: Every contribution that you make to a team effort, do it as quickly as possible, so the next steps can be delegated to others as quickly and effectively as possible. In the example described in Advantage 6, you can see that I’ve changed only one thing in each of the six contributions. I’ve eliminated virtually all procrastination on my part from the overall team process. In doing so, I now complete all my work on the project in a total of about four working days. If I add back in all the procrastination I used to do, the total time my contribution would take could be as much as five to six weeks. But as I have come to realize since adopting The 80% Approach, my own savings are just one small benefit.
Enormous savings of other people’s time, energy, and enthusiasm.
When one person eliminates procrastination, getting things done as quickly as possible or even ahead of schedule, it has a dramatic impact on all the other members of the team. A sense of positive urgency is communicated to everyone: If he or she got it done that quickly, I should do the same thing. Conversely, procrastination by even one team member sends a message for everyone else to slow down. When I submit my first layout ahead of schedule, it creates the opportunity for the whole team to save time in making their contributions as well. Widespread procrastination in a team makes each individual feel isolated. But when The 80% Approach is widely adopted, everyone feels unified. The energy and enthusiasm of every team member are raised.
Improving each individual’s skills.
When a team operating by The 80% Approach achieves a high-quality result, it also significantly increases the skills of each person on the team. An ineffective, procrastinating team slows down and actually undermines, the improvement of individual team members. An energized, productive team, on the other hand, dramatically supports and encourages their growth. Perfectionism and procrastination, therefore, are two of the biggest obstacles to the growth and development of all individuals. A team environment in which people use The 80% Approach is devoid of these two obstacles. Each person is liberated to improve at the fastest possible rate.
Counteracting apathy and depression.
The 20th century was marked by a tidal wave of psychological studies, starting with those by Sigmund Freud, that focused on the factors causing individual apathy and depression. Numerous theories have been put forward to explain these conditions, along with prescriptions for curing them—but the one causal factor that is seldom, if ever, mentioned is procrastination. What if the widespread adoption of The 80% Approach were to lead to equally widespread elimination of apathy and depression in both individuals and groups? I’m totally confident from my own experiences that it would. I believe that the chronic negative emotions that so many people experience in modern daily life stem from two causes: one, from having a habitual perfectionistic expectation of themselves in daily situations; and, two, from having a deeply ingrained habit of procrastination in dealing with these situations. Each of us can improve the emotional and psychological well-being of society simply by adopting The 80% Approach as our daily operating method. As soon as we do this, it will help others overcome their own perfectionism and procrastination.
The Advantage: By eliminating procrastination, especially in teamwork, we help others save time, improve their talents, and transform negative emotions. If perfectionism actually led to success and higher performance, it might be a useful ideal to pursue. But from my own life, I see very little evidence of this. From 1967 to 1971, I attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, which is famous in academic circles as “the Great Books school.” For four years, I read and discussed many of the classic books of Western civilization, starting with the ancient Greek poet Homer and ending with Einstein’s theory of relativity. I went to St. John’s simply because I wanted to read all of these books, and I knew I didn’t have the discipline to do it on my own. Looking back since I graduated, I’ve found this education invaluable in helping me to be a better reader, thinker, and speaker, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that St. John’s provided.
The mental disease of perfectionism.
For me, the actual education at St. John’s was a totally positive experience. But even while I was there, I noticed that this was not true for many other students, many of whom, at that time, were smarter and more articulate than I was. Instead of finding the ideas stimulating, these students found them intimidating.
As the years at St. John’s went by, I noticed many students becoming more apathetic, depressed, and fearful of going out into the world. In visits back for reunions, I’ve discovered the reason. Whereas I used the books as calisthenics to stretch and develop my mind, many of them used them as timeless, sacred ideals to worsen the condition of chronic perfectionism they already suffered from even before they had entered college.
The lesson: become a great thinker myself.
The single most important lesson I gained from reading the great thinkers was that I was supposed to become a great thinker myself. The single most important lesson the perfectionistic students learned was that it was impossible for them to ever do anything significant with their lives. Nothing they would ever think, say, or do would have any importance compared with the achievements of the great poets, historians, theologians, prophets, heroes, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, playwrights, and novelists whom they had studied and discussed. For many of them, the focus of their lives became to worship the books and their authors, not to become significant, influential thinkers and leaders themselves. I find it ironic that they had the benefit of an extraordinary four-year educational opportunity and used it to further paralyze themselves from being creative achievers for their lifetimes.
The great thinkers and doers were “80% people.”
There is a further irony. My sense is that my former classmates are convinced that the “god-like” authors of the great books were perfectionists, striving to achieve 100% in every aspect of their lives. After much reading and thinking about these books, I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. I think the great impact of these thinkers came from the fact that most of them were striving for 80%. They did this for whole lifetimes, and that’s why their achievement was so great. If I use a military analogy, perfectionists may win a few battles every now and then, but “80% thinkers and achievers” always win all of the wars. Not only do they overwhelmingly outperform perfectionists, but they also derive ever greater and growing enjoyment and satisfaction from their efforts.
The Advantage: By adopting The 80% Approach in all daily situations, over a lifetime, you will enjoyably and profitably outperform all the perfectionists you encounter in private and public life.