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Islands of Time, Cornerstones of Castles

“Behind the issue of how we allocate time lurks the even more fundamental issue of what we want to get out of our lives.” – Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle

In reading Koch’s book it struck me how profoundly influential he was in Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week. Not a shock, really, since Ferriss often refers to Koch’s book as one of his cornerstones. I suppose I’d always thought of his use of the Pareto Principle as the essential takeaway, but didn’t realize the extent to which Koch urges lifestyle design himself in his book.

The 80/20 Principle offers the usual business cases for who you spend your time with and what you spend your time on in business, but I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting the deeper dive into the self that he thrusts upon you. I’ll tap into this book in future posts, but wanted to explore Koch’s top ten highest-value uses of time. Here they are:

The Top 10 highest-value uses of time:
1. Things that advance your overall purpose in life
2. Things you have always wanted to do
3. Things already in the 20/80 relationship of time to results
4. Innovative ways of doing things that promise to slash the time required and/or multiply the quality of results
5. Things other people tell you can’t be done
6. Things other people have done successfully in a different arena
7. Things that use your own creativity
8. Things that you can get other people to do for you with relatively little effort on your part
9. Anything with high-quality collaborators who have already transcended the 80/20 rule of time, who use time eccentrically and effectively
10. Things for which it is now or never

– Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle

The list is fascinating on a lot of levels as a look at what a “highly successful person” prioritizes. I’ve put that in quotations because not everyone has the same belief about what success is, but you can’t take away that he’s accomplished quite a bit using his belief system. We all have this lurking issue of time, for we aren’t immortal, are we? So what would you prioritize?

Well, Koch suggests making four lists to identify your own 20 percent that you should prioritize. He segments them as “islands”, or small segments of time, under which you list the things you’ve done that have contributed disproportionately towards each. The segments are: Happiness Islands, Unhappiness Islands, Achievement Islands and Achievement Desert Islands (periods of greatest sterility or lowest productivity). Your task is straightforward: Identify each, and then act accordingly in how you prioritize your time.

Ah, yes… Making lists is one thing. Acting accordingly is quite another. And this is where most people fall off. And this is what Thoreau meant in one of his most famous quotes:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau would have seen common ground in Koch’s list, and he himself pointed the way in Walden:

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Ferriss also mentioned Walden as a cornerstone book, and it is for me as well. But cornerstones only mean something if you build your castle on top of them. Otherwise they’re just a few rocks oddly places that someone else might trip over if they were distracted with their own life. Koch’s four islands are a great guide for prioritization and action.

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  1. Key morsel here is as you say: how you define (in quotes) “success”. And what is an achievement? Lot to unpack here in this post. Interesting to understand what you might consider models for considering success in this world.

    1. His list is only that: his list. But it serves as a guide for making our own. As for mine, well, that’s been a recurring theme of this blog for a few years now. As with most people, I’m a work in progress

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