Using the 80-20 rule to help Artists find balance.

This is a picture of me hiking with my daughter. I have the photo sitting on my desk as a reminder of why finding balance is so important.

A question I often get as I advise artists goes something like this:

As an artist, I’m finding it almost impossible to find a work/life balance. What strategies can you offer to help me find a better mix between work, family and space to create?

It can be difficult for artists to find a work/life balance. I’m no exception. Lately, it seems that I’m on a conveyor belt, running from one place to the next, doing the best I can with the work and trying desperately to be there for my family.

Our inter-connected–and over-connected–society constantly reminds us of this mantra: Work hard, Play hard/Be with family and you will love your life. The challenge I find with this hyper-intensive mindset is that the hustle doesn’t necessarily help artists get ahead and often cuts deeply into the thing that may just be more important than money…..time.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about finding balance. Being present for my children and wife, doing my best at work, and feeding a deep desire to serve my community are all competing for my time and energy. Admittedly, I’m still working on it, but here is one strategy that has helped me tremendously as I continue to work to find balance.

Pareto’s Principle
Also called the 80-20 rule, Pareto’s principle is the thought that with every action, 20% of our efforts result in 80% of the output of our work. Conversely, the remaining 20% of our output necessitates 80% of our time. This principle always makes me think about the fact that any piece of music I’m working on becomes the most challenging when I’m mastering the last 20% of the piece. I remember specifically spending hours upon hours working on less than 10 measures of a 15 minute piece and feeling bad if I couldn’t execute the measures perfectly.

The deep study of my art has made me a perfectionist, which now permeates my work and life. The problem is that I don’t have unlimited time so something has to give. I have given myself permission to be 80% effective instead of 100% effective at some things in order to find extra time in my life. Pareto’s Principle may help you do the same.

Challenge: Get out a piece of paper and a pencil and take five minutes to brainstorm. Excluding your art and family, where can you apply Pareto’s Principle?

Remember, applying this rule equals more time to find balance and to be more effective at the things you do. Here are some quick places to think about utilizing this rule: Email!, Shopping, Budgeting, Working Out, Community Based Work, Cooking, and Cleaning, Gigs.

Pareto’s Principle can be applied to every aspect of your life to some degree. The goal is to remember that the majority of efforts/activity does not give you maximum results, the minority of efforts/activity (20%) gives you the majority of results (80%).

What ways have you used Pareto’s Principle to help you find a better work/life balance? Share your thoughts below. Finally, I want to hear from you. Please take 5 minutes to take this quick survey, which will help me serve you better.




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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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