Ben Asks: What is the Pareto Principle?

Life can be completely chaotic. Understanding where our time, energy and resources go and use this information to our own benefit ourselves, could be the key to taking back control. Understanding the 80/20 law is a wonderful way to explain life in better detail.


Vilfredo Pareto is a hero of mine. He is a person that looked at the world and applied numbers to it. He found logic and rules in the chaos. He was an engineer. 

His most famous piece of work was his analysis of the distribution of wealth in Italy. He found that 20% of the people owned 80% of the land and therefore he could say the remaining 80% of the people owned only 20%. 

Now-a-days, the ‘80-20 rule’ is applied everywhere from finance, to engineering, to horticulture. It is well-known 80% of the sales will come from 20% of the clients, 80% of the defects in a production plant will occur on 20% of the products, 80% of the harvest will come from 20% of the land.

How does this help us in a chaotic life?  Well, how do we analyse ‘life’? A good starting point is to use this simple tool to show us how to be more savvy about the tasks we take on.


80/20 Energy Distribution

As a generalisation, we can say 80% of a given project will take 20% of the effort, therefore when we understand this, and when we reach the last 20% and we start to struggle. We can understand that it is completely normal. 

The higher effort required to finish a project is the reason why so many jobs end up half completed or the final detail work comes out at a lower quality standard than the rest. The energy to finish, as a generalisation, is so much greater – 60% higher in fact (80-20%), than the ‘normal’ energy required to start and roll through 80% of the project itself.  Knowing it will be a struggle, we can ensure we apply the correct strategy to cope. 

We act rather than react. 

Imagine you take a long drive with your partner to a new city for a weekend away. If we apply the Pareto Principle, we know that 80% of the journey will be easy. Requiring only 20% of the effort, the miles will flow under the vehicle as you waft along without a care in the world. That is, until you reach the final 20% of the journey. Strap in and hold on as this shit’s going to go down. 80% of the effort is going to be needed to get you through that city centre. The unfamiliar road signs, the crazy local drivers and the bonkers one way system is going to be taxing to deal with. 

However, knowing this in advance we can find a strategy to cope. We could plot the distance and find an appropriate place to take a break around 80% of the total journey. A good coffee break to sit down and accurately plan the final route to the destination. 

The interesting (albeit super nerdy)  thing about the principle is the extrapolation that comes with it. 

As 80% of the effort is on the last 20% of the project, in this last 20% of the activity, the first 80% of it will take 20% of the effort, then the final 20% of the final 20% will take 80% of the 80% of the effort. Confused?! Take a look at the graph for a more visual explanation.

Exponentially increasing, the closer you get to 100%, the more and more effort you need to finish. Finding the entrance to a city centre hotel car park is always the worst, right?


Overloaded at Work?

Have you ever sat down and thought “why is work so hard now-a-days?”. In the past it seemed like you could give your full attention to a project, the stress was lower and the end result was better. But now, it feels like you are just pounding out project after project? I know I do.

Maybe the Pareto Principle can help us understand this. Imagine all of the projects you ever completed at work were taken in series. One after the other after the other. Start a project, see it through until the end, finish and then start the next. The graph of effort against time would look like this. 

Periods of low effort and periods of high effort. After each high effort, a chance to relax and recuperate due to a period of low effort from the next project. A manageable system that works, right?

But if you are a manager of a company and you looked at this chart, would it not be so unreasonable to say that the workforce is only running at 20% of their effort for 80% of their time? Therefore, running projects in parallel should be completed. A reasonable assumption one might say for the overall productivity of the company.

That’s great until projects get delayed, high level periods start to overlap and of course the average overall maintained effort increases. 

With the prolonged increase in effort, comes the stress and fatigue that if not properly managed, can cause failure. 

In this instance, failure may mean not completing a project or turning the project in at a substandard level. While objectively, any rational human would judge you compassionately for having attempted to juggle multiple projects, in your mind, neither failure nor a lack of quality, is going to make you feel good.

Understanding this, could help realise why you are feeling exhausted, or why you need to sit down with your boss and ask for a time out. Without this understanding, without knowing your limits, you could be exposing yourself to the harm of a stressful environment for too long a period of time.


Managing your Time, Money and Resources

In production facilities, we use Pareto charts to look at defects. We need to know where the biggest problems are to fix, objectively, rather than with subjective opinions. Imagine we were in a car factory and every day a car came down the line with a smashed windscreen. In addition, 20 cars came down the line with a passenger door that didn’t open and 100 cars came down with a scratch in the paint work. Which is the problem to solve first?

Many people would think the windscreen first – it’s a terrible thing, right? Then the doors, followed by the paint as that’s an easy fix. That was my assumption when starting as a graduate engineer, but how wrong I was. First we would tackle the paint. 100 customers would complain of the scratch in the paintwork Vs. the one person with a smashed windscreen. Therefore to satisfy more people, we take the highest amount first.  

We need to assess the amount of potential complaints by the number of incidents. The way we can do this is with a ‘Pareto Chart’. The below chart shows an example for defects in a titanium facility. A classic Pareto Principle distribution showing a clearer picture of where to focus our attention. 

File:Pareto chart of titanium investment casting defects.svg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pareto_chart_of_titanium_investment_casting_defects.svg

Pareto charts are something I consider essential to my daily life. I use them everywhere. At work, at home and when trying to figure out a ‘why’.  Have you ever inputted your budget into a chart like this to see where your money goes? 

The same pattern will emerge. The highest is probably the mortgage, followed by the bills, then clothing, food, entertaining etc. How does this help you though? Well just like an engineer in a production plant trying to reduce defects to bring the total level down. When plotting your monthly budget into a Pareto Chart, it is easy to identify areas to save money. You look at the highest bar first and work your way down the chart to the bottom. 

To take another example, have you ever measured what you do during the day and plotted the times on a Pareto Chart? 

A typical day could be, wake up at 6am, lay in bed until 6:15. Get up, shower, have some breakfast and leave for work. Commute to work and slave away all day before returning home. Go for a run, prepare the evening meal, take a shower. Sit down to eat food, turn on the TV. At the end, brush your teeth and go to bed. Read for half an hour and sleep.

The data in a table format would be as follows.

ActivityTime
Sleep8
Wake up0.25 (quarter of an hour) 
Showering (morning and evening)0.5 (half an hour)
Breakfast0.25
Commuting (to and from)2
Work8
Running1
Evening Meal Prep1
TV2.25
Brushing teeth and going to bed0.25
Reading0.5
TOTAL24

And this data plotted as a bar chart.

What if we now move the chart to a Pareto style? We simply re-order the blocks to show the biggest on the left and the smallest on the right.

Now the results become quite interesting. If we were to look for things to reduce to allow us to have more free time, it becomes quite easy to see where our time is being wasted. 

How many people put ‘watching TV’ as a hobby on their CV do you think? The 3rd biggest usage of time in our days! Statisica.com reports for people aged 25-44, the average TV time per day was 2.75 hours, (just in case you thought my numbers were above average).

When I completed this task on myself to try and make my day more productive, it was a shock to realize where my time went – and I am pretty abnormal. I make sure I have eight hours in bed each night, most people only manage six to seven. If I wanted more time, to create more freedom, I knew where I could find it. Turning off the TV and investing some of that time to better myself… 

80% of the time above goes to working, commuting and sleeping activities. Therefore you only have 20% left for you. What would you like to do with it?

The Pareto Principle can be applied to almost anything to understand where your energy, time, money, resources etc are going. It can help you understand why you are burnt out. It can be a tool to show your manager that you need to cool it down a bit. It can be a guide to knowing when to take a break before you do that final push. 

Think about an area in your life you would like to understand and see how Pareto can help you. 

Let me know how you get on! 

Ben Stalsberg


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle

https://www.statista.com/statistics/276748/average-daily-tv-viewing-time-per-person-in-selected-countries/

Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Explains: Lesson learned from a ‘5 Year Plan’

Trying to find a little ‘peace of mind’ can sometimes be the well-needed stress relief in a chaotic, high-speed world. Thinking in the long term could be a method to help you find that aid. Let’s discuss my experience with a ‘5 Year Plan’ and see if it can help you too.


The student bar at Oxford Brookes University was unusually busy on a Thursday night. The sporty people were spread over an area in the corner, the music types were hanging near the pool tables and the ‘in crowd’ were sitting at the bar chatting with the bar staff. Intermingled in all these groups were ‘everyone in between’ sitting, standing, chatting, laughing and having a pretty good time.  

Sean, my good friend, was talking to us about his plans for the future. Sean and I met during the engineering program introduction day and hit it off immediately. A little bit older than me, he became a big brother-type figure in my life.  We shared common interests and made each other laugh, though it was notable how often I was the butt of his jokes. He would sometimes play pranks on me and tell stories to strangers of my mishaps, but we were good mates. I kind of felt a bit of respect for him with the lessons and guidance he showed me along the way. If Sean slipped up on anything though, I was always there to pounce. 

On that night in the bar, Sean was discussing his ‘5 Year Plan’. My former, 20 year year old younger self had never heard of anything so grown up coming out from such a hoodie-clad-person. Sean detailed his career plan, his goals to save for an apartment and his intentions for him and his girlfriend’s future. He seemed to have it all figured out.

It is only reflecting back now, that I can appreciate how wise Sean’s words were. We all should have listened and made notes as if we were in a lecture from a proper professor. Solid advice, most likely handed down from his father to him, which Sean was gracious enough to share with his motley crew.  Regrettably, instead of seeing this advice for the value it carried, it was simply an opportunity for ridicule for my immature self. His advice was not ‘normal’ at our age, and with anything not normal, it was open for mockery. I pasted him that night for his fancy ‘5 Year Plan’ and little was said about it ever again.. 

In those subsequent years after graduation, I followed my dad’s way of thinking. Solve one problem, then wonder what is next, or react to the next thing coming your way. I was in completely ‘reactive’ state of mind, as opposed to  the logically laid out ‘active’ one Sean had. I had an idea where I wanted to go; I wanted to work in Formula 1. However, I didn’t have many plans or ideas for anything else. 

The years passed as I lived a life of instant gratification. My ‘buy now pay later’ mentality fuelled by a life of living in the moment and not really caring about the future. It was only when I moved to Norway, some 15 years later, I sat down and thought, “Shit I really need to sort this out”. I had racked up a mountain of debt and was becoming fed up with the restrictions that came with it. I reflected that perhaps Sean had been onto something after all.

I sat down and calculated my budget and worked out how many months it would be to pay off everything. The credit cards, car loan, loans from family members and so on. “Life is so much more than just money, but what else did I want though? If this is the direction I am heading, what would I like to see along the way?” I pondered. 

As I expanded my thinking from finiances into other areas – fitness, housing, vehicles etc. I found myself l visualising Ben, five years in the future. Where was he? What was he doing? How did he look? What did he wear? What were his priorities?

As I worked out the answers to these questions, like inputting a GPS coordinate into a sat nav system, I saw a new path to follow. A guided route stretched way ahead in front of me to a vision of my new better life. 

But the time frame seemed so long, 

“Five years of my life? Would it be worth it? But how long really is five years?”  I considered the reality of five years. “If our generation will live until we are 80-90, and I’m 35, I still have 45-55 years to go. If I sacrifice five years now to pay off the 15 years of fun I’ve just had and make the next 45-55 years of life better, it doesn’t seem so bad of a trade off after all?”. This was the motivation I needed.  

I made a spreadsheet for every part of my life. Finances, career plan, housing, vehicle options, savings, vacation plans, a short, medium and long term wish list. I set in as much detail as I could and planned everything I could think of. Much like a mountaineer setting off to climb a difficult path, I had a map of where to go, what obstacles to look out for and what milestones to celebrate along the way. 

As I write this post I’m coming to the end of the 5 year period and here is what I have learned on my journey. 


At Peace

I found in my past I was always rushing to get to where I wanted to go. Now, I understand with careful planning it’s going to take it’s own time to get there. Like running a marathon, I can sit back, relax and settle into a good pace. Life is less stressful when you are not sprinting from one thing to the next. 

Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” discusses how successful entrepreneurs look back on the times starting out, hustling their way to achieve year upon year as the best times in the company. When they have made it and start to follow their ‘What’, rather than their ‘Why’, the focus is lost and the enjoyment decreases too. 

Therefore, why not relax and enjoy those early days longer? When you chase a dream the story is over when you accomplish it, right? 


Delayed Gratification

I had/have a financial plan in place enabling me to live an extraordinary life in the future. For example, I don’t have a fancy car now, on a loan, I have a regular VW Golf and I’m saving money each month for my ‘dream car’ later. The temptation of instant gratification now, is overcome by the thought or dream of what will come later. But it is not easy. Swimming against the flow of a society pushing you down river into debt is hard. What I found to ease my mind was actually the improvement to me, my character.

The ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’ by W Mischel, E B Ebbesen, A R Zeiss, studied how children reacted to a simple challenge. A single marshmallow now, or two later. The study, in which some modern day versions have some very amusing YouTube videos, showed some very interesting results—albeit with some counter arguments and studies weakening the original theory such as the work completed by Watts, Duncan and Quen

The team in the original study, followed the children for the next 40 years of their lives.  The results showed the children who had waited and had the ‘delayed gratification’ of two marshmallows were more successful, achieved higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, less divorce, lower obesity levels etc. 
Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D, wrote in Psychology today, “Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster….People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances”


Motivation

The final thing I noticed when I planned ahead in my life was the increased motivation to get things done. Much like Edwin Locke’s ‘Goal-Setting Theory’. A technique used by management companies all over the world, encouraging specific, challenging, and time defined goals as a key for success. By planning, I became super-productive and super-motivated.

But a word of caution. It is easy to write almost anything down on a ‘5 Year Plan’ and ‘hope’ it just happens. One could write ‘to be a millionaire’, but this may lead to more stress and depression if you are simply not able to or not lucky enough to achieve it. 

My advice, taken from the book ‘Start with Why’, is to begin with defining your ‘Why’ first. Why do you want to be in that position? Why do you want to move there? Why do you want that vehicle?

Having a clear understanding of ‘why’ is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury. When times go bad or temptation comes along to veer off your path, remembering your ‘why’ helps you steer a true course forwards. 

I was fed up with being trapped by the restrictions of being in debt. My ‘why’ is freedom.


This ‘5 Year Plan’ for your life concept isn’t new. This isn’t an original thought from me. There are even ‘wikihow’ pages on how to do it. People will advise you on Youtube how to use a picture board to show the things you desire. Whereas others will say write everything down and place it in a special jar. I made a spreadsheet. 

How do you create the plan? Well, it’s up to you. But you’ve already taken the first step, so good luck!

“Slow and steady wins the race”, right? The benefits of a 5 year plan have shown me you can gain more control of your life, reduce the chaos and improve your own character in doing so. 

So why not try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Ben Stalsberg


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Five-Year-Plan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_gratification#:~:text=Delayed%20gratification%2C%20or%20deferred%20gratification,preference%20for%20a%20later%20reward.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/01/famed-impulse-control-marshmallow-test-fails-in-new-research

Ben Asks: Do you need to get debt free?

Money, it makes the world go round, but for the vast majority of us, we learn how to handle finances through trial and error—mistakes that can be super costly and affect our mental attitudes, relationships and future life plans.


By far the biggest change in my life has been my attitude towards money. I wasn’t given any real money advice by my parents. Neither was it on the curriculum in school or at university. Like most people, I had to figure it all out by myself. 

I distinctly remember the time it all went wrong. Aged 18, a friend in Canada and the words “just get a credit card, book the flights and pay it off later . . .”

I hadn’t been taught how to control my money, so I didn’t really stand a chance of becoming financially savvy when my parents, the banks, the car people, the house people etc. all wanted me to buy stuff now and pay for it all later. It was as standard and normal as an A4 piece of paper. 

The hardest realisation though, was the company I worked for, the people who paid me, dressed me and put food on the table each night actively, wanted me to have less, so that they could actually make more. 

When I realised that, I wanted, for want of a better expression, to stop the corporate bus and get off. In that singular moment, I knew the system was wrong. “Welcome to the real world, son” might be the reality, but that wasn’t a world I could live inside without some level of control, even if that is just something I’m telling myself.


What is the root cause of the problem?

Ask yourself the question – If you lost your job today, how many days can you live before you NEED money? 

Gobankingrates.com, a website dedicated to financial topics, estimated in 2019 around 69% of Americans had less than $1000 saved away in a bank account.

The BBC reported that in the UK, “A survey by the Money Advice Service has found that four in 10 adults…do not have £500 or more in savings. Another by ING bank suggests 28% of UK adults have nothing at all in the bank.”

And the Independent states that “More than quarter of UK households have no emergency savings…”

How did we end up in a situation where it’s common for all of us to live on the edge of financial disaster?

I have come to understand the game we are playing. It’s a game where we live in a world where everybody wants to make money. Simple, right? But this becomes quite tricky when we start to look at the companies and financial institutions closest to us. 

At work, unions have been demolished, equal pay is a touchy subject and satisfying the shareholder is now a priority subject for every CEO.

It is clear, the less we earn, the more we seem to borrow and the more the banks will make. Is this the darker side of capitalism?

The documentary ‘Saving Capitalism’ featuring Robert B. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor to then Clinton administration, paints a very vivid picture of the situation. “The simultaneous rise of both the working poor and non-working rich offers further evidence that earnings no longer correlate with effort.”

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

It is recommended from articles such as ‘marketwatch.com’ amongst others, that by the time you are 35, you should have twice your salary saved away. 35!? I ask: why the topic of personal finances was not firmly placed between Maths and PE on a Tuesday morning with Mrs Smith? 

As you can see, the harsh reality is that nobody is out there fighting for you to look after or  make more money – therefore you really have to do this stuff yourself.


When booking those flights to Canada, I didn’t realise then, how that one decision I was about to make, would be so disastrous for the next fifteen years of my life. 

Young and on reflection, not so clever, I got the credit card and had a wild time for two weeks; skiing, driving around in a Mk1 Golf convertible, playing board games and drinking a few too many lemonades.  

Upon my return, I was greeted by the mountain of debt I’d racked up… Of course I had neither the money, nor the discipline to pay the credit card off at once. I set it to pay off the minimum monthly balance, high on memories of my Great Canadian Adventure. The years passed by, loans and credit cards were a staple of my financial diet and the initial £1500 holiday cost closer to £2,900 once compound interest was taken into account.  It didn’t stop there. Over the years, thousands of pounds of hard-earned money, washing away in a blur of social situations, material possessions and long-forgotten drunken memories. It’s harder when there’s nothing to show for it all, eh?  

Fast forward ten years to Ben, aged 28 and I found myself sitting in a room with a group of people being trained to sail around the world. There was a girl around my age; cute, blonde, Norwegian, who looked at me in a way that buckled my knees forever. Another guy, also around my age, was as smart as they come with a niceness factor through the roof. At that time I could only afford to pay to sail halfway around the world. But  these two people, around the same age as me were doing the WHOLE thing. I thought if they are doing it all, why can’t I? 

I sat in the back of the class, I opened up my bank’s website and I applied for a £30,000 loan for the balance of the rest of the journey. Within an hour it was approved and within a day I had the funds sitting in my account. It was that easy. It was so easy in fact it was scary.

Returning to land a year later from the race, with around £30,000 loan, around £7000 in credit cards and £3000 loan from my parents. No job, no assets, no nothing. I knew it was time to make a change. A sickening feeling arose, I was now a slave to that debt. Shackles are something very few of us would choose to wear. Yet this is what we do mentally when we are indebted. We are shackled to the whims of an economy that is not designed to work in our favour. Freedom felt a long way off. 


The interesting thing about the people I met on the race was how savvy everyone seemed to be with money. They all ‘knew’ the money game and they all thought I was completely crazy in my approach to life on credit—I think ‘delinquent’ is the official phrase. Upon asking my close friends for advice to get out of this situation, one friend, Ryan, said he could help me. Looking back, he changed my life in a way bigger than I ever thought was possible,  recommending a book which altered my view on the financial world forever. 

The book was Dave Ramsey’s ‘Total Money Makeover’.

The book discusses a foolproof plan to become debt-free. You first save a small emergency fund, so that you can cut up all your credit cards and not worry about needing them. Then you pay off all your debts, excluding the mortgage. Boost your emergency fund to 3-6 months, then start to do things for the future. 

I was so passionate about doing this that I jumped in head first and dragged my wife along with me. I distinctly remember sitting in a hotel in Stavanger reading the page on cutting up credit cards and I went for it. I asked the receptionist to borrow a pair of scissors and cut up my credit cards there and then. It was terrifying and freeing all at the same time. Like jumping out of a plane, I didn’t really know where I was heading and how this was going to turn out, but I knew it was exciting! I carried one piece of credit card in my wallet until recently as a constant reminder of the days gone by. 

Becoming debt-free and being like the people on the boat was my whole focus in life. I wanted to be as carefree as they were. If they lost their jobs, it wasn’t stressful. Some of them were there just taking a year off anyway, just for fun. Most could live for months on the same lifestyle without needing to go to the banks for a loan. They were making money each day by just having money stashed away in various accounts, funds and portfolios. “What was this wizardry?” I thought.  

Well the truth is, it’s no more magic than driving a car, riding a bike or making a delicious chocolate cake. It’s just learning what to do and having the discipline to do it right.  

You set up a Plan, Do, Check, Action Process, as we talked about in a previous blog here. And you just get to work. 

It took me over three years to become debt-free and five years to be in the position that I’m in now. I have no debts apart from the mortgage, I have a 6 month emergency fund saved away and when I get my paycheck, 15% of it goes straight towards my retirement. If everything stayed the same, although I’m working to shorten the time of course…I should be a millionaire by the time I retire.

I’m not going to sit here and say it was, and is, easy though. You have to actively turn your back on a “normal” life and walk your own road. It takes months to pay off credit cards and years to pay off the cars. In all this time, you have to say “no” to anything fancy or fun. There are times when you stare at yourself in the mirror, wearing the same T-shirt you’ve owned for 8 years and think, what am I doing? I’m in the prime of my life, living on less money than when I was a student. ‘Buy now, pay later’ indeed.

You see all your mates, in fancy cars, having fun and going on holiday and you are sat, inside, watching the TV again. Of course, you wonder if they’ve been more money-savvy or if that enjoyment comes at a price they’ll pay later.

Debt repayment is  a long, hard, boring game and one in which you know will only take as long as the discipline you put in. One night out, means £50 less to pay off the car, which may push you into another month of debt-free mission living. There was a reason our grandparents called it ‘The never-never’. 

But it’s not forever. And it isn’t ALL doom-and-gloom. Funnily enough, this road looks more like the roads our grandparents would walk. Valuing shared neighbourly socials where everyone brings a bit, rather than flamboyant stag dos in random European cities. We’re all living well beyond our means, encouraged by colourful marketing campaigns. This new path shuns much of that stuff, seeing it for what it really is. 

Sometimes getting out of debt is a case of finding another tribe. One where symbols of status and wealth are not the priority. But just like the water principle, you have to input energy to dramatically change your ways. Then, after the transformation happens, you can walk a new path to a much better future than before.


To end, I want to leave you with a final thought, who is richer?

Person A and Person B earn the same money. Person A, has no savings, drives a Porsche on a loan, has a vacation home on a mortgage, dresses in designer clothes, eats out regularly and takes nice vacations all on credit cards. The disposable income after all the expenses and interest payments is around £30 each month.

Person B, saves £300 each month, drives a Volkswagen Golf, rents a vacation home for a week at a time, pays cash, dresses sensibly, eats out rarely but still takes nice vacations. All paid on cash not credit. The disposable income of this person is around £1000 each month. 

If both people lost their jobs, had their houses flooded, or had an accident in the family which needed large hospital bills. Who is the wealthier person and how much chaos would each person have in their lives if something went wrong?

You should never judge a book by its cover and no situation is more true than that with money. 

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


Find Dave Ramsey’s book here! https://www.daveramsey.com/store/product/the-total-money-makeover-book-by-dave-ramsey


https://www.statista.com/chart/20323/americans-lack-savings/

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35801951#:~:text=It%20recommends%20keeping%20between%20one,%C2%A36%2C000%20and%20%C2%A39%2C000.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-households-no-emergency-savings-pensions-insurance-policies-accounts-a8199201.html

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/yes-save-twice-your-salary-by-the-time-youre-35-and-7-other-things-you-should-do-2018-05-23


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Asks: Why is it so difficult to change? Explaining the ‘Water Principle’.

You’re stuck in a rut, struggling to move forwards and you just don’t understand why? Well let me help you understand it better with a theory about water.


To make a change, we input energy to divert away from our current normal, to create a new normal. Some changes are immediate and significant, such as moving house — where we use a short sharp burst of intense energy for a sustainable period of time. 

Other changes though, are more incremental. You start with a project and you have a dedicated goal in mind, however that finish line may be way ahead in the future. It’s easy to start the change as the amount of energy required is lower than the level of excitement you may have. Gradually though, that constant continued effort over months and months without any perceivable results can end up being absolutely draining if not managed correctly. 

Most humans have experienced the vast valley of demotivation that so often comes with a long term project, and I’m sure we are all guilty of looking for the easy way out when faced with a dark and miserable climb. 

But with any long term project, the more you can ‘normalise’ the situation you are in, the more you can understand the ‘why’ and with this understanding comes a better chance of success.

Any seasoned marathon runner will tell you it’s going to hurt like hell at mile 18-20, therefore any beginner experiencing ‘the wall’ will understand it to be normal and it makes it easier for them to carry on.

Taking a more general goal of ‘Fitness’ – unless you’re shredding calories and limiting calorie intake unhealthily, you’ll not see the incremental changes that the increased exercise brings; until you try on an old pair of trousers that have been too snug for far too long.

In engineering, it’s quite common for inspiration to come from nature. Biomimicry is all around us —not least on our roads, where ‘Cat’s eyes’ reflect headlights to guide the route ahead. When we have problems in our lives, we can look to nature to provide a better understanding and this is why I want to talk about water. 


——

There is no easy way to explain this theory without a small section of dry science. So please hang in there and I’ll see you on the other side. 

——

Water, to change itself from a solid state, into a gaseous state, must first melt from ice into water and then evaporate from water into steam. 

You may remember from science class, we conduct an experiment where we take a lump of ice, heat in a pan with a bunsen burner, then measure the temperature over a given period of time. Typically that time limit is when the water is boiling like mad and the teacher gets a bit worried about over-eager kids wanting to stick their fingers in! 

The chart we drew up after the experiment would look something like this.

The temperature rises steadily, until the ice changes to water or the water changes to steam and in these transitions something strange happens.

During these transformation phases, the observed temperature on the chart shows only a flat, steady line. We can’t see that any change is happening from the outside. However, we know at an atomic level, energy is applied in the form of heat and the molecule’s natural vibration increases.

The inward heat energy is being converted into kinetic energy. 

And remember that the fundamental rule of science: energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. 

The water molecules continue to vibrate until finally they have enough energy to break free from their bonds and end up in a new, more fluid condition. Then, and only then, the observed temperature will increase again.

The same occurs when cooling. When we cool steam, to water and finally to ice, the temperature will also flatline in the transition phases. This is due to the molecules receiving less heat energy and forming restrictive bonds again.  

These plateaus of change are proportional with time and energy. Therefore if change is a constant, to decrease the time, we need to add or remove more energy. 

OK we made it. . . good job.

Considering our life progression and everything in our lives – projects, relationships, health, fitness, confidence etc. water is a handy analogy. 

When we change, and we want to move paths, from our current normal to a new normal, we need to input energy.

When we are in that transitional phase, we need to keep inputting energy — even if we see no results — until finally our bonds are broken with our old path, and we can move onto the next one.  

The energy we are inputting is not being wasted. It is being used somewhere. If we are not seeing an obvious result on the outside, it is likely the energy is being used on the inside.

When we fail to maintain consistency in long-term changes, our energy towards our mission reduces. Just like water, then we can slip back along the plateau and form bonds again to lower elements—AKA our original bad habits.


When times have been tough in my life, the one constant that has kept me motivated is the belief that the more energy I put into the system, the better the result.

I stumbled onto the ‘water principle’ idea when talking with a friend who was struggling to find his feet with his business. 

It was clear he was demotivated and a bit down in the dumps. It was only natural to try and think of a way to help his situation. We all say to our friends, “don’t give up” in times like these. However, without some context behind it, I felt it was a bit of an empty statement. Just like telling your mate who has split up with their partner, “It’ll get better soon”, you know that’s not the full story.. It’s going to be hell for 90 days as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of missing messages, bittersweet memories, tunes and smells that spark sadness—all the fun that comes with heartbreak.

I had watched a YouTube video on professional CrossFit athletes and was fascinated with the coaches explanation of ‘plateaus’. He described it as swimming under ice. At some point you won’t be able to get up for air. The only way to break through the ice is with technique. He would coach his athletes to actively stop chasing big weights, or top scores on the board (a habit formed from childhood) and focus only on the way they were moving.


The parallels between my friend, the athletes and the way water reacts just seem to fit together quite nicely. 

I started to think about all the times that I had found it hard and no matter how much energy I was putting in, nothing seemed like it was moving forwards.

Projects at work, becoming debt free, moving to a foreign country. All these projects which took so much energy and were completely demotivating in the heat of the battle. They all started to move when I had freed myself from bad habits, poor discipline or finally just accepted the situation I was in. 

It was only when I had used energy to break free from the bonds from the past, that I was set free for the future. 

“Don’t give up” with more background no longer seems as empty. 

We all know the expression ‘no pain, no gain’. If the only ‘pain’ you’re experiencing is the discomfort of not being able to visibly see results, perhaps you need to ask yourself how much you want the change?


But be careful. As I will discuss next week, if you are going to use your precious energy on change, it should be completed as efficiently as possible. The Plan, Do, Check, Action, method, can help you laser focus that energy to great success.  

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


Try to think of a time where you were struggling to change. What can you learn from that?


Heating Curve for Water

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Explains: Root Cause Analysis

All too often we get distracted dealing with the symptoms of our issues, rather than the root causes. Today we’ll discuss Root Cause Analysis and learn how to channel precious energy and time into making more progress. More progress equals more productivity.


Engineering can be defined as ‘The action of artfully bringing something about’. 

Maybe you’ve read a couple of posts, sat down at the table and thought, ‘right, time to get this **** sorted’. Then stalled, just as I did. Trying to solve the problem of ‘life’ is like trying to eat an adult elephant with a baby spoon, it’s hard! (Not that I would ever condone eating an elephant, but you get the visual: Big Thing, Tiny Tool).

Over the years, engineers have developed a number of  tips, tricks and techniques to ‘standardise’ the way we work to ensure we are the most efficient in our jobs. It’s ‘evolution over revolution’ because if someone has already done the hard work, then why reinvent the wheel?

As engineering covers such a wide range of topics, even our own personal, chaotic, lives can benefit from these  methods. Last week I discussed how engineering is about solving problems, so here is a tool to help you firstly define the problem, then for you to go about artfully solving it.


So what is the root cause of the problem? (This is a phrase I constantly come back to, as it’s vitally important in engineering.) 

We are all capable of solving problems. In fact, there is no better person to solve your problems but you. It is you who understands your life better than anyone else ever could. As intelligent beings, we have the power of the internet to ‘search and solve’ even the most problematic of everyday scenarios. Or at least find a crevice in some far-flung corner of the internet, where one or two others are experiencing the same problem as we are—solidarity is a great first step. A little self-belief doesn’t hurt either.

However, all too often, we recognise there’s a problem, then we panic. Distressed at the difficulty in which we find ourselves, we fog our brains, failing to clearly define what we need to focus upon, failing to convince ourselves we can handle it. 

We would never go to the mechanics workshop and say “it’s broken” without giving some hint as to where it was broken first. The bill for the mechanic to find the fault, in the myriad of components on an automobile, if not completely obvious, would be astronomical.  Sometimes then, we need to sit down, look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, what exactly has gone wrong?  

I’m struggling with my money. OK, but what exactly are you struggling with? Are you being paid too little, do you run out of money before the next pay cheque? Are your bills greater than your income? 

My side hustle is struggling. OK, but what exactly is the problem? Are your products selling? Is your advertising working? What feedback are you getting from the customers?

My relationship is on the rocks. OK, have you sat down and talked about it? Have you been to see an expert? Do you need to get away, together, for a weekend?

We need to first find the ‘Root Cause’ of the problem, or the fundamental underlying issue, that sprouts all the chaos above ground before we can try and solve it. This is known in the trade as ‘Root Cause Analysis’ (RCA).


When engineers come across a machine that is broken, or one that is just not running quite right, they might ask ‘why’, and then ask ‘why’ four more times again. 

This is a technique in engineering, called the ‘5-Why’ method. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda with the Toyota Motor Corporation, it is a system that aids you to find that fundamental problem. 

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There is a dent in the wall – why?

Because the door has been hitting it – why?

Because the stopper has come loose – why?

Because the stopper only has one screw in it – why?

Because the other has broken – why?

Because it was the wrong size screw. ROOT CAUSE

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To fix the problem of the dent in the wall, we need to find the right size screw to fix the stopper in the floor.

As you expand into environments with thousands of components, machines and processes, accurately finding and defining the ‘Root Cause’ of the problem is the key to success.

The better you can make your ‘problem definition’ the more clarity and focus you have to fix it.  

————————————————————–

I’m struggling with money – why?

Because the money runs out before the end of the month – why?

Because I’m spending more than I’m earning – why?

Because I don’t know how much I spend each month – why?

Because I don’t have a budget – why?

Because I never thought it was needed. ROOT CAUSE.

————————————————————-

When completing this exercise its vitally important to stay focussed on the problem at hand and not to deviate off onto problems in other areas. Take these two examples for instance.

————————————————————-

I’m always late for work – why?

I always hit rush hour traffic – why?

There is a junction where all the workers in the neighbourhood must pass and the queues are a nightmare! – why?

Because the road system is not good enough to cope with the traffic levels – why?

The designers of the roads didn’t know what they were doing?? 

————————————————————–

This is not finding the root cause of the problem. The process is an iterative cycle and as we know, anything that rotates tends to move things outwards, due to the centrifugal force. Therefore it is vitally important to keep the focus inwards, on factors you yourself can control. 

—————————————————————

I’m always late for work – why?

I always hit rush hour traffic – why?

Because I start work at 8 and therefore I leave at 7:30, just like everyone else – why?

Because that’s the routine I have had for many years – why?

Because in the past, setting off at 7:30 was fine, until they built that new factory last year, now the traffic has increased – why? (stay inward focussed here!)

Because when the situation changed, I didn’t continually analyse my day, and figure out a new, more efficient process. ROOT CAUSE.

———————————————————-

A word of caution though. If you complete the ‘5 whys’ correctly, it’s going to take you to some places that may really challenge you emotionally. This can be disruptive, but the reward is worth the work. Below are examples I recently completed for my normal day-to-day job situation. I could sit down and blame the company but the root cause of my problem lay directly at my feet. 

————————————————————

I’m unhappy at work – why?

Because I don’t feel motivated to do it anymore- why?

Because I expect more from the company with regards to the effort I’m putting in – why?

Because they don’t pay the employees any bonuses for the additional hard work we complete, leaving us feeling like ‘why should we bother?’  – why?

Because they don’t see the value in treating employees fairly and we are the ones they should be encouraging to be more of a successful company – why?

Because they haven’t been trained on how to run a successful company? NOT A ROOT CAUSE for my problem. 

————————————————————-

As you can see this is not solving the problem of why I am unhappy at work. It’s just moaning about the situation and my focus has been cast external, not internal. The inward ‘5-why’ method for my job situation actually looks like this.

————————————————————–

I’m unhappy at work – why?

Because I don’t feel motivated to do it anymore- why?

Because I expect more from the company with regards to the effort I’m putting in – why?

Because my research on how the company runs, before I took the job wasn’t good enough – why?

Because I never thought I needed to check on a company, the vision and strategy, reward systems and ask current employees what they think – why?

Because I assumed it would all be OK as it has in the past. But my assumption led me to not checking all the relevant facts and information that was important to me first; and I only found out it was like this after I accepted the job.  ROOT CAUSE

————————————————————–

So now I have two options. I stick it out in the company and accept it for what it is. Or I search for a new job and in that process, I complete the proper research before accepting it. It was a tough lesson for me to learn, not least because it brought me face-to-face with my ego. Such reckoning can be really uncomfortable, and that’s ok. If you’re really struggling with a decision though, I want to encourage you to seek professional support. I assure you, there’s no shame in it. 

But what about the company, some might say? Well imagine in an ideal world, everyone completed really deep research on a company before they took the job. Soon, companies that treated employees poorly would be forced to change their ways as no one would work for them…..food for thought, no?!


Using the ‘5-why’ method is a powerful technique  in directing your vision towards the one thing that needs to be fixed, solved or improved.

It can be used for simple obstacles around the house, or for large challenges like your work, home life or financial situation. 

Sometimes they are quick to complete, sometimes they take days. But when you master the 5-Why method, the results can be extremely rewarding.

And don’t worry, I’ll give you tips on how to solve problems as you find them.  So enjoy! 

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


What would you define your major problems are and what do you think the root cause of them is? Why don’t you take some time out this weekend and try a couple of examples?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_whys

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_cause_analysis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifugal_force


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved


Ben Asks: Can You Engineer Your Life?

Is your life full of problems that need your constant attention? Are you struggling to be more efficient? Are you wanting to design a better life for yourself?


Engineering, in its very basic form, is the field of problem solving. LiveScience.com explains that “Engineering is the application of science and math to solve problems.“

Clients will approach an engineering company, explain the problem they have and the engineers will go about solving it.

A client says “We need to get cars from one side of the river to the other”, and the Engineer replies “Ok, do you want a bridge, a ferry or a tunnel?” Because, there is never just one solution.

When we start to think how to solve the problems of life and how to become more efficient in what we do, application of lessons and principles from Science and Engineering makes the process all the more interesting—at least it did for me! 

Ridley Scott’s 2015 masterpiece, The Martian, is one of my favourite films. In it botanist astronaut, Mark Whatney is left on Mars. In a situation that seemingly meant almost certain death for him,  ‘The Martian’ knows the importance of solving problems to succeed. 

You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

But where do you start? Well, you can engineer almost every part of your existence. You can cherry pick the parts that work for you in helping to alleviate stress and pressure. Eventually, with the work,you’ll find mental freedom from the problems you are struggling against.

It’s a simple process, though it doesn’t feel like that initially. It’s a process I’ve been through and I’m here to guide you. Let’s get started, shall we?


We can easily draw direct comparisons between a production plant and our lives. Hundreds of moving parts, all following their own processes to come together as one. To look at this massive environment and then try to organise it as a singular, streamlined entity, is almost impossible. There is simply too much stuff going on. 

Therefore, the engineers in the facility are mainly concerned with three focal areas: 

  1. Are the machines running?
  2. How are the machines running?
  3. How efficient is the process? 

Our bodies are our machines. This thing that just won’t stay in shape, it won’t let us sleep when we’re tired and no matter how hard we try, it won’t ever look younger without some help from external forces. Though our machine might still be running, it’s not especially efficient, if we’re rushing around at 100mph, with a mountain of emails, a jerk of a boss, and/or a toddler that will NOT shut up, no matter how much you might love them. 

Throughout your day, week, month and year, most of the time we are completing set processes on automatic pilot. 

But, how often have we sat down and looked at those little routines and asked are they doing me harm? Is this the most efficient way? How can I make them better? 

Drawing from my own life experiences and what I observe every day, we are conditioned by this super chaotic society and its ever-evolving values to run on full gas from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to bed and in doing this, we are neither focused on maintaining the machine to its optimum level, or running our processes in the most efficient manner. 

Not convinced? Look at our workplaces; in a study completed by Kornferry.com, workplace stress has risen nearly 20% in the last three decades. With 76% of the people stating that the workplace stress had a negative effect on their personal relationships and 16% of people walking out of the company as the load was too high.

In an article on forbes.com, from 7500 people around 23% reported feeling burnt out “very often” at work or “always”. 

On top of that, there are plenty of studies suggesting we’re not getting enough shut-eye. Late-night Netflix binging and disruptive boozing are doing us no favours. The book ‘Why we Sleep’, by Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, discusses the problems with sleep deprivation. Clinical studies of thousands of people offer surprising and quite frankly, terrifying results. He says how forcing ourselves awake with an alarm, alcohol and poor sleep hygiene is disruptive to our memory function, our mood stability and eating habits.

Actually, missing our precious pillow time is one of the leading causes of heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes and depression. Yet, we all do it. We all give our bodies less sleep than it needs to function optimally, still expecting to be over-achievers.

We wouldn’t drive our cars in 1st gear on the red line everywhere and wonder why the engine packed in early. 

So if we wouldn’t treat the most trivial of domestic appliances this way, why are we so harsh on our own living, breathing machines every. single. day? Everything needs servicing, including ourselves. It took an airborne near-miss to make me realise this.


As the plane approached the runway during a snowstorm in the middle of a Norwegian winter, my heart rate was already in the triple figures. My hands were sweating, I tightened my seat belt and I looked out the window. 

This was my tenth flight in ten weeks and this period was knocking me for six. Along with trying to settle into a new country, learn a new language, work a full-time, stressful job and build a house, I was now trying to start a side hustle, to escape the woes of the corporate world. 

I’d visited a customer in the North of Norway and was now homeward bound. As we started to descend, the turbulence increased, and I could feel the anxiety rise. Normally, I’m quite a calm passenger. This was definitely not good. Already at the limit of my mental and physical capacity, I was horrified to see, as we came through the clouds, the runway–a good 50m away from where the plane was attempting to land. 

The engines boosted, the roar of the propellers shook the aircraft furiously and the passengers all gave each other nervous glances. 

The pilot banked hard and climbed high, and saved us all from the peril that could have been. He came back around and attempted to land again, making it down successfully this time. The engines were shut off and I exhaled for the first time in what seemed hours. Dazed, I collected my bag, disembarked and I drove home. I don’t even remember the journey, but within 30 seconds of entering the door, years of stress, despondency and depression came out in a flood of tears in front of my wife. I curled up on her lap and wept. Naturally, she asked me what was wrong.

There was no way to explain to her how I was feeling. 

From the outside I was just working away. I was busy for sure, but inside, I couldn’t tell her why I was so empty. I just kept working hoping it would pass. I wanted more and the only way to get there was to work more, regardless of how it was making me feel.

To try and accurately describe to her what I was going through, I found a piece of paper and just wrote down everything that was in my mind. I filled a whole A4 side, every line split into two and some things also written around the edges. It wasn’t good.

I was also sick, I wasn’t taking care of myself and I had been bouncing off the limiter, propped up on YouTube motivational videos for years; Be a Tiger, right?

I realised I had to change. I had to stop and figure this out as there was no point chasing success to live a better life, if in the end, my life would be shorter. 

Looking back now, that was a pivotal moment. I needed those tears to flow. I needed the frustration and disappointment and fear and anger to dissipate. I’ve since learned tears physically carry stress hormones in them, out of your body. As men, we are conditioned from a young age not to cry or show weakness, of which crying is apparently a sign. I call bullshit on that. 

We’re human before we are men and sometimes, we need to cry just as hard as anyone else. Sometimes when the chaos of life overwhelms us, we can see the machine is not functioning properly, but we have somehow normalised a bad machine process, we need a part to ping off before we acknowledge the issue, dissemble the machine and reassemble with new or repaired parts. Like an engineer, we need to review. We need to ask ourselves those key questions:

  1. Is the machine on? I hope so, but… 
  2. How well is the machine running? 

If you’ve found this blog post, your machine is definitely on, but you’ve already identified it’s not running well.

I started small. Firstly, I worked on my sleep. To make sure I was ready to sleep when I needed to, I started exercising again. Eating healthily wasn’t so hard, but I cut out things like alcohol and sugar, just initially. They contribute so much to mood swings, I figured if I was committed to engineering my life to be better, I need to be on a level. It wasn’t easy. I meditated, I did yoga, As a result,  I grew stronger, calmer, more focussed. I made better decisions. I was all around less fatigued and less stressed as a result of the changes in the way that I ran my “machine”. 

I then took a look at my processes. I got an excel sheet and asked, how can I be more efficient with the same hours in the day? I drew out my day plan and started moving bits around. I asked, what’s my biggest problem and what is the root cause? With this I was able to clearly see what was going wrong. 

And in the three years since then, I’ve not stopped, I still analyse and I still make changes. It’s an ever- evolving process just like in a manufacturing facility; a “Continuous Improvement Process”, an engineering method used all over the world.


A “Continuous Improvement Process” is just like a game of hitting the moles when they pop out the holes at the fairground. Note, the great thing about these ‘moles’: each time you hit them, they get smaller and return only with less strength. 

Just as it is impossible to hit every mole at the same time, it’s important to realize that you can’t tackle each of life’s problems with full force, all at the same time. That approach is unsustainable.


So where do you start? You need to take this big old thing called life and start breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then you need to prioritise. Choose which mole to whack first.

Health is always the priority. Always. You can’t buy good health. 

If you believe you’re of sound mind and fitness, which area of your life are you going to engineer next?

Ben Stalsberg

New posts out fortnightly on Fridays!


https://www.livescience.com/47499-what-is-engineering.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2019/01/09/workplace-trend-stress-is-on-the-rise/

https://www.kornferry.com/insights/articles/workplace-stress-motivation

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2019/06/02/the-burnout-club-now-considered-a-disease-with-a-membership-price-you-dont-want-to-pay-for-success/#19f6b55a37ab


Copyright © 2020 – Ben Stalsberg – All Rights Reserved