7 Ways to Get Ahead in Life by Applying the Long Tail Concept

We can improve our personal productivity by applying the the Pareto principle or Parkinson’s law. But why not going further by applying  the Long Tail concept?

The Long Tail is a term coined by Chris Anderson to describe how entities like iTunes or Netflix doing business. Due to the low cost of storing and distributing digital content, these businesses can sell much larger variety of items compared to the traditional stores. Though many of the items sell in only small numbers each quarter, but due to the huge number of items offered, collectively they will still give large revenue comparable to the hits. The few hits forms the head of the tail while those many other items makes the long tail.

In business, the application of Long Tail concept is quite the opposite of Pareto principle. To apply the Pareto principle, you should pick only a small number of items which give you the highest returns (i.e. picking only the 20% items which give you 80% results), but to apply the Long Tail concept, you should pick the entire 100% items to get 100% results.

Though not in exactly the same sense as in business, I believe we can apply this concept in our daily life as well. We can allocate our time between a few main tasks which form the head of the tail and a lot of smaller tasks which form the long tail. Collectively, the value we get from the smaller tasks could be comparable to the value we get from the main tasks.

So here are seven ways to get ahead in life by applying the Long Tail concept:

1. Create new sources of income (the Long Tail of income)

You should have one or two main sources of income (the head of the tail), but you should also look for every possible opportunities to add new sources of income, no matter how small (the long tail). This is especially true for the income sources that doesn’t require your active effort to maintain; the income sources that give you “automatic income” or “passive income”.

The ideal way to work, then, is not spending your time working for money, but spending your time building systems that will automatically generate money for you. So you work to build a system until it runs automatically, then you move on to build the second system, and so on. This way, you will have more and more income sources over time.

2. Snack read a lot of readings (the Long Tail of readings)

You should deep read only one or two books at a time (the head of the tail), but you should allocate time to snack read a lot of other readings (the long tail).

Deep reading means spending days of your time for a reading. You should use this kind of reading for the books which have so many useful ideas that they deserve large amount of time investment.

Snack reading, on the other hand, means spending just a little time here and there on as many different readings (books, magazines, blogs) as possible. The main point here is diversity rather than depth. 

3. Know a lot of acquaintances (the Long Tail of relationships)

You should have some close friends with whom you spend most of your time with (the head of the tail). On the other hand, you should try to know as many people – from as many different worlds – as possible (the long tail). Getting a lot of acquaintances is real power since they often know things that you and your close friends do not know. This phenomenon is known as “The Strength of Weak Ties” and is explored in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

4. Know a little about many fields (the Long Tail of knowledge)

You should have deep knowledge in one or two fields which become your specialization (the head of the tail). These are the fields for which you are known to the outside world. On the other side, you should know a little about a lot of other fields, even those unrelated to your specialization (the long tail). Knowing these other fields helps you understand what options are available and quickly recognize emerging trends. You can then move fast to ride the waves of those emerging trends. This way you will become a versatilist.

5. Experiment with new ways of doing things (the Long Tail of workflow)

You should have some routines which are proven to work best for you and spend most of your time doing them. They are your “best practices” (the head of the tail). On the other hand, you should also spend some time to experiment doing things in different ways (the long tail). This may help you avoid boredom and give you new ideas to improve your workflow. For example, you may try to do your creative work in the evening instead of the morning, or you may give a new time management method a try.

6. Experiment with new tools (the Long Tail of tools)

This one is similar to #5, only here you experiment with new tools to do your works. Again, you should have some tools which are proven to work best for you and spend most of your time using them (the head of the tail), but you should also allocate little time to experiment with a lot of different new tools (the long tail).

7. Do things for the first time (the Long Tail of experiences)

There are some experiences which you encounter almost daily such as working in the office. These are the experiences which consume most of your time (the head of the tail). But you should also allocate time to do something new, to do things for the first time (the long tail). Travel to new places, go to different cafes, or play new games. Allocate some time to introduce new experiences into your life.

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  1. I like the principle in all aspects you listed . I got put your focus
    a few known things but be open & experience & experiment with
    new & unknown endevors

  2. Yes, Kenneth. Diversity is always important, but we also need to have deep focus on a few things. I think the balance between them is key.

  3. […] Latumahina wrote an interesting post last year on which he discussed 7 ways that you can get ahead in life by applying the Long Tail […]

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