A Key to Effectiveness: The Willingness to Let Go

Do you want to be effective? Then you need to focus only on a few important things. This is the essence of the 80/20 rule. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. You might try to simplify your life only to find that you are still doing too many things at once. You might try to simplify your life and still be overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
But why does it happen? Why is it often difficult to apply the 80/20 rule? I think one important reason is that we lack the willingness to let go.
Just think about it. If you focus only on the top 20% then you need to let go the rest 80%. Imagine doing ten things and then letting go eight of them. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound easy to me.

But focus is essential so it’s important to build the willingness to let go. The better you are at it, the more you can focus without being distracted along the way.
Here are four lessons I learn that help build the willingness to let go:
1. You can’t do everything you want. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do everything you want. You simply don’t have enough time and willpower to do them. You will always have to choose and you will always miss something. Some people don’t like to miss something but that’s how life works. Be aware that you can’t do everything you want and it will be easier for you to let go.
2. Focus is necessary to go through failure period. To be successful at something, there’s a period of failure you must go through. You can only go through it if you focus your effort. Being all over the place means that you will never do that and you will end up in failure. Only by letting go can you have the focus necessary to achieve something valuable.
3. You will get more than what you miss. By letting go you will miss something. But you will eventually get more than what you miss. The higher level of focus allows you to achieve a level of success that would be impossible otherwise. Just you need to remember that you won’t be successful overnight so you need to have the faith that you’ll make it.
4. If something is really important, it will get back to you.You might worry that you will miss something important. But remind yourself that if something is truly important, it will somehow get back to you. It could be through the people around you or through other channels. If it doesn’t, then it’s not that important.
Photo by Fr Antunes


  1. Letting go is essential, really. It’s like it says in the Tao Te Ching – “To become strong, we must first become weak”. Stop resisting something and it then has no power over you any more.

  2. Many simple things in this world is very difficult to do and it requires certain level of mastery by consistent practice and self discipline – the will power to do it.
    I feel that we must follow 80/20 principle no matter what as you pointed quiet rightly that the results of 20 is more than 80 and that the power of focus. Awesome Idea.
    Thank you again for a wonderful post.

  3. Hi Donald.
    I like your extended analysis of the 80/20 rule here. I had not seen anyone who took thought about it to the next step like this. We don’t want to cut out the 80% section, so it stays around, and so we stay in a limited state of action. Letting go is tough because it means we do lose a little bit of pleasure or comfort.
    #2 is right because there is always that period that no one really wants to be in for that long, as it is like what may be labeled pre-success, or the period where success is in the mind but not reached, which can be fine in up times, but not so great in down times, as the success to reach is not a reached foundation yet.

  4. Thank you for this today.
    I’m heading out on vacation in a couple days and am in that OMG! Have to get everything done before I go phase.
    Time to take a deep breath, set the priorities and focus on one thing at at time.
    Thanks for this reminder.

  5. Donald: This was a really helpful post. I know for me it is so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything. However, you are so right, we have to find a way to let go and in order to be effective we hae to narrow down our priorities and focus on those things we feel are most important. I thought your tips were all very good. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  6. Nice post. Letting go is pretty essential to get stuff done. Normally after writing a to-do list, I look to delete at least 50% of it or more 50% to another list that isn’t important – effectively letting go of those ‘tasks’. Seems to work well for me. 🙂

  7. Richard,
    That’s a nice quote. I like it.
    The 80/20 principle is indeed essential. Applying it can make a big difference in our lives.
    Pre-success? That’s a good way to call it. Definitely more motivating than calling it failure period.
    Good luck! I’m sure you can make it 🙂
    That’s also a trap that I’m learning to avoid.
    Nice tip. Looks like I need to delete some items from my to-do list 🙂

  8. Letting go, the ultimate challenge to the dream chasing, law attracting, you-can-have-it-all attitude obsessed world. Millions strive and drive for success and I agree those who let go thrive and revel in the liberated feel. What you need you find. What you must face will come to you. What next will come next. A beautiful article and true at all levels. Much gratitude for your simple but powerful words Donald.

  9. It takes courage and self reflection to get to a point of being ready to let go. I think often of Leo from Zen Habits. Less definitely is more, provided we have the discipline to identify our areas of greatest effectiveness, and delegate or cut out the rest.

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