The 20% Exercise

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Are you familiar with the Pareto Principle? Essentially it says that 20 percent of your inputs produce 80 percent of your results.

With this in mind, let’s do an exercise to help you identify which 20% of your inputs are actually doing the heavy lifting for your career.

It is a 4 part exercise. The first 3 parts will take you just under an hour to complete.

Grab a pen and paper.

Ready? Let’s go.


Think back on the last 12 months of your professional life. Brain dump everything you did in an effort to make progress in your career. Include everything you can think of, even if you don’t know if/how it directly relates: networking, auditioning, taking classes, going to conferences, getting new headshots, hiring a stylist, signing with an agent, quitting your job, learning a new language, etc, etc, etc.

If there are things that encompass a broad spectrum of activities, see if you can be more specific and break them down into categories. For example, “auditions” might break down into: appointments, EPAs, ECCs, self tapes, crashing, etc. “Pay-to-plays” might break down into: one night workshops with casting directors at TGS, one night workshops with agents at Actors Loft, 4 week workshops with music directors at Save My Audition, etc. This does not need to become a super labor intensive exercise. Set a timer for 20 minutes and leave it at that.


Make a list of your wins from the last 12 months. Some of them might be big, some might be small. It qualifies as a win if it has tangibly moved the needle of progress forward. This could be things like: “Playwright responded to my reach out” to “Nailed my double pirouette” to “Got a meeting with an agent” to “Won a Tony Award”. If it is was progress, it was a win. This should take about 10 minutes.


Identify which actions in Part 1 were responsible for each win in Part 2. Be ruthless and brutally honest about this.

This should take about 10 minutes.


This the hard part.

Decide what you are going to do with this information. What are the 20 percent of the contributions you are making to your career that are delivering 80 percent of the results? Where is your progress actually coming from? Where are you just spinning your wheels?

You may have just learned that the $2000 you spent on pay-to-plays with agents added up to zero agent meetings. Are you going to spend that money again this year? Or maybe you learned that your new agent is a direct result of the money you spent. Maybe you’ll double your investment next year. You may have just learned that the 10 hours of time you spent writing reach outs to creative teams accounted for 8 of the 10 appointments you got this year. Maybe next year you will devote much more time to reaching out.

This work requires deep reflection. It is impossible for me to tell you how long that will take. And I hope you will do it anyway.

What do the next 12 months look like if you eliminate (or at least reduce) the 80 percent of the things that aren’t producing results and invest more energy in the 20 percent that are?