The 3 Laws of Productivity

by Francisco Saez

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Pursuit of Mastery.

July 4, 2011

These laws, of which you’ve probably heard before, can be applied in many fields, but have a special relationship with productivity. If you have them in mind when you’re undertaking your tasks, you’ll win yourself some extra time. Let’s see how.

1. Pareto Principle

Also known as the 80/20 rule, it could be stated in this way:


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July 4, 2011

These laws, of which you’ve probably heard before, can be applied in many fields, but have a special relationship with productivity. If you have them in mind when you’re undertaking your tasks, you’ll win yourself some extra time. Let’s see how.

1. Pareto Principle

Also known as the 80/20 rule, it could be stated in this way:

“80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs.”

Its name comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist of the 19th century, who first stated it in his Cours d’economie politique, after realizing that 80% of his country’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population.

The funny thing is that this sort of statistical distribution can be found almost everywhere, not just in economics. So you’ll find it expressed in different ways depending on the environment in which it applies: 80% of the errors come from 20% of possible causes, 80% of the profits are generated by 20% of customers and products, etc. This 80/20 relationship is just an approximation and there are cases where the ratio is much more skewed (90/10, 95/5 and even 99/1).

Therefore, if you consider that approximately 80% of your results come from 20% of the time and effort you invest, then it turns out that you can get similar results while devoting less time and effort, as long as you learn to maximize the time and effort you give to any particular task.

Use this principle to your advantage. Determine which everyday tasks will produce results that bring you closer to your goals and which ones will just keep you busy. Focus on the important tasks and try to eliminate most of the rest—yes, and get rid of the guilt of not being stupidly busy! By doing this, you’ll gain a couple of hours each day to do what you want.

2. Parkinson’s Law

Articulated by the British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, it says:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Parkinson realized that, despite having less and less paperwork in the British Colonial Office, the number of employees increased each year by more than 5%. As a result of his study, a book titled Parkinson’s Law (of which the famous sentence is extracted) was published in 1957.

If you’ve ever assigned a task to someone, you know that this law holds true almost always. If you give someone a month to finish a project, it’ll be done in a month, although it could be done in two weeks.

This also happens to you on the tasks you have to do every day—you adjust yourself to the timelines and deadlines you’ve set. How to solve it? At the time of planning your work, set much tighter deadlines. Estimate optimistically and you’ll succeed. Limiting your time will force you to focus on what’s important and get straight to the point.

3. Newton’s First Law of Motion

Also called Law of Inertia, this is the first of the three laws formulated by Isaac Newton on the physics of motion:

“Every body remains in a state of constant velocity unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.”

Or put in other words: What is at rest remains at rest; what is in motion continues in motion.

What does physics have to do with productivity? A lot actually. When you’re procrastinating, you’re at rest and, as a rather pleasant state, it’s hard to start doing things. But it also happens that when you’re doing things, you enter into a state of motion, and it’s equally difficult to stop because, after all, the fact of completing tasks is also satisfactory.

So keep this in mind, and get to work soon every day. Learn to take the first step doing whatever task is at hand. Tasks in motion tend to get done. So just start.

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