The Two Laws of Productivity

September 28, 2020

Everyone seems to have the latest, "10 Tips for Productivity" or, "5 Habits to Getting More Done" anywhere you look on the internet. Although these tips and habits are helpful, we can get so lost in trying to be productive we forget to actually be productive. With all the latest tips and tricks on the market, it's hard to know where to start.

Let me present the two most basic laws of productivity. These aren't tips or habits, rather rules that are helpful to know when planning our days and writing our to - do lists.

  1. The Pareto Principle - Often called the 80/20 rule, this law simply states that 80% of our outputs are results of 20% of our input.
  2. Parkinson's Law - Work will expand to the time allocated to it.

The Pareto Principle

Vilfredo Pareto was an economist who lived in Paris and found a mathematical formula that seemingly worked with any variable. The first, he noted, was that 80% of the wealth in society was produced and owned by 20% of the population. Pareto also saw this in his garden. He noticed that 80% of his peas were grown from 20% of the pea pods he planted¹.

When this concept is understood and applied to your work, it helps you identify the things that are most important to focus on - getting more results. The 9 - 5 workday in America needs to go. It's robbing people of productive working and making them fill their time with refreshing their email, getting a sip from the water cooler, and having 30 minute meetings before hour long meetings to get ready for the two hour long meeting the next day.

Busyness does not equal productivity

Find the things that lead to the most results and do them more. Forget about everything else bogging down your precious time.

Parkinson's Law

The description was first penned in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British Historian². It was written in an article of The Economist and simply states that work will expand to the time allotted to it. If you have ten emails and five phone calls to make before you go home, it will take you eight hours to make those calls and send those emails.

Although that is partly the horrible working standard set by the typical 9-5 day as mentioned earlier, we still fall prey to it. Set a tight, reasonable deadline for projects. Doing this allows for more creativity, better focus, and better results.

Use these two laws in sync with one another. As Tim Ferris says in The 4-Hour Workweek,

The best solution is to use both together: Identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to income [results] and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.
FOOTNOTES
  1. Ferriss, Timothy., Ray Porter, and OverDrive Inc. The 4-hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Expanded & updated ; unabridged. Ashland, Or.: Blackstone Audio, 2009.
  2. Kaufman, Josh. “What Is 'Parkinson's Law'?” Parkinson's Law - The Personal MBA, personalmba.com/parkinsons-law/.