The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.
Following the Pareto principle, here are the 20% of the basic and universal productivity “rules”, and not hacks, which cover 80% of what productivity is all about and how to be more productive.
Have a separate place to work
Kitchen is where food is made, bedroom is where you sleep and rest so similarly create a workspace where you only work.
Keep boundaries between these places because if you try to mix up the environment and the task you’ll only get the lowest common denominator of both.
Black and white time
When working, work. When playing, play.
Focus on having either black time or white time. Never try to have grey time that is working or thinking about working while playing and vice-versa. It leads to marginal returns on your focus.
Productivity starts with 5 minutes
We need momentum to keep going but ironically you need to move to create some momentum. Give it 5 minutes of undivided attention and you’ll have that momentum.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” ― Pablo Picasso
Divide and conquer
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Big tasks are daunting. Divide them up in chunks and keep tackling one chunk at a time. Focus all your energies on that one chunk and before you know it, that big, daunting task is complete.
Take a walk/break
Don’t stay stuck on a stupid problem just because you spent a lot of time being stuck on it.
If something isn’t working, stop working on it. Walk away from it for a while. Your problems also need room to breathe.
“Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.” - Parkinson’s law
Don’t start work without a deadline in your head. If you don’t assign a deadline to a task it’ll take much much longer than it should have.
Doesn’t work and leads to poor results than compared to uni-tasking. Every time.
If you don’t stop multi-tasking, it can become a nasty habit and seriously harm your ability to focus on one thing.
Deep work is a skill or habit that needs to be cultivated for a long time and not to be cheated with. The dividends it’ll pay are immense.
Everyone’s peak mental performance hours in a day are different. Recognise yours and work completely distraction free on your most important tasks at that time.
Don’t overuse todo lists
It’s very easy to just dump things in your todo lists thinking you’ll get to them later. It gives you a fake sense of accomplishment.
If you use todo lists, try to put some arbitrary limit on the number of tasks each list can have. Todo lists are there to manage your work, they’re not your work.
You have limited mental resources per day at your disposal
Decision Fatigue: Deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making
Use your mental resources wisely, on things that matter the most, before you run out of your limited resources for the day.
Your mental resources work like your physical muscles.
To increase the ability to lift more, you make yourself lift more little by little, putting yourself out there. All your mental faculties function similarly.
You increase their ability by working on them, giving them more and more to lift.
Have good measures in place
You improve what you measure. If you don’t measure your work the right way, you’ll keep fooling yourself into thinking that you’re getting a lot of work done.
Productivity is concerned more with how much work you do, not how many hours you work. Having good measures in place is essential to see where you stand and improve.
Just finishing routine work doesn’t count as being productive. Depending on the nature of your work, productivity can mean many things.
Yes, you can do everything. No, you can’t do it all at the same time. Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to achieve all your passionate goals at once.
Don’t fall into the trap of feel good procrastination by putting off the important tasks and keep working on your easy ones.
Also, have very few priorities. If you have a single priority, you’ll get it. If you have many priorities, you’ll get to none of them.
Discipline >>> Motivation
Consistent intensity over consistency over intensity.
Don’t wait for motivation or inspiration to come before you can start working on your work. Motivation is flaky and inconsistent, relying on it to get your work done is almost like playing a gamble.
You can’t just work on days only when you feel like it. Put systems in place and enforce them. Put aside the reliance on motivation. Treat the motivated days as a bonus.
Don’t wait for a Monday, a new month, a new year to get started on your goals. You can get started right now.
Don’t reset often because you’ll loose a lot of progress but if you think you need to reset your approach, don’t wait to do it.
Don’t go for the productivity ‘hacks’
Hacks are cool, fun, new and shiny - but they’re ineffective.
These hacks are dopamine inducing, short term solutions that will probably only work once or twice. You don’t repair a hole in your ship with hacks. They might offer temporary relief but sooner or later you need to find some permanent solution and fix the problem at its root.
Don’t focus too much on tools
People often get stuck on which tools to use rather than focusing on the actual process. There’s a simple reason for that: It’s easy to talk about the tools your role model uses than put in the amount of work your role model puts in.
Imagine playing a 1-1 basketball game with Michael Jordan but you have all the best gear on you, the latest Jordans and the whole deal but Jordan is in battered old shorts and barefoot. You think you can beat Michael Jordan?
Tools are there to help, augment your work. It’ll never replace the work.