Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The 90% Rule

I've been learning various productivity rules of thumb that I think are useful, particularly for those perfectionists out there. I, for one, am one of those people who want so badly for things to be perfect that many things don't get done at all, so it's good to be reminded that doing less is often more.

1. The 90% Rule
Don't try to get a project 100% perfect...launch when it's 90% of the way there.

The reasoning is this: most people spend the majority of their time nitpicking at the very end, trying to get something just a little bit better, so they waste time they could spend on the next project (or napping!) on trying to make their current project flawless. Sometimes they don't launch it at all, and in any case it makes the work frustrating instead of fulfilling. The solution is to stop being a perfectionist and launch a project when it's good enough, and then move on to the next one. You end up putting two 90% projects out there in the same time it would take to put out one at 95% (or zero if you get too frustrated). This is a rule the founders of I Can Has Cheezeburger follow, which allows them to crank out lots of popular websites and have fun in the process.

2. 20% Time
Spend 80% of your time on core duties, and 20% of your time working "outside the box".

The idea here is that if you spend all your time looking at the trees you'll never see the forest. Most of our best ideas and innovations come when we're not working on anything at all, as this is what allows us to be inspired. So schedule away 20% of your work time to stepping back and thinking about what you can do different or better. Chances are you'll find more efficient ways to do what you do 80% of the time, or think of things you'd rather do instead. Like napping! Google lives by this rule, and most of their innovations are credited as being thought of during Googler's 20% time.

3. 4 hour work week
Focus all your energies into getting all your work done in a short period of time.

Ever notice that the busiest people seem to somehow get the most done? When you're revved up and focused you can usually crank out a lot more work then when you're lethargic and killing time. Yet our jobs usually schedule us to work long hours so we have enough time to do it all. So instead, reduce the number of hours you're scheduled to work, and then work fast and furious during that limited time. What you'll discover is that the less time you give yourself, the more you'll be able to do in that time, so that you end up accomplishing in one hour what you thought you needed 8 for. Also, by giving yourself less time to work, you focus on the things you really need to do instead of wasting time on the less important items. Once again, those guys who post funny cat pictures live by this. I'm not sure if you can really reduce your work hours to 4 a week, but you can certainly cut hours out and find out you didn't need them.

I wanted to include a fourth rule here, but in the spirit of the 90% rule, I'll end the article here.