At first sight, it may seem that physics and productivity have little in common, but that is not completely true. Writer and Coach James Clear has developed what he calls ‘the physics of productivity’, in which he establishes a connection between Newton’s Laws of Motion and our capacity for being productive. That’s because productivity (like so many other things) has laws that rule it.

Law of inertia

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.  

When applied to productivity, Newton’s first law shows that if you are active, you tend to stay the same; and if you’re not doing anything, you are most likely to stay ‘idle’. That is to say, once you start, it’s easier for you to keep on doing things, whereas when you’re procrastinating, it’s very difficult to start being productive.

The conclusion is crystal clear: start moving straight away! When you get to work, don’t surf the Internet just to avoid all your to-dos. Simply start by doing something. It doesn’t have to be your main goal, it can be any other thing: answer an e-mail, write some sentences of a report (although they don’t make much sense) or write down a new to-do list. Inertia will keep you doing things until you realise that you are working on the most important task of the day.

Law of Force and Acceleration

Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass of the object being accelerated, the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate it.

Newton’s second law of Motion states that force (F) depends both on the magnitude (how much you work on something) and direction (what that work is focused on). In other words, if you want to move towards a certain goal, the force you apply and its direction are the ones that make a difference. It’s not about working harder, but on the right things.

You may work really hard, but if you don’t do it on the right aspects you will never achieve your goals. Being able to prioritize and identify the most important tasks is crucial to accomplishing them effectively. So once you’ve done it, it’s time to focus all your effort on them in order to be really productive. Our work capacity is limited and what we invest it in is as important as how hard we work.

Law of Action and Reaction

For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: That is to say that whenever an object pushes another object it gets pushed back in the opposite direction and equally hard.

Our productivity is usually the result of a struggle between two opposing forces: a productive one (concentration, motivation…) and an unproductive one (stress, interruptions, lack of sleep, multitasking…) According to Clear, when facing such situation, we can react in two different ways to become more productive:

  • Overcoming the resistances: we can motivate ourselves and work harder whatever it takes. But our capacity is limited and most likely we will end up burnt out. Moreover, the unproductive forces will still be there to undermine our results.
  • Reducing the resistances: the best thing we can do is to identify what is making us unproductive and then try to solve it. Learning how to say no, changing our working environment or detecting the ‘time killers’ are just some examples of it. If we get rid of (or at least minimise) the unproductive forces that are stopping us from moving forward, we will be able to work on those things providing actual results.

If you want to know more about productivity laws, you can read this post where we sum them all up.

Translation by Susana Castro.

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