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Four Productivity Laws Every Content Creator Should Consider

Knowledge is worthless if you don’t act on it


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Nabil Alouani

2 years ago | 5 min read

Productivity is like dating. We all know the theory but suck at practice. I won’t blow your mind with the following list because you’ll recognize most of it. Theory. But you’ll find enough tips to be able to apply them today. Practice.

Ready?

1. Parkinson’s Law

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

Creators are an easy target for Parkinson’s Law because we’re often free from deadlines. Even those who set time limits suffer consequences.

Say you give yourself a week to shoot a video, record a podcast, or write two articles. You’d consider spreading the work across five or six days and voilà. If you’re anything like me, that’s not what happens.

Instead, you’d procrastinate until Thursday then switch to rush mode, only to end up with a half-baked result. The alternative is even worse.

You’d power through the first two days like a boss, and finish. Then the overthinking starts — “Overthinking,” as in “ruin what was a decent piece of work with too much editing.”

Either way, we lose, so here’s an antidote.

How to sidestep the Parkinson’s Law

The short answer is fake deadlines. Now, let’s throw in some details.

First, forget how much time you have to finish a piece of content. Find out how much time you need instead. The easiest way to answer that question is to track your creative process.

Sure, creativity has its own physics and some pieces take longer than others. But that doesn’t prevent you from having an average estimation. For instance, I often need eight to ten hours to write a decent article. The number itself doesn’t matter; what matters is having a number.

Second, set up an artificial deadline. This will force you to focus on the essentials instead of scattering your mind all over the place.

Keeping the same example, I give myself three calendar days to finish an article or drop it forever. The fake pressure pushes me to sit and do the work and keeps me from dragging unfinished drafts for months.

Steal the trick and adapt it to your work habits.

2. Pareto’s Law

80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.

In other words, 80% of your income derives from 20% of your efforts. You read that right: most of your work will be unprofitable. Don’t freak out though; there’s good news.

When you identify the profitable 20% chunk of your work, you can optimize the way you invest your resources. Less waste, more efficiency.

How to integrate Pareto’s Law

You want to split your work into brackets, identify the most profitable ones, and invest more time and energy in them.

Here’s what my work brackets look like right now.

  • Writing
  • Rewriting
  • Editing
  • Making cover images
  • Posting on social media
  • Pitching publications and freelance clients
  • Consulting

It doesn’t take a genius to realize rewriting and editing are the interesting 20% of my Pareto distribution. I start my days with these two to make sure my brainpower fuels the right engines.

Make no mistake though; I didn’t drop the rest. I just give them less energy.

The same pattern applies to most creative processes. Also hey, you don’t need surgery-like precision to make Pareto’s law work for you. Thoughtful estimations work just fine.

3. Murphy’s Law

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Okay maybe not anything, but hey, shit happens right? The idea behind Murphy’s Law is to be ready to respond to the crap life throws at you.

How to deal with Murphy’s Law

You’ll have to anticipate a little bit — and to do that, I recommend you use a dedicated method called the premortem.

Premortem was invented by a psychologist called Gary Klein. Here’s how he defined it.

“A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death.[…]
A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied.”

Applying the method to each piece of content you create is overkill though.

Instead, I suggest you use it for long-term goals like going full-time, writing a book, or reaching a significant milestone. Here’s a template you can use.

  1. List every risk that can kill your long-term goals. Examples: Low traffic despite six months of consistent publishing, losing interest in the topic you wanted to write a book about, big changes in the platform you use.
  2. Come up with countermeasures. Examples: using ads or studying SEO, splitting the incomplete book into articles and moving to another one, growing a mailing list to keep in touch with your audience.
  3. Document your premortem in a dedicated folder and review it every week.

The process will help you address weak points and keep the remaining risks in mind at all times. When a potential threat transforms into a real obstacle, you’ll be less likely to panic. Even better, you’ll have some ideas on how to react.

4. Pearson’s Law

That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.

Put differently, when you hold yourself accountable to someone, you make progress super fast. Why is that?

We’re social creatures. We care way more about what others think and expect from us than we do with ourselves. In fact, researchers found we’re 95% likely to achieve a goal when we have an accountability partner we meet with on a regular basis.

I don’t know about you, but I could use that to beat the procrastination monster.

How to apply Pearson’s Law

Before hunting for an accountability partner, define clear and measurable goals such as “write two articles every week” or “shoot a short video every day.”

From there, you can hook up with a friend or an online peer. Here are three ideas to inspire you.

  • Set up weekly meetings with a friend to share progress. Pick a nearby café or a nice park to make the experience pleasurable.
  • Use Slack or social media if, like me, your creator buddies live in other countries.
  • Hop on a virtual workspace like MyFocuSpace.

I’ve written an entire article about accountability. You’ll find the link at the end of this one.

Let’s recap

Knowledge is worthless if you don’t act on it. That doesn’t mean that you have to apply everything in this article right now.

As Mark Twain said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Pick one of the following rules and try to apply it starting tomorrow — right after coffee, or tea, or water, or sex, or ice cream.

Screenshot the rest for later use.

  1. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Use fake deadlines to force yourself to focus on the essentials.
  2. “80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.” Analyze the different parts of your content creation process and invest more resources in those with the highest return on investment.
  3. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Anticipate scenarios that can kill your solo business. You’ll keep cool when something bad happens. More important, you’ll know how to react.
  4. “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” Look for an accountability partner. Do it now.

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Nabil Alouani

Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."


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