Want to Be More Productive? Watch a Kid

Occam’s Razor Revisited

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How to get more done faster

The other day a light-bulb moment happened in my car. My six-year-old son was in the back seat and the rest of the car was filled with kid accouterments — bike, sporting goods, snacks and various toys. There was little room in the back. The only way to fit something in the back of the car, was to rearrange the piles and fill the car with five minutes of frustration.

I had my son’s backpack in the passenger seat, up-front. I needed his backpack in the back, so I could make room for something else. I grabbed the backpack, handed it to my son, asked him to find a spot in the back, and I turned to drive the car.

Before I had both hands on the wheel, My son had tossed the backpack over his shoulder and into the back of the car. Done and done. No thought, just action. He did exactly as I asked, eliminating the backpack in seconds. If it were up to me, I would’ve got out of the car, opened the tailgate and rearranged everything to find a neat spot for the backpack.

My son followed his intuition instead.

Yes, kids are a mess. Their ideas of putting things away are not always the most-careful, nor the most-practical. But they do have something to teach us about productivity.

I feel like we’re on the tail end of productivity-talk. We all know we can’t do two things at once, or even juggle multiple tasks well. Our brains are designed to do one thing at one time. If we juggle, we bounce focus between the two tasks, and do both tasks worse, had we done them one at a time.

We can do MORE with what we’ve got, however.

This is where watching children comes into play. We’re the ones who fire-hose all our neurosis upon them . They don’t come from the factory that way. We have all the extra steps in our mind when we ask a kid to put his backpack in the rear of the car. The child doesn’t have these steps ingrained.

My son didn’t want to deal with the backpack so he solved the problem as fast as he could. He got the task off his plate so he could continue looking out the window and enjoying his day.

We like to hem and haw, plan and strategize, make lists and consult with team members. By the time the adult version of the backpack process map is all sorted-out, we’ve lost 30 minutes of our lives.

Productivity 2.0 is not doing more in less time.

The new productivity is doing less in less time, while accomplishing the same task. We all know Occam’s Razor (the law of parsimony) — where the simplest solution tends to be the best solution.

For some reason, when we’re in the thick of it, we forget. We take our lifetime of mental, problem-solving baggage, hoist it to our proverbial backs, and proceed to make our to-do items more complicated than need be.

Children are the spark.

There’s an Occam to everything. What do we want to accomplish? Is the task delicate or rough? Is there a time window or does it matter? What would a kid do in this situation?

Sometimes the kid answer isn’t the right answer. Maybe the task requires a little adult finesse. The non-kid answers are your 20%ers. 80% of the stuff on your list can be done with less.

Where does this apply? Everywhere:

  • Write a book
  • Start a business
  • Complete an experiment
  • Wash a car
  • Lose weight
  • Invest wisely
  • Learn something new
  • Create a new habit

Everything has an Occams’s Razor. The trick is to step back, take a beat, and fist look at the task through the eyes of a child.

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