One Simple Rule to Boost Productivity

Use the “stop rule” to make faster progress


The guide with a rifle strapped to his back grabbed my mother’s shoulders to stop her from running. The silverback gorilla was tearing through the underbrush as it charged toward her.

It was my brother’s 16th birthday. His long-awaited gift was a family outing up the side of a mountain in Rwanda to see the nearly extinct mountain gorillas in the wild (our family was living in Rwanda at the time).

When a gorilla charges, you don’t want to run or make eye contact. You’re supposed to stare at the jungle floor and remain as still as possible.

As you can imagine, that runs contrary to our human instincts.

And that’s one of the reasons you’re not allowed to go without a guide. You need someone who has mastered the right knee-jerk reactions that can save your life if the silverback decides to charge. 

A simple rule can be more useful than a complex decision process because of its ability to shorten the amount of time needed to process new information (like a charging gorilla).

It can also be a useful way to override the emotions you know will arise in the heat of the moment. The key is to make it simple and unconditional. If the gorilla charges, we freeze.

One type of simple rule is called a “stop rule.” It can not only boost your productivity but even save lives. 

In 1996, eight people died during a trek to the top of Mount Everest. Once you’ve traveled a long distance, it’s easy to downplay bad weather or slow progress. 

That’s why mountaineers have started using stop rules to ensure they get home alive.

For example, “If we haven’t made it to checkpoint D by 3 p.m., we turn around no matter what.”


Stop Rules for Your Business

Time blocking is like a stop rule for your workday. If you block off time to work on your most important tasks, it can save you from a common trap—administrative creep.

Administrative creep is when innocent looking tasks like responding to an employee on slack or “quickly” processing your email inbox takes longer than expected. The best hours of your workday are gone, and you don’t remember what you spent them on.

In fact, you know in the back of your mind that if you had a boss, you would have a hard time justifying how your time was spent to move the business forward that day.

You don’t recall having made a conscious decision to spend your entire workday on administrative minutia. Yet, somehow, the day is gone, and your energy is spent.

This is administrative creep. And the solution is time blocking.

Use time blocking like a stop rule. Start each day by blocking time for at least one important task. When you do this, two things will happen. 

First, Parkinson’s law will work for you instead of against you when it comes to all the administrative tasks. Parkinson’s law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

That means you’ll somehow find a way to get stuff done before or after the time you’ve blocked for your most important task. And here’s the second thing that will happen.

Your focus will improve.

Planning your day makes it painfully clear just how little time you actually have. That’s a good thing, because it makes you aware of what’s at stake.

As a result, you take your time block seriously. You turn off notifications, close your office door, and focus on that one, most important task to get it done.


The Advantage of Speed

Stock traders often set a hard stop rule like, “If the stock price drops more than 10%, I sell immediately.”

This prevents the sunk cost bias from causing them to hold on too long. It allows them to act fast and minimize losses by preventing a drawn-out analysis while prices drop.

Investing in your productivity can be like that. You keep telling yourself you’ll improve tomorrow. But there’s no hard threshold to trigger massive action.

If you’re 10% less productive now than you were when you started your business, let’s analyze the reasons together. Let’s stop the downward spiral of your personal productivity before it inhibits the upward spiral of your business aspirations.

Together, we can diagnose the distractions, install your peak productivity habits, and rediscover the momentum that makes things happen.

To schedule a free consultation about your productivity, follow this link to a brief application form. We’ll look at your most important goals and consider whether coaching could be the right catalyst for your next level of success.


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