On dividing the workweek

The 80:10:10 rule, I learned from Peter S. Fiske

I planned to attend Peter S. Fiske’s talk during the 2020 APS March meeting, but the conference was cancelled due to the current corona virus situation. Fortunately, as how it happened to many things recently, Peter’s talk became an e-talk. I decided to take the opportunity and listened to Peter’s wisdom at the same time and day as if it had happened in Denver.

The 80:10:10 rule, I learned from Peter, is a principle on how to divide your work week. Peter learned it when he was a graduate student at Stanford during a free lunch. Towards the end of the lunch Peter asked the invited alumnus if she had any formula for success, the answer was  the 80:10:10 rule.

From the 20% left, one of those 10% use it for your professional personal development. Have you ever wondered where do good ideas come from? well, it is likely that they come from your deep work, or listening to others peoples ideas, or resting. So,you could go and listen to talks that are not related to your field of study or talk to people that do things completely different from what you do. This will allow you to discover very interesting ideas that you would not have run into if you would have been only doing your most valuable work.

The last 10% percent is related to telling people how good of a job you are doing with that 80% of yours. For people to appreciate something they need to be able to observe it. The fact is, it is not obvious to other than yourself what you do with all your time. So, you need to tell people about it. Indeed, people are not mind readers. For them to appreciate your work you need to tell them. Peter also said that you could use this time to tell people what you need.

Easier said than done – I do feel the surge to do a lot of different things and have a more random week. One of the reasons is because I am trying to look for novelty to not get bored, but the other is something in my mind that tells me that if I am not doing all ten different things I am falling behind.

Since I listened to Peter’s advice I felt it was worth giving the 80:10:10 a shot. Currently I am trying to spend my days doing one task at a time, as much as I can. Boredom about the task at hand is not a good reason to switch tasks. Actually, now I believe that boredom happens right before something quite exciting is going to show up. So, now I am looking forward to boredom – when do you switch a task? when the job is completed. But in reality it usually happens when something more urgent and important comes along. The single most valuable task is where my 80% goes to. Recently I started to conduct informational interviews to learn what I could do  as an industrial physicist, that is my current 10 %. The last 10% for now is telling my advisor about my progress during the 80% of my workweek.

Definitely I will keep the 80:10:10 rule close to me as much as I can. It sounded to me like a good way to tackle the work week.

Here is the link to Peter’s talk posted on Youtube (80:10:10 rule starts at 39:28):

(photo by veri_ivanova)

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