Mental models help you make better decisions in many facets of your life and work. Your productivity can also be enhanced by applying the right mental models.

In this post, we will look at some models for productivity geeks to up their game and make staying productive - efficient and effortless.

Second-Order Thinking

Practitioners of the second-order thinking interrogate the extrapolate the consequences of immediate action, making this mental model a potent tool for improving productivity.

For example, when you add a TV to your workspace, it might be worth looking at its second-order effect on your productivity.

TV in your workspace will mean being distracted from work, more people hanging around your desk because of the TV, urge to stream popular "must-see" events at the office, etc.

While first-order thinkers might see the TV as merely an expense or direct distraction, more is hidden beyond the immediate consequences.

Via Negativa

This mental model refers to making good decisions by eliminating the bad ones.

Via negativa helps us deal with uncertainty more efficiently and makes decision-making easy.

For example, you are looking to become more productive, so you look at people's routines to find patterns you can replicate.

In this scenario, a practical approach would be to look at the routines of people who are very unproductive and avoid them.

If you find that almost all unproductive people have their breakfast after 9:00 AM, then it is likely that having a healthy breakfast earlier might increase your chances of being productive.

You can apply this to other routine choices like diet, exercise, desk etiquette, app usage patterns, etc.

Long story short, avoid destructive patterns and practice good ones instead of just trying to replicate good patterns.

Pareto's Principle

Pareto's Principle in this context states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts and vice versa.

Hence, if you use this principle, you'll be able to identify that 20% which needs your attention and double down on it instead of spending more time on the 80% that doesn't give good results.

For example, if you have four not-so-important tasks and one super important task for the day, you should choose the super important task and deliver on it effectively.

Focusing on that single task will help improve focus, and the benefits of completing it will motivate you to do better.

You could apply the Pareto's Principle before the execution phase and during the planning phase, where you allocate more time to the task with high potential/return and less time to low-return tasks.

For example, in the Routine Planner, if a task falls in the 20% effort category, prioritize it by giving it a date and time for execution. Similarly, if a task falls in the 80% effort category - delegate, delay, or delete the task.

The 2-minute Rule

This is as simple as a mental model can get. The rule states that if a task takes less than 2-minutes to complete, do it right away.

Conventional wisdom might tell you to put that task into a queue for later processing, but if the planning of a task takes more than 2-minutes, why not just finish it in two minutes and move on?

For example, let's say you are going through your email and see an update from one of your prospects enquiring about a feature, and it will take you less than 2-minutes to reply to him.

In this case, you are better off just replying to him right then and there instead of creating a task for it on your task manager and then allocating time to execute the task, which will take a lot more.

Instead, you can finish replying to your prospect and move on to the next. This will reduce your task queue and eliminate the unnecessary mental load on your brain.

Discriminability effect

The discriminability effect or hard-easy effect occurs when we incorrectly predict our ability to complete a task based on the level of difficulty.

The mental model states that we underestimate our ability to complete easy tasks and overestimate our ability to complete more demanding tasks.

For example, you have two tasks on your list:

  1. Add readily available numbers to a report.
  2. Create a strategic acquisition plan

While the easy task is the first one, you are more likely to think that it is more complicated than it is, procrastinating until it is absolutely necessary to do.

On the other hand, you are more likely to believe that preparing the plan is easy and relatively straightforward so that you can put that off till the last minute.

In both cases, you incorrectly assess the effort needed to complete the task, which will result in your productivity being disrupted.

The discriminability effect happens due to other biases like the confirmation bias, the Dunning Kruger effect, etc.

Hence, when you get an easy task, it is better to do an honest assessment of it and finish it accordingly, and the same goes for more complex tasks.

Switching Cost

Let us say that you are using Product A, and that helps you hit 80% of your monthly goals. But then you are introduced to Product B, which can help you hit 85% of your monthly goals.

The switching cost principle suggests that people will stick to Product A despite Product B being more effective at solving their problem due to the perceived and often over-estimated switching costs.

For example, when you have the option to switch from one software to another slightly better one, you are likely to stick to the one you are using.

Hence, it helps to consciously assess the tools your work with and switch if there is a benefit to the move, even if it initially means a little more effort.

If you are using a primitive calendar tool, you are likely happy with it.

However, you could be using the next-generation calendaring tool like Routine, which can improve your efficiency through its integrative approach.

While there is the initial effort of switching from your current calendar (Not needed for Google Calendar) to Routine, it is worth making the switch because it is more beneficial to you.


So those are some of the mental models you can use to improve your productivity. What are your thoughts on them? Let us know on Twitter.

If you like the content from us, you should check out Routine's own productivity podcast called "The Productive Minute" on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Thanks for reading.