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The 80 Percent Rule Is the Secret to Maximizing Your Productivity, According to Google’s Top Productivity Guru

Jessica Stillman
4 min readMay 8, 2024

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As a busy adult, you’re probably keen to figure out ways to get more done in the same amount of time. If you were an executive at Google and had this problem, the person you’d want to talk to would be Laura Mae Martin.

Martin is the search giant’s in-house productivity coach. It’s her job to help executives and other high-performing Googlers maximize their productivity. She comes to these conversations armed with all the techniques you’d expect to hear about from a productivity coach — things like inbox zero and calendar reviews. But when the host of HBR IdeaCast asked her recently for the biggest productivity mistake she sees top performers making, her answer wasn’t any particular hack or habit.

When it comes to productivity, she said, the most common problem isn’t some trick people fail to use. It’s that most people try to do too much. The key to maximizing your productivity, according to Martin, is a simple but powerful principle called the 80 percent rule.

Are you running top speed in the wrong direction?

Wait, what? If you’re trying to get more done, why would you aim to do less? Because, Martin points out, volume isn’t the same thing as value.

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