The Pareto Efficiency idea refers to situations where you can (or can't) improve something without trade-offs.

For example, consider designing a car where you aim for speed and safety. Pareto efficiency is to find a design that allows you to get more speed or safety without getting less of the other.

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The Productivity Frontier: Can You Get More Done Without Making Sacrifices? | Scott H Young

scotthyoung.com

Mapping Efficiency Frontiers

Taking efficiency further, one can consider lots of designs. By putting them all on a graph, we can notice that the ones inside of the frontier are inefficient choices.

Efficient frontiers will show a general pattern.

  • Below the frontier, you can always improve by optimizing your choice.
  • When you're on the frontier, you can only improve by intentionally making something else worse.

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When you put all the possible working schedules, habits and systems on a graph, the graph will show all your productive possibilities.

  • If we're below the frontier, we can make more improvements without facing trade-offs. We might choose to work less while keeping our workload constant.
  • On the frontier, we can only improve by accepting trade-offs. Choosing an ambitious career move may make us work nights and weekends.

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The frontier is always a bit deceptive. Finding a new technique can suddenly let you get much more done in less time. The frontier can shift.

Guidelines to know if you are on the frontier:

  • You've read and applied a lot of productivity advice.
  • When you look in your schedule, there aren't many things you could easily cut.
  • Making an effort to do more inevitably cause a setback in other areas of life.

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Those that are far from the frontier can focus on improving each element. You can improve by reorganizing your work to get more done.

But once you are on the productive frontier, things are different. Improvement comes from making hard choices about trade-offs. Do you want a cleaner house or more time to work on your projects? You may feel guilty for investing more time on one thing while limiting time for something else important. It is best to be intentional about what you really care about and what can be downgraded.

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