Illich's law says after spending a certain amount of time working, productivity starts to drop significantly. Specifically, this law refers to a "negative productivity threshold," a point at which we begin to struggle to maintain our focus and begin to chain errors.
The issue of productivity has been an important point of interest for researchers. The world of work has historically been organized on the basis of economic and political objectives. However, we who are part of the production, we are also human beings. This human factor has not always been taken into account and, ultimately, is a determinant of economic productivity.
Questions about the best ways to achieve the highest productivity have given rise to multiple theories which take into account this human factor. A factor that encompasses the potential and limits of cognitive abilities or the value of motivation, for example. Thus, the law of Illich, among others, was formulated.
"Complexity is your enemy, any idiot can do anything complicated, the hard part is keeping things simple."
Ivan Illich, creator of Illich's law
The creator of Illich's law was an Austrian thinker named Ivan Illich. He became famous when he published his book "A society without school", in which he made a strong criticism of the education system. He has always promoted self-learning as a means of training and conversation as a tool to encourage analysis.
In 1980, Ivan Illich formulated the law that bears his name. He was a professor at Pennsylvania State University and, after several studies, came to a conclusion that reads as follows: "After a certain number of hours, the productivity of the time spent decreases first and then becomes negative” .
This is the basic text of Illich's law. In other words, what this thinker argues is that continuous work for many consecutive hours ends up not being productive. In other words, working longer is not linearly associated with higher production. In fact, it's the opposite: excessive working hours can lead to saturation that leads to a total blockage.
According to Illich's law, the key is to properly organize work and rest times. Let's illustrate this with an example. A person produces a pair of shoes in two hours. But if he works 12 hours, he will not produce six pairs of shoes. After a certain period of time, his performance begins to decrease until it becomes nil.
It is therefore likely that at the end of the day, it will produce only 4 pairs of shoes out of 6 planned. What took him 2 hours at the beginning, will eventually take him 3, then 4. It is also likely that products that will be manufactured after a long period of work will be more prone to errors or defects.
With intellectual work, the situation can be more critical. But in physical and intellectual work, the work without rest releases a mental fatigue which reduces the capacities. If it lasts a long time, emotional symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, etc. also appear.
To work efficiently
In order not to reach a very high point of fatigue, according to Illich's law, it is best to constantly alternate work and rest.. To this end, Illich proposed the existence of "time boxes". These "boxes" collect and describe ways of organizing time so that performance is as little as possible affected by fatigue.
The three main time boxes are as follows:
- 2 minutes break every 10 minutes of work. Although it seems to be very short, this time box has proven to be very effective. In ten minutes, if the load is not too heavy, all cognitive abilities regain their maximum performance.
- 5 minutes break every 25 minutes of work. It is a productivity band that corresponds to the well-known Pomodoro technique. It's the most popular and many people recommend it after trying it.
- 12 minutes of rest for every 12 minutes of work. This is a time box that has proved very effective for very mechanical or low motivational tasks.
As we are used to working long hours, it can be difficult at first to apply these time boxes. It's just a quesiton of habit. If you apply them, you will quickly get acquainted with them.A good idea is to work one day as you are used to, then to evaluate your productivity. The next day, apply a time box and do the same. Then compare the two results. You will be surprised.