January 10, 2019

The 25/75 Rule

I recently came across an article written by Jared Spool called Good, Bads, and Dailies: Lessons for Conducting Great Critiques which covers the concepts of what makes reviews / critiques good or bad. One thing that stuck out to me in particular was his discussion around Pixar's use of a meeting called "Dailies" and the 25-75 rule that governed the dailies.

The 80/20 Rule (i.e., the Pareto Principle)

When some of you read the title, I'm hoping that it rang off the familiarity of the Pareto principle. For those who have never heard of it before, the 80/20 rule simply states that:

80% of the effects often come from 20% of the causes

So as far as a couple examples of how it might apply:

  • In sales lead generation, 80% of revenue often comes from 20% of clients
  • In a stock portfolio, 80% of profits will come from approximately 20% of your porfolio
  • In software engineering, 80% of related errors and crashes come from 20% of the most reported bug

The 25/75 Rule

According to Jared's article, when people are presenting their work at the Dailies, there is a rule:

The presented work should be at least 25% done and no more than 75% completed.

In other words, it should always be a work in progress. And the reason for this is quite straightforward.

  1. If the work is less than 25% complete, it is too early to properly evaluate or review. After all, it is not worth people's time to look into since you haven't spent the time yourself to even vet the concept past the thought experiment phase.
  2. If the work is past 75% complete, there has often been so much resource invested into it that it is often difficult for the work to take criticism and/or feedback. After all, can you imagine being told to start over if you're 95% of the way there?

Living and Breathing the 25/75 Rule

As I wrote in my Progress Over Perfection post, I have been trying my best to treat the blog like my sketchbook. In other words, it is a place of brainstorming and trying out new concepts without trying to spend time polishing the content. After all, based on my past experience, none of these posts would ever see the light of day 😅.

The Ideal Writing Process

If I had to break down my ideal writing process into stages, it would look something like this:

  1. Come up with an idea and jot down the title
  2. Establish a couple bullet points that might be worth bringing up
  3. Fleshing out those bullet points into some sort of outline
  4. Writing whatever comes to mind based on that general outline (which is often a mental model and not necessarily something written down)
  5. Go through one pass of minor revisions for glaring mistakes
  6. Allow some time to go by so I can get fresh eyes on it
  7. Go through a more thorough reading of the piece
  8. Get stuck in a semi-infinite loop of revisions and self-doubt as to whether it's even worth publishing
  9. Miraculously get out of Step #8 and work up the courage to get feedback on the article
  10. Publish the article

So in other words, if I could make it through every step, that would be the 100% completion of a blog post. From my past experience, I rarely got to the end because I usually got stuck at Step #8. And though I'm not proud to admit it, over time I just got discouraged at Step #3 because I became conditioned to think I would never get past Step #8.

My Current Writing Process

Based on my ideal workflow, I would say that a single blog post would take at minimum 4 hours to go from ideation to completion assuming there are no delays in the process. For anyone who has ever written content before, they are probably laughing because it usually takes much longer than that.

In an effort to try and minimize my self-doubt and perfectionist attitude that led me to never publish anything, I ended up modifying the writing process to look like this:

  1. Come up with an idea and jot down the title
  2. Write a couple of bullets for things I want to definitely cover
  3. Based on the vague mental model I generate from that, I write my first draft
  4. Go through one pass for minor revisions for obvious mistakes
  5. Publish the article

As you can see, this process is far more streamlined that my ideal workflow for two primary reasons:

  1. I don't spend a ton of time revising the piece which prevents the perfectionist in me to keep the piece in a permanent draft state
  2. I move the feedback stage out of the initial publishing workflow because I know that I can still get feedback after and make edits as necessary

If you think about it, without realizing it, I actually stumbled upon the 25/75 rule because my blog posts are usually about 60-70% complete when they are published. And as far as the time invested goes, they have been taking roughly 45 minutes each.

Final Thoughts

While I have to deal with the occasional face palm of seeing a typo or odd phrasing, using the 25/75 approach has been revolutionary for my productivity and output. In addition to the simple benefit of actually publishing content, I have found that:

  • Being able to get these ideas out of my head has been a big mental relief since it makes room for other ideas
  • Rather than waiting to present the perfect version of a concept I care about which will never get published, I get something out there for people to think about
  • I am able to try out ideas and concepts that I might not have tried otherwise because the exercise of creating is more important right now than writing perfect articles
  • I can still get meaningful feedback on my work and make the proper updates as needed

Thanks for reading!

::: warning Footnote I haven't been able to do the research to verify the fact that Pixar used or continues to use this technique in their meetings, but at this time, I'm not terribly worried about it since I think the principle is valid regardless. :::