Newton’s Laws of Motion: The Inseparable Relationship between Physics & Productivity

By Dean Yeong on March 5, 2018

In 1642, a small child name Isaac Newton was born prematurely three months after his father passed away. When Newton was three, his mother left him in the care of his grandmother to remarry and live with her new husband.

The young Isaac disliked his step-father and resented his mother for marrying him, but fortunately, this didn’t stop him from carrying on with his life and eventually creating an enormous impact on the world.

Isaac Newton

His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in English), first published in 1687, laid the foundation for what we know as modern physics today.

Out of the many discoveries and theories in his book, the laws of motion are what stood out the most to me. Although I’m passionate about learning physics, I couldn’t see myself ever coming close to being a physicist in my lifetime. However, what fascinated me the most about Newton’s Laws of Motion was how they integrate perfectly in the context of productivity.

Newton’s Laws of Motion doesn’t only explain how classical mechanisms work; it also shows us how productivity works, how to get things done, and why we procrastinate.

First Law: Things Stay the Same without External Forces

An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by a force.

In other words, a body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. The first law states that the velocity of an object is constant if the net force applied to it is zero. Velocity is a quantity that expresses both the speed and the direction of an object. In other words, the speed and direction of an object will remain the same without any external force applied to it.

Newton's First Law of Motion

Putting Newton’s First Law in the context of productivity, things will only progress and get done when external effort and input are applied.

Your to-do list will stay undone if you’re not doing anything about it. On the other hand, destructive beliefs and bad habits will continue to drag you down if you’re not doing anything about them.

It’s obvious—probably sounds dumb—when you read it. But many of us expect ourselves to be more productive and better off, without doing anything. We want to get things done by procrastinating, we want to live healthier without changing our diet, and we want to get richer without taking any risk.

There are endless real-world examples:

  • Writers hang out with other writers, read, toss around ideas, and never do the one thing they need to do the most: write.
  • Artists stare at a blank canvas, browse the Internet for inspirations, tell themselves how good they are in their head, and wonder why they can’t create.
  • Entrepreneurs spend all their time coming up with ideas, printing business cards for their seventh startup, tell their family and friends about the idea, but have no clue who and where their target audiences are.

Second Law: The Bigger the Force, the Faster Things Progress

The vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration a of the object: F = ma.

The Newton’s Second Law explains the relationship between Force, Mass, and Acceleration.

Newton's Second Law of Motion

F is the force applied, m is the mass of an object (in the context of productivity, it’s something you want to get done), and a is the object’s acceleration (in other words, it’s the progress of your goal, task, or project).

a = F / m

In physics, the mass of an object must stay constant for the second law to work. Thus, the force applied becomes proportional to the acceleration of the object.

a ↑ = F ↑ / m

It basically means the more effort you put into a project, the quicker the project progresses towards completion. In a pure fundamental sense (although this might not be the case most of the time):

  • The more time you spend on a project, the closer it gets to its completion.
  • The more employees you hire, the faster your projects get done, or you get to work on bigger projects.
  • The more blog posts you publish, the higher and larger your exposure.

However, the mass of an object (the task) isn’t necessarily constant when we talk about productivity. The other strategy for getting things done faster is to break it down into smaller chunks. By breaking your tasks down into smaller pieces, you get to complete the tasks with the same amount of force input in terms of time, energy, and other resources.

a ↑ = F / m ↓

How much or how quickly you get something done is proportional to how much effort you put in and how complex the task is. There is another benefit to breaking a goal or project into smaller chunks, and we will discuss that in the third law of Newton’s Law of Motion.

Third Law: Resistance Increases with Complexity

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

The third law states that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. For whatever you want to accomplish, there is an equal amount of resistance to stop you from achieving it.

Newton's Third Law of Motion

Unfortunately, we’re brainwashed by people around us in setting enormous goals that are out of reach and complicating the process to the point that we don’t even know how to get started. And as you might have guessed, it becomes almost impossible for us to move an inch forward.

To get started effortlessly and get things done faster, we need clarity over uncertainty and simplicity over complexity:

  • Implement the 2-minute hack. If a task takes less than two minutes, don’t add it to your to-do list. Complete it immediately. If a task takes more than two minutes, figure out the first two minutes of the task and focus all your attention on completing just that.
  • Make it easy to do what’s good for you. Many of us want to lose weight, perform better at work, start a side hustle, but at the same time, we overcomplicate it and make it too hard to get started. Instead, simplify the steps and make it easy to do what’s good (and hard to do what’s bad).
  • Focus on tiny actions. Big, complex goals and projects sound good on the surface but often unrealistic in execution. Focus on taking small steps consistently at a sustainable pace. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, but rather the result of accumulating marginal improvement over time.

Optimize the Fundamentals of Productivity

Just like physics explains how our world works, the very same concepts show us how productivity works. Understanding how productivity works doesn’t magically stop you from procrastinating and push you to get things done. However, it serves as a beginning to get the fundamentals right.

Instead of depending on motivation or focusing on vanity tactics, having a good understanding of the fundamentals and how to manage them creates a more significant impact on your overall productivity.

To recap, here is what you need to know about productivity:

  1. Things won’t progress on their own unless you put in the work to get them done.
  2. The progress produced is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force (input of time, energy, and resources) and inversely proportional to the mass of the body (size and complexity of the task).
  3. The larger and more complex your goal or project is, the higher the resistance of getting started and getting it done.

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