The Physics of Stress-Free Productivity: Newton’s First Law on Getting Things Done the Easy Way.


In 1685, Sir Isaac Newton—a genius physicist with long, curly, white hair—set out to mathematically prove how planets moved through space and revolved around the sun.

Over a period of 18 months, Newton isolated himself from the world, barely eating or sleeping, and working day and night until he discovered the proof. After years of painstaking work, Sir Isaac Newton submitted a 500 page draft of his findings to the Royal Society for publication.

In 1687, his groundbreaking work was published. Widely considered to be one of the most important scientific books ever written, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, laid the foundation for the science of mechanics through Newton’s three famous laws of motion.

Specifically, Newton’s first law of motion contains useful ideas and analogies that can be applied to increase productivity in everyday life.

Here’s how to use Newton’s first law to get more stuff done the easy way.

newtons first law of motion

Newton’s First Law of Productivity

Newton’s first law of motion states that…

An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.

In layman’s terms, an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

Newton’s First Law implies that procrastination leads to more procrastination, and action leads to more action. In other words, if we can simply get started on a task or goal, taking the next steps is much easier. But, this is easier said than done because most times, we struggle to overcome procrastination, get started and follow through on our plans.

There’s one common mistake that prevents us from staying productive. It’s the difference between motion at rest and motion in action.


Motion At Rest versus Motion in Action

Often, in the pursuit of our goals, we get stuck in motion at rest, instead of motion in action. Let me explain.

Motion at rest is busyness that doesn’t produce any outcome by itself. On the other hand, motion in action is a behaviour that directly leads to an outcome.

Here are some examples of the differences between motion at rest and motion in action…

  • If your goal is to lose weight and get in shape, researching diet plans and exercise programmes is motion at rest, eating a healthy meal and working out is motion in action.
  • If your goal is to increase your business sales, creating a list of prospects is motion at rest, cold calling them is motion in action.
  • If your goal is to write a research paper or a book, brainstorming ideas is motion at rest, writing a draft is motion in action.

The difference between the two is results.

When we get stuck in motion at rest, we make little to no progress towards our goals. Conversely, motion in action produces results and brings us closer to achieving our goals.

Motion at rest isn’t bad, but it’s only useful up for a certain period of time, after which, it becomes a form of procrastination that hurts our productivity.

law of diminishing results

The problem is that often, we spend the majority of our time stuck in motion at rest. As a result, a lot of time and energy is wasted, with little results to show for all of our efforts. The best way to increase productivity is to spend less time in motion at rest and more time in motion in action.

Here are three simple ways to get things done and increase your productivity.

3 Ways to Increase Productivity

1. Use the 2-minute rule

An effective way to stop procrastinating and move away from motion at rest, is to block out time, for the sole purpose of motion in action. One way to do this is to set a timer to work in two minute intervals. Within those two minutes your only focus is productive action, nothing else.

For example, using the writing example, if you’ve spent 2 hrs researching ideas for a book or paper, set a timer for 2 minutes and just write. Once you’ve completed the two minute interval, you can take a break and return again later for another two minute interval.

The purpose of this exercise is simply to help you get started on a task. Once you take action, it becomes easier for you to take further action and stay productive on the next task.

2. Schedule 10 minutes of Daily Downtime

Just like how a saw used to chop down trees needs to be regularly sharpened, we also need regular periods of downtime to stay productive.

Peak performance experts, Dr Jim Leohr and Tony Schwartz suggest—in their book, The Power Of Full Engagement—that highly productive people manage their energy better than everyone else. They regularly schedule downtime, which prevents burnout and helps them to recover from a period of motion in action, so that they have enough energy to tackle the next set of tasks.

It’s easy to confuse downtime with laziness, because they both involve doing nothing, but their not the same. Laziness is an unwillingness to take action. Downtime is the strategic use of your time to reenergize for another round of action.

Block out ten minutes of downtime or more each day, to sharpen your saw.

3. Match Important Tasks with Energy Levels

One the best ways to stay productive is to tackle your most important tasks, when you have the most energy to do so. For example, I typically write my articles when I have the most energy between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Then, I work on my less creative, less important tasks in the afternoons and evenings.

Building daily rituals around energy levels is a common strategy used by famous writers, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs. By matching your most important tasks with your highest energy levels, getting started is easier. Plus, you avoid wasting precious time and energy on the least important tasks.

Less Rest, More Motion

Newton’s first law is a fitting analogy for productivity in everyday life. By taking the first step away from rest to motion, staying in motion and getting things done becomes easier down the line.

And just like a ball that keeps rolling down a hill, we can stay productive for a lifetime.

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1. Interestingly, Newton didn’t self initiate the discovery of the three law of motion. It was physicist, Edmond Halley who convinced Newton to investigate these laws.

2. The original idea of the 2-minute rule comes from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.

3. Thanks to James Clear for inspiring the Newton analogy idea.