George Miller’s Law

Discover the George Miller Productivity Law, a key psychological principle, and learn how it affects efficiency and performance.

George Miller's Law

Psychology and Productivity

The George Miller Law is a psychological principle named after the American psychologist George Miller.

The principle is important in various fields such as productivity, education, marketing, and business strategies. In this article, we will take a closer look at George Miller’s Law and its applications in different areas of life.

To-Do List Size Issues

Among time management fans and experts, there is sometimes debate about what is considered a “normal” to-do list size. Of course, it largely depends on individual preferences.

Brain iconFor some people, 10 tasks is a lot, while others don’t mind a list of 30 or 40. But is there an absolute “normal” size?

Well, there’s an experiment we can do to see how we feel about the size of a to-do list, depending on its length. Let’s start with a short one, just four items. No matter what the actual tasks are, we’ll call them A, B, C, and D.

A short to-do list, right? Even though we can’t see the details of each task, we immediately get the feeling that it’s simple and easy to manage.

Let’s make it longer.

An average daily schedule. The list is more complex, but it still doesn’t seem “overwhelming”. It’s a typical daily routine that’s pretty manageable.

The Real Problems Start

Let’s add a few more items to our list.

Larger to-do lists, like this one, typically feel overwhelming. But maybe that’s just our personal preference?

In reality, the “normal” list size probably depends on where you draw the line between “simple” and “complex”. With each additional thing you add, the overall complexity of the plan just goes up and up.

It’s a really complicated to-do list, but now it’s getting really problematic. Even though the tasks are super simple (like “feed the cat,” “water the plant”), for some reason we just don’t want to do them anymore.

It’s like there was some kind of “quantum jump” from the second list to the third list, and after that, “simple” just became “complex”.

George Miller’s Law

The reason for this “jump” was explained in the 1950s by American psychologist George Miller.

Education iconThrough his experiments, Miller discovered that human short-term memory can only hold about 7 ± 2 things at a time.

We can only remember 7 numbers, letters, or words at a time, and if there are more than that (9 or more), we remember only part of the whole set.

The same rule applies to the to-do list.

As long as there are fewer than Miller’s number (7 +/- 2), we can easily keep them all in our short-term memory, so the list itself seems “easy”.

But if there are too many, we can’t keep them all in mind, and the list is more “difficult” to understand.

«If there are nine rabbits on the ground, if you want to catch one, just focus on one»

— Jack Ma

So what do you do with these big lists?

You can’t really do anything with them. Just because they look like a complicated list doesn’t mean you can’t work with them. For example, “autofocus” fans might have a list with over a hundred items, and that’s totally normal.

However, if you want to make your plans easier to understand, you should follow George Miller’s time management advice.

Hand with pen iconIf there are more than 7 tasks on a list, it might be best to break the list into smaller parts.

This is called “decomposing” the list. You’ll end up with a number of smaller lists that don’t look so complicated individually.

Even splitting the list in half (as in the example above) can make a significant difference and make it easier for you to work through the tasks. But in practice, people often use more effective ways to split the list.

Split the List

For example, tasks can be divided into categories such as activity types or time frames.

Time Management Techniques

In fact, many popular time management techniques are just different ways of breaking down a list. For example:

  • Eisenhower’s Matrix separates tasks by importance and urgency.
  • ABCDE Method is based on priority levels.
  • The Energy List is based on complexity.
  • 1-3-5 method is also based on priority levels, etc.

Choose the method that works best for you. For example, if you’re “drowning in business,” use the Eisenhower method, or if you have a lot of meetings, use a fixed and flexible schedule.

Pencil iconGeorge Miller’s rule applies not only to a to-do list, but to any list in general, such as a shopping list or a contact list.

This rule is important in many fields, including education, marketing, and business. So we need to at least remember this rule and be able to use it in the right situations.

Be epic,


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