Google says it still uses the ‘20% rule’ and you should totally copy it

It’s a story about the fourth largest company in the world and a simple habit you should copyno matter the size of your business (or even if you’re not run a business at all).

The company is Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Habit is what is called “20% time”.

I use it in my professional life. And if you haven’t already, you might seriously consider it.

The idea is quite simple: it’s that you, or a team, or a company – anyone, really – should divide your working time, so that at least 20% is spent exploring or working on projects that don’t promise to pay immediately. dividends, but it could reveal great opportunities down the road.

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their usual projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will benefit Google the most,” co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin written in 2004, prior to the company’s IPO. “It allows them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened this way.”

Among these advances: Google News (2002), AdSense (2003) and Gmail (2004).

Now, it’s fair to wonder if “20% time” has really survived within Google all these years later, as the company has grown from pre-IPO to such a dominant force as it is. confronted an antitrust investigation.

Google itself says yes. A Google spokesperson told me this week that “20% Uptime” is “a long-standing Google initiative…and still an active program.”

That said, the most recent product innovations that Google cites as having their origins in “20% time” are Google Cardboard and Wear OS (originally known as Android Wear), both of which were introduced in 2014.

“No new products to share at this time,” the Google spokesperson said.

And, externally, there has been a lot of speculation over the years as to whether the program still exists. Some engineers would have called it “120% time“, which means it’s something you would be doing in addition to your full workload, not replacing part of it.

But for our purposes, it doesn’t matter if “20% of the time” can really survive in a $1.1 trillion public company.

Because you’re running a smaller, less successful company or leading a smaller team, or even just managing your own productivity and professional development.

In other words, you look more like Google 20 years ago than the behemoth it is today. And you should definitely steal this idea and put it into practice.

Now, you may already be doing some of this, even if you don’t call it “20% time”.

Think about the things you spend time on that broaden your horizons and make you aware of opportunities, or help you develop new skills, but are not related to immediate professional benefit.

A simple example: reading outside. Or, experiment with new systems or processes. Attending conferences (virtual for now, I’m sure), networking or just having meetings.

It’s even better if you can point to a specific project you’re working on that you’re not sure will work or pay off financially, but you can learn something from it anyway.

In my personal case, I would put my daily newsletter in this category. But it’s probably even better if it’s something less related to what you do professionally.

And remember, it’s fine if it never pays any recognizable dividends. It is the non-linear path that yields to the greatest opportunities.

“Most risky ventures fail,” Page and Brin wrote in 2004, “often teaching us something. Others succeed and become attractive ventures.”

So give it a try. Let 80% of what you do be about now: keeping your head above water, generating income, following the trail you see in front of you, and hopefully feeling some passion to follow.

But that leaves you with a fifth of your time. Do what Google says its employees do: spend 20% on yourself and your future. You might find a real reward down the road.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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