How can the Proximity Principle makes you a better problem solver today?

How can this simple principle makes a positive impact in your life if you make it part of your decision making?

How can the Proximity Principle makes you a better problem solver today?

Traffic Story

Stuck in the traffic for nearly an hour, I have no idea what to do next. Countless of vehicles are in front of me - all waiting an inch to move. As the sun sets, the streets are loaded with cars and buses with people impatiently waiting to go home after a tired day of work.

The shortest road leading from office to my house is on average 25 minutes that increases with a bigger traffic congestion. So instead of waiting, I choose a longer but less frequented detour in order to save time.

I carefully turn my car and accelerate to the end of the junction and choose the longer road going through a nearby residential area. As I pave my way there, dozens of vehicles welcome me - all stuck - and before I can react, I see cars reaching behind me.

I now have to wait more as the road is much longer with plenty of vehicles. So instead of waiting for a few minutes, I am now waiting twice or thrice more.

That’s when I truly understood the Proximity Principle.

What is the Proximity Principle?

The Proximity Principle is one taken from the field of User Interaction (UX) and Problem Solving; stating that related information or widgets should be placed together or close to each other.

In terms of problem solving, the idea is to calculate or choose the solution which takes the least amount of friction and is closest or easiest to complete.

A simple way of understanding this principle is the way Google Maps calculates the shortest path from Point A to Point B.

How helpful can this principle be in your day to day life?

There is no substitute for hard work.
― Thomas A. Edison
Photo by Andrew Neel / Unsplash

This principle is common sense but in our day to day lives, we often are bias especially when tired. For instance taking the closest road to home in a traffic jam after a long day at work is common sense but we try to look for a shortcut as we want to return earlier. We however end wasting more time. There are obviously occasions when these shortcuts are useful.

When applying this principle in our decision making, we can on the long term, save plenty of time, effort and money. A good example is assume you want to buy a new Mac product, but there are only two shops within your region, one near and one far.

Now imagine the nearest one has parking problems and has a different opening times than the one far. If you are in a rush to buy your product, you may choose to go to the farthest one. But this would be counter intuitive. Not only you waste more time and effort to get to this destination - but if you have any issue that cannot be resolved in the nearest shop, you need to go to the other one.

Photo by Neel Tailor / Unsplash

A few months ago, I bought a laptop at a nearby well known shop. They promised me an Office 365 subscription which were offered with most of their computers at the time but was currently out of stock. The sales representative requested me to deal with their main branch as all Windows products were managed there.

I therefore later visited the main branch to inquire about the subscription. They told me I could only get it at the branch I bought my laptop (where the invoice was made). [What a waste of time...]

From the Proximity Principle, I should in fact have dealt and agreed everything at only one place, which was closest to my place. And walk away from the deal if not a win win situation.


This principle can also be used as a means of significantly improving your productivity. That's how Chefs prepare their masterpieces, Central Processing Unit (CPU) in computers work and how you can become more efficient by simply using it.

The basic idea is to first assemble any requirement, ingredients or tools you need before starting work.

Imagine cooking a delicious menu but not first gathering all the ingredients in one place. As you start boiling water, you forget where you stored the pasta, and the salad seasoning is still in the fridge.

By first gathering all the ingredients in one place, you can then start cooking and use them as needed without wasting precious time and effort.

The same process repeats with studying, preparing a presentation or getting the groceries. You try grouping similar knowledge, data or products close to each other, to avoid wasting time going to and forth, either with the research or physically moving around the store.