Friday, 11 March 2016

The Productivity Project: what I learned from reading a book about productivity

I recently finished reading a book called The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey. It’s doing well on amazon and receiving great reviews on goodreads (4.1/5 stars on average).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading his online blog about his year-long productivity project, in which he tried a number of experiments on himself to see how they affected his productivity such as working crazy long or short hours, eating nothing but Soylent, waking up at 5:30am every day and many more. What I liked most about this book, is that it’s incredibly down to earth and written in a very accessible and positive way. Chris talks about his own successes and failures openly, he shows you that achieving productivity isn’t something that only superheroes can achieve and even does a good job of explaining the psychology and neuroscience behind the secrets of productivity and behaviour in an accessible way that doesn’t dishonour the science.

He also includes a number of tasks and challenges within the book, to help you to truly engage with the ideas he puts forwards, as the whole point of reading a book about productivity is to try some of it out, right? So I’ve put together some of the things that have stuck with me a month after I finished reading the book.

UPDATE: One year on

It's been just over a year since I read this book and I still use many of the tactics and tips in the book. Here are a few of my favourites that have stuck with me for over a year:


  1. Split your time into chunks of 'managing work' and 'real work' – by dedicating a 30 minute period to blast through your emails, you'll find yourself with far more time to focus on making progress on your work.
  2. Keep your daily to-do list short and write it out each day – I keep a weekly and daily to-do list, this stops my daily to-do list from becoming too daunting and helps me to focus on my priorities for the day. I try to keep my to-do list around 5-8 items long.
  3. Tailor the work you do to the energy you have – save your 'low energy' tasks for time when you have low energy, and vice versa. It's no coincidence that I fill in my time-sheets on a Friday afternoon!
  4. Be firm with the hours you work and don't be afraid to say you're too busy – By sticking to your working hours and negotiating which jobs you're currently working on (putting a low priority job on-hold for a higher priority job), you'll hang onto your personal time while making the most effective use of the time you do work.
  5. Always overestimate how long it will take to do something – projects always take longer to complete than you first think. To prevent this from getting in the way of other projects, always factor in at least 50% longer than you think it will take.







Align your productivity goals with your values
The first, and arguably most important strategy from the book is to make sure that what you aim to achieve matches up with your values. Maybe you want to get a raise, why? Is it because you want to further your career, or is it because you need the money to buy a house and start a family? Maybe you want to work shorter hours, is this because you’re feeling burnt out or because you want more time to see your friends and family? By identifying why you want to achieve something, you’ll be able to remind yourself of the reasons you took something on and encourage yourself when your initial wave of motivation inevitably leaves you.

Focus on your most important tasks during the day
You might have heard of the 80-20 rule, which says that 80% of your value comes from 20% of your tasks; by focusing on those tasks you can maximise the value you contribute. You should also try to avoid multitasking when working on your most important tasks and work deliberately, rather than just on autopilot.

Set 3 daily intentions, and follow through with them
This technique stuck with me immediately, and I have no intention of giving up on it now. It also follows on well from the previous lesson. Chris suggests to write down 3 things you will accomplish each day and they do them. The wording is important, rather than just 3 things out of your to do list or 3 things you’re going to work on, its 3 things you’re going to get finished. I also find it very useful to start each intention with a verb eg finish or send or research. You can also set intentions for what you’ll do outside of work and even some broader intentions for the whole week. It’s also important to check up on how you’re doing throughout the day and to let yourself feel good when you get everything you aimed to accomplish done in that day.

Recognise when you feel resistance to a task and work to minimise that resistance
We all have jobs we don’t want to do, or we’ll get to another time. Chances are its unstructured or boring or just really difficult or even a bit scary. By recognising when you feel resistance to a task and then working towards shrinking that resistance, you’ll be able to stop procrastinating on those tasks you really don’t want to do but know you need to. Some tactics for lowering that resistance include: only commit to working on the job for a short period of time until you feel less resistance to it, make the task more interesting or more structured, ask for some help and give yourself a reward for once you’ve finished.

There are many more tips and techniques in the boo, but the best parts were the personal stories Chris tells you along the way; you really get to see into his world in a delightful way and he always insists that any changes to your life that you make have to work for you and aren’t just ‘productivity porn’ (like getting up at 5:30am) just because you think that’s what productive people do. 

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