Book Notes: The Productivity Project

This book is about the lessons Chris Bailey learned over the course of a year running different productivity experiments. My rating: 8/10

Book Notes: The Productivity Project

My rating: 8/10

For more details, please go to this Amazon page.

Favorite Quotes

  • "Busyness is no different from laziness when it doesn’t lead you to accomplish anything."
  • "When someone says they 'don’t have time' for something, what they’re really saying is that a task isn’t as important or attractive as whatever else they have on their plate."
  • “To be everywhere is to be nowhere. — Seneca”
  • "Many people forget that their smartphone, computer, and other devices exist for their convenience — not the convenience of everyone who wants to interrupt them throughout the day."
  • "Ingredients of productivity — time, attention, and energy."
  • "Productivity isn’t about doing more things—it’s about doing the right things."

My Notes

Chris is a fantastic writer and has detailed the lessons from different productivity experiments he conducted over a year. The book is a breakdown of the main aspects of productivity: time management, focus and attention, procrastination, sleep, caffeine, internet distractions, and more. This book is a fun and useful read if you have been experimenting with your own productivity!

Five Key Lessons

Productivity is the management of time, attention, and energy.

In today's world, most of us do work that is a lot more complex than just using skills on autopilot. We require a lot more creativity, focus, and mental energy in a more distracted world. Thus, procrastination is easy and focus is harder.

We continuously juggle limited resources, so we need to optimize our routines and behaviors. This can be done by thinking deliberately about all three elements (time, attention, and energy) when you are trying to pinpoint the source of a productivity problem.

Remember, more hours worked does NOT equal greater productivity because you give up important things such as sleep, exercise, and breaks to work more.

There are six procrastination triggers.

Simply put, procrastination is a complicated war between your brain's pre-frontal cortex and limbic system.

A task is aversive if it is: boring, difficult, frustrating, unstructured or ambiguous, lacking in personal meaning, and lacking in intrinsic rewards.

The more triggers a task has, the more averse you will be towards it. Using this information, you can devise solutions to make the task easier to get into.

Everyone has a biological prime time.

Managing your energy levels is just as important as managing your time, so it is useful to know what time of the days your energy levels are the highest. Do you most challenging, brain-intensive work during these times.

The author refers to this as your "biological prime time."

He tried waking up at 5:30 am every day to se if he would become more productive... It didn't.

He found that his biological prime time was during 10:00 am to 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. He then regarded these times as sacred and reserved it for only his most challenging work. Other things such as meetings, small tasks, etc. were delegated to other hours.

Our future selves are strangers.

Interestingly we think of our future selves almost exactly the same way we think of strangers: we can't feel the stress, pain, or weight of the problems strangers deal with and we can't feel it for our future selves either. Our brains perceive our future selves as more similar to strangers than to our present selves.

This was discovered by Hal Hershfield, a psychologist at UCLA.

Create a "waiting for" and "worry" list.

The author was inspired by Getting Things Done, written by David Allen, to start a "waiting for" list. This is a place to keep track of anything that requires action from other people before you can complete it or keep working on it. Some examples include packages you are waiting for, email replies, and money people owe you.

By separating these tasks into their own list, you ensure they will not fall through the cracks.

A "worry list" is everything you worry about. Schedule some time every day to think through everything on this list. Don't think about it beyond this time!

Laying the Groundwork

Why do you want to become more productive?

Productivity isn't about doing more things, it's about doing the right things.

How do I identify my highest-impact tasks? This is based on the book "Eat That Frog."

  • Make a list of everything you are responsible for.
  • If I could just do one item on that list all day every day, what item would I do that would allow me to accomplish the most with the same amount of time?
  • If I could do only two more items on that list all day, what second and third tasks let me accomplish the most in the same amount of time?

End of Time Management

Controlling how much time you spend on a task can allow you to control how much attention and energy you spend on it.

For important things, spend less time!

Maintenance days: gather your maintenance tasks together and tackle them all at once.

Productivity Zen

Shrink tasks by setting limits, specifically for things like email, social media, batched tasks, and meetings.

The 90% rule: when you see a new opportunity, rank it on a scale of 1-100 on how valuable or meaningful you think it is. If it is not a 90 or above, don't do it!

Truly productive people take the time to understand what is important and simplify everything else.

Building the Attention Muscle

Only work on one task at a time to tame a wandering mind and build your "attention muscle." The brain is not build to multi-task!

Using the Pomodoro method is a great way to practice "single-tasking." Mindfulness is the art of deliberately doing one thing at a time.

The Next Level of Productivity

Food rules for productivity: eat more unprocessed foods that take longer to digest, drink fewer alcoholic and sugary drinks, drink caffeine strategically, and find a better caffeine delivery system (e.g. green tea or matcha).

Exercise provides a good amount of energy and focus in return for your time. And any amount of sleep you lose below what your body requires is not worth the productivity cost.

Create a night time ritual and be kind to yourself!