The productivity project

I read a book written by a guy who devoted a year of his life to find out everything about productivity. And there are two critical things about productivity that I seemed to have missed before. Maybe you have too?

We all love being productive and to check things off the to do list without procrastinating. It just feels damn good to use the little time we have in our days to the fullest. I’ve had a little issue with my productivity since I’ve graduated from high school. I either find it hard to focus and get easily distracted or, once I stick to a task for a few hours, I still feel like I haven’t gotten done a lot. If you sometimes struggle with this too, this will be interesting for you:

So, I picked up Chris Bailey’s “The productivity project” and decided to read into the topic. There are two useful revelations about productivity that I seemed to have missed, maybe you have too:

(1) Neglecting 2/3 of the productivity variables



We forget about two factors that contribute to productivity, which, together, are more critical than time. Have you ever noticed that your productivity doesn’t increase with time? When you still have two weeks until the exam but you start studying only a few days before? When you manage to plan 3 hours for tasks you need to get done and then end up not really doing much?

You’re missing attention and energy.

If you have a lot of energy and attention, you will achieve more in less time. You will work more efficiently without getting distracted. What’s time worth if you cannot focus on the task? The priority is not to find out when you have the most time, but when you have the most energy and attention.

Chris Bailey did an experiment during the productivity project where he got up every morning at 5:30 so he would have more time to get things done. However, he found out that he was way more unproductive throughout the day because a) his energy levels dropped drastically in the afternoon (less energy) b) he took a lot of naps and wasted time being unfocused and inefficient in his work (less time and attention). He achieved less. He was less productive.

It’s useless for some people to get up at 5:30 to work (out). It’s impossible for some to concentrate on a task late at night, even though they would have time and energy. I struggle with dropping energy and focus between 1 and 3:30pm. I never plan neither a workout nor actual work in that time frame. I rather spend less time on a task at 8am, but actually get done what I need to.

Find at time you work best at. It has to be a time where you have the most amount of energy and attention. 

(2) Critical tasks

Imagine you have ten small things on your to do list and you manage to consequently tick them off one after the other. Imagine you read and reply to dozens of e mails in an hour. Getting a lot of things done in a short amount of time makes you FEEL productive. But are you really?

What if you get “little” done in a lot of time, but WHAT you do is incredibly important for the bigger picture? What if that big task you’re working on outweighs any other smaller ones but needs baby steps to complete?  You don’t have to feel productive to be productive. Productivity is not necessarily about doing more. It’s about accomplishing more. It’s about how much of a critical task you can complete or work on in a set amount of time. The western economy is transitioning into a knowledge economy, where the emphasis is on your thinking rather than the hours you spend at your job and how my goods x you produce in y amount of time. It’s about how much energy and attention you deliver. How productive you are.

So, what’s in it for you? Here are my major takeaways from the book:

(a) You don’t have to feel productive to be productive

(b) Find out at what time of the day you have the most energy and attention and plan working on your critical tasks in that time frame. Smaller tasks that you need to complete regardless can be done at any time. If you put in the work late at night because that’s when you physically feel like you can, go for it. And then you don’t have to feel bad for sleeping in anymore.

Last, but not least, I want to give the guy who wrote “The productivity project” some credit. Chris Bailey took a year off after university even though he has been offered two great jobs and devoted 365 days solely to research into the topic of productivity, because it fascinated him. How cool?!

Check his stuff out here:

If you had the possibility to do research in one topic for a whole year, what would it be? I think I’d do happiness?

Have a great week


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