Pursue What Matters
Episode 182: Book Review – The Productivity Project
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you want to be more productive? Well, if you’re like most people, the answer to that question is pretty simple. Yes. But the truth is, we’ve only been focusing on one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to productivity, it’s time to expand our understanding of what it means to be productive.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:20
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Well, if you’re like most of us, you want to be more productive. And historically, what that has meant is we’ve we’ve just tried to figure out time hacks, we’ve tried to figure out how to do more in less time. And the reality is, we’ve missed a big part of the puzzle. And so I’m really excited to bring this book to you today. It is called the productivity project, accomplishing more by managing your time, and attention and energy. And right there with the subtitle, Chris Bailey, the author of the book gives away the puzzle, right? So most of us have only been focusing on time when it comes to productivity. But he really invites us to pay attention to three things. So time, attention and energy. I think this shift and this expanded. Focus is actually super helpful when it comes to productivity. And so So I’m happy to share this book with you today. So let’s learn a little bit more about the author and about the book. Okay, so first about the author, Chris Bailey. He’s a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, he wrote over 216,000 words on the subject of productivity on his blog, a year of productivity. During a year long productivity project, where he conducted intensive research as well as dozens of productivity experiments on himself to discover how to become as productive as possible. He has written hundreds of articles on the subject and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as New York Times Huffington Post New York Magazine, Ted, Fast Company and life hacker. And so right there with the bio of the author, you kind of get the narrative hook for this book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:42
So he endeavored to do a year long productivity project to see right and use himself as the as the case test of what, what helps us to be more effective. And so he tried some crazy things. And it’s pretty entertaining. And the good news, though, right, is we don’t just have to go by his anecdotal experience, right? Like, it’s helpful. And it’s a good perspective. But with each experiment that he conducted with each approach that he was trying to look at, he talks about his experiment, but then he also talks about the research. And so I think, like it’s a it’s actually a really fun entry point into productivity. Because, you know, for a lot of us, when we read productivity books, we just like we feel worse about ourselves, or we feel maybe overwhelmed, like, Can I do it. And he really takes a very different approach. And so I, I like productivity books, I tend to be geeky about that sort of thing. And this one was fun. I really, I really quite enjoyed it. And so let’s learn a little bit more about the book. So first of all, it has become an international best seller, so it’s doing quite well. The book first came out in 2016, I think for sure, it’s still very relevant.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:05
And let’s hear what others are saying about it. So from David Allen, the author of getting things done, he wrote Chris Bailey’s intelligent conclusions, combined with his candor and articulate pneus make this a fun, interesting and useful read. And I would agree with that. Like, I thought this was a fun, a fun read. And so from Seth Godin, who is a great leadership, thinker and author, here’s a book that promises in the title to pay for itself. And the truth is, it will in just a few days, and you’ll even enjoy the journey. So that’s nice. And then from the TED blog, because he has Chris Bailey has been featured on TED and he talks about that in the book, Chris Bailey might be the most productive man you’d ever hope to meet. So there’s that’s that’s compelling.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:53
But what he did right, so he turned down some lucrative job offers in order to pursue lifelong dream of spending a year doing a deep dive into productivity. So he’s talks about like, even as a child, he was like super geeky about productivity. So some of the experiments that he did in his year of productivity is getting by on little to no sleep. By the way, don’t do that. Let’s not do that. But he did do that experiment, cutting out caffeine and sugar, living in total isolation for 10 days, using his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months, stretching his work week to 90 hours, getting up at 530, every morning for three months. And right throughout all of this, he was monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work. And so some of the things that you’ll learn in this book is slowing down to work more deliberately. So there’s some good news, shrinking or eliminating the unimportant, right? And so productivity books of the past, really focused on how can you do more? And how can you do more with the time given you? And the new I think we’re at like productivity 2.0 Now where it’s really about doing, doing, what matters and and forgetting about the rest? And he’s really good at keeping this focus, right, like identifying what is your purpose? What are your values? And are you are you engaged in those types of activities? And if you’re not, why not?
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:33
So he talks about the rule of three wheel, I think rule mentioned that striving for imperfection, that’s a fun one, and then scheduling time for important tasks and productive procrastination. So he kind of makes a case for the value of procrastination and how to use it for to your advantage to actually be more effective. So it’s kind of kind of fun that way. And so each week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, where are you going? And why does it matter leading with curiosity, right, developing self awareness, so you so you don’t get in your own way, and then leading and building a community. And so what are the factors that help us to be really successful leaders. And so as we think about this book review, I would say that this really covers all three categories. But I’m going to pin myself down a little bit, I think for sure, it’s very good for clarity, because you need to have clarity, about purpose about what needs to get done. If you’re going if you’re going to make the hard decisions around what you will and will not do. And I think that’s where many of us get in trouble is like we’ve never made those decisions. And so then we’re at the mercy of our email are at the mercy of someone else, someone else’s desires for our time. And so when you can really develop good clarity about what matters and why it really helps you to prioritize your tasks and to decide what you what you need to do, what only you can do, what you need to delegate what you should not ever do, again. And then I think it also has really good implications for leading and building a community, right, because as we implement some of these practices as teams, we can we can grow productivity exponentially across an organization. And so super helpful in that way.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:32
So let’s talk about the book and jump in a little bit more. So right out of the gate. One thing that I loved about this book is that it’s very organized. And it even tells you how long it will take you to read each chapter and to complete each exercise. So he has lots of exercises, he makes a case for them. And so he really practices what he preaches, right, so for a time management geek, like him like me, this is a really good feature. So at the beginning of each chapter, there’s like, it kind of looks like a little post it note in the corner, and it basically tells you what you’re going to get in that chapter. It tells you about how long it’ll take you, for every exercise, it does the same thing. So he doesn’t want to waste your time. Like he gets you right into the heart of what you’re what you’re wanting to focus on. And so I think that’s really, really good. And then in the introduction, he really starts by helping you consider why you would want to be more productive. Because we we take it as a given that we would want to be more productive. And it’s, it’s interesting, right? Like, I feel like in some ways I’m kind of in this place in my own life, where my goal is not to be more productive, right. I want to be more effective with my time. But I spent a life I’ve spent my life pushing hard and being high We’re productive. But I’ve paid costs for that in my personal life, right. So whether that is health and well being rest, time with, with personal relationships and leisure. And so I’m at a point where my goal isn’t necessarily to be more productive, but I want to be really effective in my time at work, so I want to be, I guess, maybe more productive at work, but I want to be, have have less of my life taken up by work. And I think many of us maybe feel that way. So he talks, he talks about the value of time, and that it’s not just about getting more done in the hours you have, but doing what truly matters. And that, that I think I love that about this book. And so you know, sometimes a perfectly productive afternoon, includes you laying in a hammock. So that’s great, right? Because that rest helps you to reset that rest helps you to protect your well being it helps to, to set the foundation for resilience.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:07
So this book is not about being hyper productive all the time. But it’s more about tending to the causes of wellbeing and high productivity, and recognizing that these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. So I think that’s a really important point in this book, so productivity used to be about how efficiently you work, but now it’s about how much you accomplish. So that comes to us from the author. So you know, getting more done, might not be great if you’re not accomplishing important things. And this is where people can really get tripped up where it’s like we’re busy doing things all day. But these aren’t things that really move the move us towards our target, right. And one big way that that shows up is we end up spending our day reacting to our inbox. And that’s like, that’s not really productive work for most of us. And so just being really intentional about how you spend that time. And so some questions, right? Are you working on the things that matter? Are you engaged in activities that will move you toward your important values and goals? And so one of the productivity questions that he has in the book, at the end of the day, right, so one of the questions to ask yourself is did I get done what I intended to? I like that question, because it, it really forces you to focus in on purpose and having clarity about, you know, about what is important to do in a day. And so he talks about three key elements of productivity, including time, energy and attention, right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:50
So it’s not, it’s not just about time management. And he says that the most productive people manage all three of these really well. So think about that, right? If we’re managing time really well, and energy really well and attention really well. It doesn’t mean we’re hyper productive all the time. If we were hyper productive all the time, we would be depleted of energy. If we were hyper productive all the time, we would be depleted of attention. And so right, the three key elements of productivity just acknowledges that it’s a balance, and that we need to attend to all three in order to be most effective.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:31
So related to these three key elements. This is what Bailey talks about, or writes about with each of these. So at the time, he said, I observed how intelligently I use my time, how much I got done throughout the day, how many words and pages I wrote, read and how often I procrastinated. Right. So I started tracking his time and really focusing on like, Am I doing the things I need to be doing and I want to be doing? And then with attention, he said, I noted what I focused on how well I focused and how easily I was distracted. And if you haven’t done this yet, take some time right across a day and track your attention. I can be really helpful. So when do you do your best work? Right? So for me, I am a morning bird or morning Lark. I wake up very early in the morning, I do my best focus work between the hours of like 830 and 11 or 12. And after that, right like my energy and my attention. Just it starts to wane. And so I don’t if I have something in the afternoon, I really have to make sure that I get some rest earlier in the day so that I’m in a good position in terms of energy and attention. So you maybe notice that afternoon slump, where attention is more difficult. And so recognizing these cues and thinking about how you can help yourself, and that’s not by pushing through harder, but it’s like, okay, maybe we’re going to take 10 minutes to meditate or 10 minutes to lay down and close your eyes. So that you can, you can have more energy as a result. And there’s good research that supports that finding that even resting, you don’t even have to sleep. But resting for as little as 10 to 15 minutes can actually boost your attention and productivity after you wake up. And then for the third area energy, he said, I scrutinized how much drive motivation and overall energy I had, tracking how my energy levels fluctuated over the course of an experiment. So that’s really helpful, right? So paying attention to your energy drains how your energy maps across a day. And I you know, this isn’t always possible and fortunate that I have control over my schedule, but I, I have set my schedule around my energy, right, because I recognize where my energy dips and when I do my best work. And so as much as possible, I’ve built in my schedule to respect that, so that I don’t get depleted so that I don’t get into an energy hole there. So, right, because once you’re in a hole, it’s really hard to climb out.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:27
So let’s jump in to just a few points about the book. In addition to what I’ve already shared. So this is what Bailey says, not all tasks are created equal, there are certain tasks in your work that for every minute you spend on them, let you accomplish more than your other tasks, taking a step back from your work to identify your highest impact tasks will let you invest your time, attention and energy in the right things. And so, you know, you could look at all of the things that you do in a day, and just rank them in terms of like, what are your top priority tasks? Right, so some of my top priority tasks are leadership consultations, or leadership coaching, these are really important tasks for the business. And they need my time and attention, right. So I’m going to prioritize these above other tasks. That while important, they don’t move the ball near as far as as these other appointments. And so really, you know, being mindful about that, and making sure that my schedule allows that sort of prioritizing, and so, so that you’re not trying to cram things in that you actually have room in your calendar for the most important things. Another concept that he talks about that I think is really helpful, I think I’ve talked about this and other settings, it’s one that I use, I’ve lived by this for several years. And that is three daily tasks. And so what he has to say about this is the absolute best technique I found to work deliberately and with intention every day is the rule of three. The rule is simple at the beginning of each day before you start working, decide what three things you want to accomplish, by the end of the day, do the same at the start of every week. And so I’ve been doing this for years, right at the start of every week, I asked myself the question, what are the three most important things I need to get done this week? And make sure that those are driven from your goals and your values. And then as I go through the week, I am reviewing that list of three. And that’s driving my my daily list of three to say, okay, am I doing anything today, related to any of these goals, because if it if we go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, right, and I haven’t done any of those days, the chances of accomplishing one of those goals really falls off a cliff. And the other thing about this that is so incredibly helpful, is you’re taking a step back to think about what matters, you’re taking time, every single week, every single day, to see if you’re on track to see if you’re heading in the direction you intend to head, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:15
So think about it as consulting a map, you’re on a journey, you need map check in points, you need to make sure you’re on track that you’re actually making progress towards your goal. This is super, super helpful. And something right like this. If you did one thing do this, it would it would create big changes for you. Another concept that I wanted to share. So he has a section of the book called The End of Time Management and that got my attention. I really liked that. Right where he’s really making the case of let’s focus on all three, and let’s focus on working less. Right so in balance, so do good work, but it doesn’t mean you have to be slaving away. And so one of the concepts that he talks about is working less. So this is what he says when you work consistently long hours are spent too much time on tasks, that’s usually not a sign that you have too much to do. It’s a sign that you’re not spending your energy and attention wisely. As one example, during my experiment to work 90 hour work weeks, I found I accomplished only a bit more than when I worked 20 hour work weeks.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:25
Okay, listen to that difference, a 20 hour work week versus a 90 hour work week. And he only accomplished a little bit more. But let’s think about the costs, right, in terms of energy in terms of sleep in terms of relationship in terms of health, gosh, it’s not worth it. And there, there is really good solid research that supports that. And I will have more to say about that in an upcoming podcast. So more is not better. And in fact, right, we start to hit the energy hits. And so we start kind of spinning our wheels, when we’re spending more time on a project. And you’ve probably had this experience when you have kind of an open ended time to get something done. And we’ll usually take all of that time, and it’s not really productive time. But if you put constraints on yourself to say, You know what, I have this hour to get these three tasks done, it really focuses your attention. And I know for me, I’ve been much more effective, as I have put timelines on myself, right, and really forced myself to work within those constraints. It also helps you to overcome a tendency towards perfectionism, right? If you have a, an open ended amount of time, you’ll continue to tweak and work and, quote, unquote, improve whatever you’re working on. And you right, like, that’s the law of diminishing returns. In fact, you could make the product worse, the more time you spend, tweaking it, and playing around with it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:59
So we want to be reallyvvery careful about that. And so let’s constrain the time and be more effective in that time. And again, I will have a podcast where we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, I’ll share the specifics around the research, really making the case for a shorter work week. And that’s, that’s great, because it means we can have a little more balance in our lives, hopefully. And then the last thing that I wanted to talk about, and share with you from this book is from the section entitled quiet your mind, right, so he’s good about helping us to really tune into attention and energy as two of those important components. And so he has a section entitled emptying your brain, this is what he has to say about that externalizing your tasks and writing them down is a powerful way to free up mental space and get organized. Performing a brain dump not only reduces stress, and helps you focus, it also motivates you to action. So having somewhere where you’re writing down your tasks, so they’re not just ping pong being in your head can be really, really helpful. I know for me, this makes a big difference for me in terms of my attention. So I use a paper planner, I also have a small digital task list. So if I don’t have my planner with me, I can add it to that and then update my planner. But getting tests out on paper gets them out of your mind, when when you carry the tasks only in your mind, you’re caught, you’re constantly requiring more mental energy to track the tasks to not forget the task. You’ll also those tasks keep coming around. And it’s like, oh, yeah, I gotta do that, oh, yeah, I gotta do that. But you’re not always in a position where you can do that. And so it drains your mental energy, it drains your focus and attention. And so getting tasks out on paper, when they when the thought comes up, you’re like, I have a plan for that right, and you can move on and it doesn’t, it doesn’t drain your energy in that way. And it also right, like it helps to free up creativity because your brain is not clogged down with all those ping pong, ping pong ping tasks. The other thing that I think can be really helpful about this is I get them down on paper. And then when I go to review the list, it has given my mind some time to integrate and given me some space to to assess how important that task is, right? Because when you have the task come up in your mind, it’s like, oh, it’s all urgent, right? Like the brain has a hard time kind of distinguishing what’s really important and what’s not very important. And so getting those tasks down, giving yourself some space from them, like literally and figuratively, can be helpful because often I will come back and I’ll say, okay, that needs to wait. We need to shelve that until we have more information on this or gosh, that is important. I needed I need to do that today. I can’t that I can’t put that off until tomorrow. And so it helps you to actually kind of organize your execute You should have tasks. And in that way, I think that can be really helpful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:03
So in general, the productivity project was a great book, I listened to it. And it was a fun listen, I also have the book. And like I said, it’s really well organized, it’s easy to get through, he doesn’t waste your time, which that’s exactly what you want for a productivity book. And so head on over to my website to check out the show notes. For this episode, you can do that at www.drmelissasmith.com/182-productivityproject. So one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/182-productivityproject. There you will find some links to the book, other resources about the book and of course, please connect with me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. I always share lots of resources for each podcast there. I’d love to hear from you. We’d love to hear how you are engaging with this material. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai