Review: The Productivity Project

Some non-fiction books have information that is too good not to share. Some fiction books have plots that are too good not to encourage you to read. These reviews aim to spread my love of learning, reading, and writing all in one.

I discovered Chris Bailey’s blog, A Year of Productivity, a couple of years ago, just as his year was finishing up, and almost immediately wasted hours of my life aimlessly reading through his posts. For those of you who have never heard of A Year of Productivity, here’s the scoop: after graduating from university, Chris decided to take a year and do a deep dive into productivity. He spent 12 months performing productivity experiments on himself, and reading and researching productivity, all the while blogging about the experience. I love his project, and I love that he had the opportunity to do a deep dive into something he loved- not just reading and learning, but also testing it out real time.

The Review

The Productivity Project is essentially Chris’s effort to share his key learnings about productivity, while also giving us some insight on the various experiments he ran on himself throughout the project. To be completely upfront, I bought the book both because I’m interested in productivity, and because I wanted to support Chris (not that I know him whatsoever, but he’s a fellow Canadian, eh?).

Overall, I liked the book. I like Chris’s writing style; he makes it feel as though he is having a conversation directly with you, the reader. The way he writes on his blog is extremely similar to the way he writes in his book. While a lot of Chris’s advice isn’t exactly new or ground-breaking, he explains his tips in a logical way that makes you want to change. Even if you’ve heard the tips before, there’s a good chance you aren’t already doing it, so you should probably read the book.

I will say that I found book a little long, and thought it was repetitive in some parts. In a sense, I think Chris did a good job, and his editor dropped the ball a little bit.

The Major Takeaways

There are a few things I took away from the book above and beyond everything else:

  • I love that Chris doesn’t love the world’s focus on time management, because I don’t either- and he articulated it way better than I ever could. According to Chris, there are three ingredients of productivity: time, energy, and attention. And we need to manage all three well. My personal opinion? Attention is by FAR the hardest to manage.
  • Becoming more productive typically requires changing habits, but that doesn’t mean a total overhaul is a good idea. Make small changes that build to have a more lasting impact. It’s better to do a little bit then nothing at all, and it’s easier to maintain a small change than it is to maintain an overhaul.
  • Just because you feel like you are being productive, does not mean you are being productive. We often equate being busy with being productive, but that’s false. Productivity is about accomplishing, not about doing (email = doing). So don’t let your brain trick you, no matter how hard it tries (and it tries really hard)!
  • My absolute favourite part about not just the book, but Chris’s entire project, was that it was all about experimenting. Chris didn’t always set out to change a habit or reach a goal, but often said, “I’m going to try X for a few weeks, and see what the result is.” If the result was good, if the habit felt good and didn’t make him miserable, he kept it. Too often, we try to make a change that may not actually be the best thing for us, or that may seem daunting when the change is supposed to last a lifetime. Telling yourself that the change only has to last a certain period of time increases your odds of sticking with it- plus, experiments just sound fun.

Some Final Tips

And finally, a few additional tips that I pulled out from the book:

  • In order to choose the productivity strategies that are most likely to work for you, it’s important to know why you want to become more productive. Are your values in line with your productivity goals?
  • Identify which tasks help you accomplish the most and/or provide the most value, and focus on those. Eliminate, delegate, or minimize the rest.
  • Use the rule of 3. Choose three things you want to accomplish that day/week, and focus on those tasks. Do this every day, and every week, and your large projects will start to get done.
  • Take a week or two and track your time and energy. Analyze the results, then go from there in making changes. Figure out where you’re wasting time, and figure out when your ‘prime time’ is.
  • Bundle all of your maintenance tasks. Maintenance tasks could be things such as email, chores at home, errands.
  • Rank every opportunity you have or initiative you are a part of on a scale of 1-100 for how valuable or meaningful it is. If you’ve rated it less than 90, say no or eliminate it. It might be good, but it’s not good enough.
  • Basically, adopt the basics of the Getting Things Done philosophy. Externalize (i.e. write down) your tasks, so that your brain is doing as little remembering as possible. Implement regular reviews to keep up on your externalizing, and keep your brain happy.
  • Eat well, drink water, exercise, and sleep. Chris goes into some detail on these aspects, but the point is, keeping energy high is a key to productivity, and these are the four key areas.
  • And most importantly, don’t sacrifice real work in favour of being productive about productivity.
Featured image Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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