Unusual Subroutines

The blog and musings of Christopher Allen-Poole

Productivity Project Book Review

I recently finished the book Productivity Project on Audible. I think that I'd have to give the author an A for material, though perhaps a B for originality. I think that most of the advice it gave is genuinely solid, and if someone doesn't read anything else about being productive, then this would certainly be adequate. While the words in this book might belong to the author, few of the ideas or conclusions that he presented are novel. I'd also generally go with a "it's great overview, but not deep" material.

From a basic scientific rigor perspective, there are not nearly so many sources cited as there might be, and it's probably obvious that with a test subject of one person the author has a snowball's chance in a warm climate of demonstrating the actual scientific method. Unfortunately, many of the project's experiments really just boil down to the author's experience over the course of the few days or weeks that he spent on a particular task and not an actual analysis of the science involved.

If you have to listen to one, and only one, thing my number one pick is still Outsmart Yourself. Unlike Productivity Project which muddles through the sometimes unclear meaning of the word "productivity" itself, "Outsmart Yourself" presents the listener with a number of potential outcome-changes and then it produces scientific reasoning behind how you could effectively make one change or another.

Productivity Project is the third place I've heard advocate the idea of batching your correspondences — if you specifically make sure that you ignore communication until it's time to act on them in bulk, then you skip over much of the task change productivity cost — I still have difficulty applying this in my personal work life. It's almost impossible for me to simply turn off instant messages, clients and co-workers are either unwilling or unable to hold off on requests. In one case in particular, if I don't keep part of my attention allocated to a client rep, then there is a significant chance that he and I will never communicate, at all. It's frustrating because I know that this is a good idea and would love to follow it, but I find that work, one place where productivity helps the most, is also where I am most clearly blocked in this regard.

His idea about biological prime time is a much better statement of content I read/listened to in 12 Week Year. The idea, in summation, is that your mind and body have a natural rhythm to it. You have a natural tendency to have clearer, more creative thoughts at certain times of day and are less effective in other points. This is natural and expected, and there is nothing you can do to change it. Even if you wanted to change this, your best effort might result in a temporal change lasting a couple of days. "Biological prime time" is the phrase he uses to describe this cycle. He talks about this in depth and points out that by ordering your work day around your natural balance, then you will find that work is easier, both emotionally and mentally.

One place I felt got too far "into the weeds" was his discussion of knowledge vs. time economy. While I do understand why he took this approach, this phrase comes across very much as a buzzword and less as a piece of empirically grounded fact. His point was a good one, but this approach could have been better.

I find that many of the points it made were ones I agreed with or had already personally demonstrated. I wrote the recent blog entry about happiness well before I got to the chapter on the importance of happiness in this book. Fitness is something that I will swear by, and it is an active part of my daily routine — I've dropped sixty pounds since getting married and am still losing weight.

Again, I think that overall I'm not terribly much better off comparing what I've learned in this book with what I learned in Soft Skills or 12 Week Year. There is relatively little novelty in the world of productivity.[^ref] Still, I would rate this author as approachable and while he might not break new ground, he does provide perspective on a wider spread than most.

[ref] Though that begs the question, "if we all agree on what it takes to be productive, why isn't everyone acting that way?"

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