Feel-Good Productivity - by Ali Abdaal


Feel-Good Productivity - by Ali Abdaal

Read: 2024-02-16

Recommend: 6/10

LeBron being a slow basketball player might be the most inspiring example from this book. It highlights the importance of pacing ourselves for endurance.


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. Step one is feeling better. Step two is doing more of what matters to us.

  2. An approach that didn’t hinge on exhaustingly hard work, but on understanding what made hard work feel better. An approach that focused on my wellbeing first, and used that wellbeing to drive my focus and motivation second. An approach I would come to refer to as feel-good productivity.

  3. Seriousness is overrated. If you want to achieve more without ruining your life, the first step is to approach your work with a sense of play.

  4. There are three ways you can incorporate the spirit of play into your life.

    • First, approach things with a sense of adventure.
    • Second, find the fun.
    • Third, lower the stakes. Failures are only failures when you think they are – and not every problem need be approached with such a straight face.
  5. I’d remind myself that I was just playing the part of a confident magician, and even if I didn’t feel at all confident internally, I was going to act as if I were both confident and competent.

  6. ‘Power’ is a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be. When we say the second energiser is power, we don’t mean exerting control over others. Here, we simply mean feeling empowered to take your job, life and future into your own hands. There are three ways you can increase your sense of power, starting now.
    • Begin with confidence. We think our confidence is fixed, but actually it’s extremely malleable. So why not try ‘flipping the confidence switch’ – and playing the role of someone who’s already filled with self-belief?
    • Next, level up your skills. Ask yourself: if I were completely new to this task, what would this look like? And how can I start teaching others even though I’m not an expert yet?
    • Finally, see what you can do to take ownership, even in moments when you don’t have as much control as you’d like. Remember, if you can’t choose what you work on, you can still choose how you work on it. The outcome isn’t always in your hands. But the process, and certainly your mindset, often is.
  7. Life is more fun with friends around. That’s why our third energiser is people. There are some people who naturally uplift our energy – the trick is finding them. That starts with becoming a team player. Try treating the people you’re working with as comrades rather than competitors. Building connections with people is also about lending them a hand. This cuts both ways; not only do we too rarely help others, we also too rarely ask for help. So try asking: what can I do to brighten someone else’s day? Finally, remember the most oft-forgotten truth about human interaction: when you think you’ve communicated too much, you probably haven’t communicated enough. Is there a piece of information you’re hoarding that might just make someone else’s week?

  8. procrastination is caused by negative feelings – the inverse of the feel-good energisers

  9. We get procrastination wrong. All too often, we approach procrastination by treating the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. And all too often, those causes relate to our mood: when we feel bad, we achieve less. So the unblock method is about establishing what’s really blocking your good mood – and finding a way to eliminate it.

    • The first emotional barrier is the simplest: uncertainty. The solution? To gain clarity about what you’re actually doing. That involves asking ‘why?’ and then using this to figure out your ‘how’.
    • Next, ask ‘what?’. That means an alternative approach to goal-setting. Forget SMART goals. What you need are goals that feel NICE (near-term, input-based, controllable and energising).
    • Last, ask ‘when?’. If you don’t know when you’re going to do something, chances are you won’t do it. One solution is to use implementation intentions – where your common daily habits become triggers for the things you intend to work on: for example, if I brush my teeth, then I’ll stretch my hamstring.
  10. Our second emotional blocker is even thornier: fear. If you’ve ever put off applying for a daunting job or asking someone you like on a date, you’ve encountered this particular monster. The solution isn’t to get rid of fear, though – instead, it’s to develop the courage to face up to it.

    • That courage comes from three sources. The first is to understand your fear. Ask yourself: why have I not started on that task or project yet? What am I afraid of? Where does this fear come from?
    • The second is to reduce your fear. Our fears are often blown out of proportion. Ask yourself these questions to prevent yourself from catastrophising: will this matter in 10 minutes? Will this matter in 10 weeks? Will this matter in 10 years?
    • The third is to overcome your fear. If you’re scared of what other people think, remind yourself that most people are not, in fact, thinking about you. We’re a self-conscious species, but we’re not usually a judgemental one.
  11. Our third emotional blocker is the commonest of all: inertia. When you’re doing nothing, it’s easy to carry on doing nothing. And when you’re working, it’s much easier to carry on working.

  12. Sports analysts have trawled through reams of on- and off-court data for LeBron and other NBA players, and spotted the same thing. Although he’s a man who can sprint at the speed of a car coursing through the suburbs, LeBron is on average one of the slowest players in the NBA. In the 2018 season, his average speed during games was 3.85 miles per hour (more or less walking speed); he ranked in the bottom ten of all players who played for at least twenty minutes per game. During the regular season, he spent 74.4 per cent of time on the court walking, a time unmatched by almost anyone else in the league. Unexpectedly, LeBron James offered me my first hint as to how to overcome my sense of fatigue. Overexertion burnouts, I realised, come from the negative emotions that arise when we do too much, too fast. We accept more work than we can do, and fail to take the breaks in our working day that we require. We sprint all the time.

  13. Her solution is to ask yourself a simple question. Every time you’re presented with a request for a few weeks’ time, think: ‘Would I be excited about this commitment if it was happening tomorrow? Or am I only thinking about saying “yes” to it because it’s easier to make it a problem for my future self?’

  14. ‘Thanks, but I’m good,’ I told him. ‘I’m not hungry, and there are a lot of patients to see, so I’m happy to power through and I’ll grab a coffee later.’ I assumed he’d pat me on the shoulder, say, ‘Atta boy, that’s the spirit,’ and walk away with increased respect for my amazing work ethic. He didn’t. Instead, he reached over my shoulder and switched off my computer monitor. As I turned to him, slightly confused, he smiled. ‘Look, I know it’s your first day and I like that you’re keen. But I’ve been in this game long enough to know that the patients are always going to keep coming. Unless you take a break, you’re going to lose focus, and you might make a mistake. That’s not good for anyone.’ I looked around at the chaos surrounding me. The emergency buzzer was ringing in one of the rooms across the hall. There were people on stretchers along the corridor. It was chaos. Dr Adcock followed my gaze. ‘You can’t be of any use to anyone if you’re exhausted, but you can make more effective decisions if you take the time to recharge and refocus,’ he said. ‘No one’s going to die because you were having lunch. There’s always time for that.’

  15. The greatest cause of burnout isn’t exhaustion. It’s low mood. If you can make yourself feel better, you won’t just achieve more – you’ll last longer, too. Our first kind of burnout arises from overexertion. The solution: do less.

    • There are three ways to do less in practice. The first is to stop yourself from overcommitting. Limit the list of projects you’re working on and get comfortable with saying ‘no’. Ask yourself: if I had to pick only one project to put all my energy into, what would that be?
    • The second way is to resist distraction. Ask yourself: can I uninstall social media apps on my phone so that I can access them only through my web browser? How can I correct course and restart if (or, more realistically, when) I get distracted?
    • The third way is to find moments in your working day to do nothing. Ask yourself: am I treating breaks as a special event rather than a necessity? And what could I do to take more of them?
  16. ‘doomscrolling’. Like most people, I spent vast chunks of my rest time in 2020 mindlessly reloading social media. ‘I should be relaxing,’ I found myself thinking. ‘And yet instead, I seem to have ingested 2,500 tweets about the economic effects of lockdown on luxury candle makers in Vermont.’

  17. Our second kind of burnout relates to rest time. Depletion burnouts result from not giving yourself enough time or space to truly recharge. The solution: understand how to rest in a way that energises you.

    • The best way to rest is all about feeling calm. Or rather, CALM. Find an activity or project that makes you feel Competent, Autonomous, Liberated and Mellow.
    • A second solution is to spend time in and with nature. Even a tiny amount of greenery can have a transformative impact. So take a walk, even if it’s a short one. And try bringing nature indoors – whether that’s a new house plant or just the soundtrack of some birds chirping.
    • Not all rest needs to be so strategic, however. Sometimes, the most energising thing you can do is to do nothing at all. By doing less today, you’ll feel better tomorrow.
  18. So, I urge you: try as much as you can, figure out what works, and discard the rest. Ask yourself of every new approach: what effect does this have on my mood? On my energy? On my productivity? Don’t rote-learn your way to feel-good productivity. Experiment your way. Ultimately, it’s only by continually evaluating what works for you that you’ll work out how to feel better in the long run. Productivity is an evolving field, and you’re evolving too. There’s still so much to discover.