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Why reading about productivity might make us anxious and… unproductive

Nov 11, 2018 | Posted by Cristina in Articles

In an interview that I gave recently, I was asked about the side effects of always pushing oneself to be more productive.

When you’re always reading about other people’s routines and how they’re constantly trying to optimize every process, you might compare yourself to them and become extremely anxious. You’ll realize how f*cked up your life is and, instead of taking it easy, one small step at a time, you might end up paralyzed.

What I found helpful is always putting things into context. Those people who are extremely productive now? They weren’t born like this. They created that routine, that structure, only after years and years of testing and tweaking. What fits their schedule at this moment of their life might not have worked at other times. And by the moment you end up reading about it, they might have already changed a few things cause they didn’t make sense to them anymore.

Here’s an example: perhaps those folks you’re looking up to are currently in a phase when they’re focused on improving their life quality and longevity, so they start their days early by going to the gym, doing some yoga or running. This need for keeping themselves fit might not have been a priority in their 20s, when their bodies were in a great shape and they had other more pressing issues, such as working longer hours (before learning how to work smarter) or socializing during the nights and building a network that will prove vital later in life.

My point is: focus on what makes sense to you at this particular moment in life. Take whatever you want from others – look at those successful people’s routines and habits as just another tool that might work (or not work) in your favor. You won’t know until you start experimenting and measuring the outcome, but don’t start obsessing over them.

Also make sure that you don’t fall into the survivorship bias trap. Correlation does not imply causation. Those folks are now known because they created something valuable and attention worthy, but that didn’t happen because they optimized their daily routines and became maximum productivity machines.

By the way, if you’re looking to read more on the topic of creative folks’ habits, check out Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals” book. It’s a collection of profiles on 161 artists, writers, philosophers, painters, poets and more While their daily rituals vary greatly, you’ll notice that they all have discipline and some form of structure. None of them waited for the creativity to “strike” in order to start working.

“Creative people organize their lives according to repetitive, disciplined routines. They think like artists, but work like accountants.” (David Brooks)

By the way, “Tools of Titans” is also abundant in interesting insights on the routines of people who are among the best at what they do.

And you can check out the full interview with me here – it’s in Romanian language, but you can use the Google Translate to English tool for an approximate interpretation.

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