Book Review: ‘The Productivity Project’

productivity projectImagine a guy who was so interested in productivity that he set aside an entire year of his life to explore ways to become more productive. It would take an interesting guy. Well, we don’t have to imagine because Chris Bailey has done it. In an interesting and somewhat entertaining book Bailey lets us in on his one year productivity project. The book is titled The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy.

Some of the experiments Bailey conducted included: going several weeks getting by on little to no sleep; cutting out caffeine and sugar; living in total isolation for 10 days; using his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months; gaining ten pounds of muscle mass; stretching his work week to 90 hours; restricting his work week to 20 hours; getting up late; getting up early— all the while monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work.

The book is interesting just from a documentary standpoint. But, when you consider his takeaways, it’s actually very helpful.

A key takeaway from Bailey is his discovery of the relationship between our time, energy, and attention. He writes, “If you want to become more productive, managing your time should take a backseat to how you manage your energy and attention.” Some of the common conclusions were vindicated in his study. We need to eat properly, get plenty of rest, not waste time doing things that don’t matter, and make sure we are doing the right things. But he also aimed to blow up the myth that working longer is working better (or smarter). He says, “Productivity isn’t about doing more things—it’s about doing the right things.”

When you work consistently long hours, or spend 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 ninety-hour workweeks, I found I accomplished only a bit more than when I worked twenty-hour workweeks. . . . But in practice, working longer hours means having less time to refocus and recharge, which leads to more stress and lower energy.

And further,

”After thirty-five to forty hours of work, studies show that your marginal productivity begins to drop, until at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks. . . . Working longer hours can decrease your productivity. One study found that when you work sixty-hour weeks, in order to accomplish one more hour of work, you need to work two hours of overtime. Yet another study found that your productivity “falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.”

You may not agree with everything you read in this book but you will be challenged to evaluate your work in general and your time, energy and attention in particular.

There are other really helpful nuggets like his sections on procrastination, social media, becoming more creative, the science behind how we work, and the rule of three.

Here are a few more thought provoking quotes:

Busyness is no different from laziness when it doesn’t lead you to accomplish anything.

Productivity isn’t about how busy or efficient you are—it’s about how much you accomplish.

Just because you feel productive doesn’t mean you are—and the opposite is often true.

To summarize decades’ worth of complex neurological research in one sentence, our brains are built for solving problems, connecting dots, and forming new ideas—not for holding on to information that we can simply externalize.

Your head is not for holding ideas—it’s for having ideas.

I liked the book. The author is quirky, smart, and clear. If you are like me and like to nerd-out on productivity and efficiency then you will enjoy this book. If you are curious about a guy who would undertake such a strange task, then you will appreciate this book.

Pick up a copy of The Productivity Project at Amazon.