Productivity Lessons from 2017

Here’s What I Learned About Productivity in 2017:

Productivity isn’t about mastering time. It’s about mastering yourself: making decisions, deciding what to work on, working with intention, improving every day, and more. 

The waste created by following a bad path typically increases exponentially — not linearly — as we progress down the path. The best time to make improvements is early.

End every work session with a clear milestone or deliverable. This gives you something to think about between work sessions and enables creativity, which comes from the subconscious. And while you’re not working, others can give you feedback.

As Tiago Forte has observed: “High-value work has a huge of the ramp-up period. If you complete 90% of a deliverable, and say you’ll “do the last 10% later”, you have to ramp all the way up again just to finish the last 10%.”

Break down tasks. Work in smaller batches.

We create psychological momentum by working in small batches. Here’s why: We gain motivation as we near our goals. 

By working in small batches, we create momentum by accelerating our pace of psychological rewards. And we can become inspired without outside stimulus.

Productivity earthquakes.

People like consuming information in small batches too. Kindle data shows that readers are 25 percent more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters.

It’s mathematically better to accelerate iteration speed than decrease error rate. 

Two iterations at a 2 percent defect rate produce a quality level that is 25 times higher than one iteration at a 1 percent defect rate. Wild.

Creative work is about managing the balance between production and consumption. Instead of passively reading or watching, you want to produce something out of your learning and experiences.


Think of yourself as a network of knowledge, with you at the center of it. Here’s how to start:

  1. Begin by sharing ideas. 
  2. You’ll build a network around yourself.
  3. And then you’ll be immune to competition. 
  4. Because — BOOM! — You’re the center of you’re network.

Perspective is your most valuable asset. Over time, you’ll see a quantum leap in productivity.

The average information worker spends 28% of his or her time reading, writing, and responding to email. Read this. Here’s the solution.

Our minds stretch towards the things we pay attention to. Give your attention to fear, and the fear will grow. Give your attention to love, and love will grow. Change your attention, change your world. 

The ability to intentionally and strategically allocate our attention is the single most important skill in knowledge work.

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb says: “There are very likely 5 minutes each year that account for 50% of your output. I try to think hard about what those 5 minutes are.” 

Do fewer, bigger things. Instead of looking at tasks, look at problems.

What if we thought of our different selves as literally completely different people, with different priorities, skills, and attitudes?

The ability to unlock a new state of mind is a powerful competitive edge. We become different selves across time. Magic.

The value of information is its expected economic value. Information reduces uncertainty. We can create economic value by reducing uncertainty.

Even imperfect decision rules improve decision making. Simple rules allow us to quickly process the small, perishable, economic decisions that arrive continuously and randomly. 

Work creates constraints. And constraints create work. Round and round they go. But constraints provide boundaries. They help us focus our energy and creativity. The best place to look for breakthrough capabilities is right behind your biggest constraint.

Instead of reacting to a constraint by lowering your level of ambition, which is what most people do, massively increase your ambition, such that all conventional approaches are unthinkable.

Aim to redefine problems away from burdensome, heavy-lift tasks. Look for ways to re-use previous work, combine projects, or kill two birds with one stone. Take on projects to learn new things, not vice versa. 

Successful people are experts at activating their networks. They move quickly and touch lightly. Paradoxically, this is the opposite of focus.

Context switching is fuel for the creative mind. The 3 Bs of Creativity: 

  1. Bed (nap and dream)
  2. Bath (relax and let the subconscious mind work its magic)
  3. Bus (travel, move, and escape routine) 

We only know what we make. And the essence of productivity is producing things. To integrate the insights into the way we think, we need to move from consuming to creating.

When we disable ego, we enable learning. That’s why flow states are the holy grail of productivity. There are three requirements for flow: 

  1. clear goals 
  2. immediate feedback 
  3. challenging, but manageable activity

Flow is a state of inner tranquility — more focus and less stress. The science proves this.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 18.22.26.png

Josh Waitzkin, a chess and tai chi world champion, calls flow the secret to optimal performance.

In our world of information overload, think of information as food. Imagine you’re at a 5 Star buffet, with lots of options. It’s stressful if you think you have to consume it all. But it’s liberating if you know what you want to eat so that you can find the right balance of taste and nutrients to create your meal.

Note taking isn’t about saving information — it’s about time travel. By taking notes, we can transport through time, and into new states of mind. 

Reminds me of this quote from Craig Mod: “To return to a book is to return not just to the text but also to a past self. We are embedded in our libraries. To reread is to remember who we once were, which can be equal parts scary and intoxicating.” 

Your head is for having ideas, not storing them. The brain is good at recognition. But it’s not designed to recall things. We can ascend to new heights when we don’t have to worry about lower-order thinking.


  1. Tiago Forte
  2. Venkatesh Rao
  3. Eric Jorgenson