The Productivity Advice I Actually Subscribe To

In a world of productivity advice overwhelm these are the few ideas that have been most helpful to me.

3 min read

I think the world is way to hopped up on goal setting frameworks, productivity tips, and optimizing every last drop of our personal and professional lives—to the extent that this stuff is probably detrimental to most people.

I wrote about this topic once before on my personal blog, and in the process discovered a well known productivity guru who claims—if you look carefully—that he runs his life through 38 different frameworks or exercises each month. That is, of course, nonsense.

Nonetheless, I can't help but appreciate the intent of the productivity or self-help genres. Sure, there's money to be made but helping people live better lives is as noble as anything. The key lies in finding the few items that work for you.

Here are mine—these are the ideas or frameworks that I actually circle back on as they've proven to be consistently useful.


Best for overall productivity.

There is no productivity advice that holds a candle to a good night's sleep—this is the one tip that gets you 80% of the benefit. Sleep brings energy and health, which are pre-requisites for productivity. Full stop.

How do I create a win-win?

Most underrated and best for the soul.

So much of life takes on an us-versus-them mentality—someone must win, and someone must lose. If I'm buying a car, I either win the negotiation and get the terms that what I want or the dealership does. Kill or be killed!

My favorite framework on this list and the one I use the most is very simple—sit back and ask yourself "How do I turn this situation into a win-win for everyone?"

While the answer may not immediately be apparent, you can usually find it if you dare to look. For example, have you every asked the car salesman what actually makes the negotiation a success for him or her? There may very well be an incentive of some sort in place that if he or she hits, triggers a bonus. Maybe you can get them there, while still landing on many of the terms that matter to you. But did you ask? Probably not. You were in combatiive mode from the get-go.

Apply this to everything from hiring at your company to negotiating with your spouse and it will change your life. And who doesn't like the guy/gal that creates win-wins?!

No backlog

Best for saving you busy work.

I see so many companies maintaining meticulously manicured backlogs of all the work they are planning to do. And so many people pouring hours into creating to-do lists that rank the work to be done using complicated matrices. Forget it all!

I've moved to maintaining no backlog of any kind—or at least truly minimizing the time spent managing a to-do list.

The concept here is simple—if you are truly close to your work and engaged with it, the most important things should naturally bubble to the top of your mind and be very apparent to you. They are the things that you hear repeatedly, that you know will be impactful. Does it really matter what the 17th most important item is, versus the 19th?

If you've forgotten a task or idea, it's a pretty strong indication that it wasn't that important.

Hell yes or hell no

The best decision making framework.

Popularized by Derek Sivers, this method of making decisions is gold for anyone who feels over-committed. The idea is again dead simple—if you're facing a decision to do something or not, the answer should be "Hell Yes" or the answer is a no.

This one is about being protective of your time, and if you spend your life working on "Hell Yes" projects you'll probably do pretty well for yourself.

Sense and respond over predict and control

Best for controlling what you can actually control and making room for opportunity.

I've written previously about how we operate Outseta without budgets, forecasts, or performance targets. I don't know if I can think of an idea that would be more threatening to business gurus.

The concept here is simple in the context of the business world—budgets, forecasts, and performance targets are an attempt to control something outside of your control. There are market forces well beyond your control, yet your pinning your success and effort to some arbitrarily set target?

What if you instead focused that energy on building an organization that was more nimble, so it could instead sense and respond to the needs of the business in real time? It may not be "how business is done" but it's certainly freeing and I believe will outperform the alternative in most instances.

This can be applied to your personal life, too. What if instead of treating your relationships like something that "succeeds" or doesn't, with a plan forthset to achieve relationship bliss, you instead made space to be present with your partner and adapt to their needs as you proceeded through life together? You might just find yourself in that much richer of a relationship.

Best light, worst light

Best for giving you a sense of perspective.

This one is sooo good in the context of start-ups specifically. At any given point in time—but especially when you feel like things are going really well or really poorly—write down two stories about your business. Both need to be 100% true, but one version should look at your business in the best light possible—it should accentuate every positive aspect of your company. Then write the other looking through the most negative lens possible.

But all truths is key.

At any given point you'll see that how you frame things makes a dramatic difference—and most often things aren't as great or terrible as they might otherwise seem. Perspective is freeing and often presents opportunities you may have otherwise missed.

That's it! I find these ideas to be liberating and they've been helpful filters for me that have given me space to do better work and live a better life. Maybe one will be helpful for you too.

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January 3, 2024

I decided (realised) yesterday that my word of the year 2024 is "productivity". The sense of being productive doesn't come from lists and targets per se, but from a feeling of time well spent, with something to show for it.