Productivity Shockers

by bsrubin on November 30, 2012

We’ve been diving deep on creating a new product concept around this theme:

We believe that people can become at least 10x more effective at reaching their goals in life with small changes that help them work smarter, not longer. We build simple, powerful productivity tools to help them make these changes.

Man have we got ideas.  But how best to come up to speed in this world at a million miles an hour?  Two tactics:

  • Observe and interact with customers (relying heavily on DrHaswell to make sure we don’t delude ourselves…)
  • Learn from and brainstorm with experts

So get ready for me to dump expert knowledge as I take a 4-Hour Meta-Learning approach to drinking from this firehose.

Enter the first two experts (and me).

Seth Roberts is the most disciplined and expert self-tracker that I know (and that’s saying quite a bit).  He blogs on ‘Personal Science, Self-Experimentation, Scientific Method’ and wrote the Shangri-La Diet.

Ari Miesel writes, coaches, and creates around the principles of The Art of Less Doing.  Ari understands behavior change and overcoming insurmountable odds – and helps others do the same.

What is the most impressive method that no one is using?

Seth: The importance of “quasi-reinforcement” — the effect of marking progress with otherwise meaningless things, such as marks on paper.  Seth uses a method where every six minutes of work, he makes a dot or line on a piece of paper.  One hour = 10 marks = a box.

Ari: Single tasking.  (Ben agrees.  Multi-tasking sucks so much it hurts.)

Ben:  Pomodoro Technique – which forces you to focus on a single task for 25 minutes straight.  And I’ll cheat and add another – nootropic drugs are an under-utilized tool.  I’ve had success with Piracetam and Modafinil.

What is the craziest productivity technique that actually works?  

Ari: Completely get rid of all to do lists of any kind.  Ari prefers using software to help remind him of tasks at the exact right time where he can act on them.  (Ben thinks this is crazy talk… but is willing to try anything!)

Ben:  A cold shower in the morning boosts productivity.  Don’t get me wrong – cold showers suck terribly.  Also kicks you into gear, makes you happy, gets you working.

What are the biggest myths in productivity?

Ari: Email is your enemy.  Ari shows you how to eliminate the stress of email overload and use it as a proper productivity tool.

Ben: Working ridiculous hours helps get things done.  Some people regularly work 70+ hour weeks.  These people claim to be productive.  This is the biggest crock of bullshit I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes a 70+ hour week is required – but doing so regularly isn’t close to effective.  Mustering cognitive effort for 11 hours a day doesn’t work – and you also short yourself on the massive productivity benefits you can get from excellent sleep, exercise, and human relationships.  For a recent example – read about Brad Feld and burnout.

What software aids for productivity do you actually use regularly?

Ari: (fixes both todo lists and email) and Evernote (create an external brain)

Seth: Right now, none. For a long time I used a percentile-feedback program that I wrote.  (Ben note – software can often help establish good habits and then be relegated top occasional use while productivity gains remain.)

Ben: Boomerang for a digital tickler file, for time-boxing.

If you were to train me for four week to become the most productive person on the planet and had a million dollar bet on the line – what would the training look like?

Ari: You would have three choices when presented with a task: delete, defer, or deal with.  And you’d have mere seconds to make the choice.  You would constantly be pushed to finish micro tasks and be restricted to actually get more done.

Seth:  Use percentile feedback.  Graded feedback that compares how you are doing today to how you were doing at the same time of day on previous days.

Ben:  I’d completely control your life.

  1. Physical: Force 8.5 + hours of high-quality sleep, Paleo diet, 2x/week intense Crossfit workout and 3x/week light exercise (Yoga, hike).
  2. Goals: We would sit down and you would draw out a vision for life, then put together a weekly and daily system to tie individual tasks to your vision.
  3. Focus: Stand (literally) with you every day and do group Pomdoro Technique to laser-focus for time-boxed periods.
  4. Mind: Caffeinate regularly, Modafinil occasionally, meditate like a monk.

You would be the most productive person on the plant.  Then you’d kill me :)

I’m looking forward to hearing from numerous productivity experts as I dive into the space – let me know your thoughts on what questions I should ask!


  • harscoat

    Super interesting discussion, keep it going! // +1 for mindfulness/mono-tasking (tactic) & focus (long term), 8 hours sleep (I’ll try 8.5 ;) , and exercise. I’d add meditate (even if 3mn) every day that we’ll die (helps prioritize ;)

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