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Book Summary: The Productivity Project – Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy

Everyone wants to be productive, but productivity doesn’t always come easily. Feeling distracted can take a toll on your self-esteem and prevent you from living up to your potential. You may be contemplating what extreme steps you should take to boost your productivity, but maybe you just need to reset your ideas on what productivity actually looks like.

In this book summary The Productivity Project – Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, you’ll learn about a variety of productivity methods and how to select one (or a few) that works for your routine.

These productivity methods actually work — learn how to choose the right ones for you.


  • Want to learn about a range of productivity hacks from an author who has tried (almost) all of them
  • Procrastinate to the point where you experience stress or anxiety
  • Need to change your work routine but don’t know where to start

Book Summary: The Productivity Project - Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy


Productivity expert Chris Bailey has delved into this specialty for his whole career. After college, he took a year off to research productivity and to conduct carefully controlled and monitored productivity experiments. After that, Bailey spent ten years investigating “thousands of productivity hacks” to determine what people can do to increase their productivity and become consistently more productive. Bailey used that decade of experimentation to identify 25 effective productivity techniques. To get the most from your time and effort, getAbstract recommends checking out his insights and methods.


  • Every person gets the same amount of time each day. To make your time more valuable, increase your productivity.
  • Productivity requires managing your “time, attention and energy.”
  • Productivity doesn’t mean being constantly busy; it means accomplishing your goals.
  • Make a list of three tasks to get done each day, and do them.
  • To manage your energy, schedule your crucial or most difficult tasks during your “biological prime time” – the time of day when you’re most productive.
  • To build your attention, focus on a single task. Don’t multitask.
  • Working more than 40 hours a week reduces your productivity.
  • Productivity doesn’t require doing things fast. It requires doing things deliberately.
  • Meditation can help you become more deliberative, which fuels productivity.
  • The happier you are, the more productive you will be.


When is the last time you focused on one task for a few hours without picking up your phone or checking social media? If you’re like most people, it’s probably been a while. Procrastination can be a pleasure, and the addition of constant notifications and social media in our lives turns the dopamine and serotonin centers of your brain into neurological amusement parks: Bright and fun for a time but eventually exhausting. Overcoming procrastination involves closing down these amusement parks and forcing other parts of your brain to work smarter and more efficiently, instead of harder.

Author Chris Bailey spent a year experimenting with countless productivity tactics. In his book, he shares all the tips and tricks he learned along the way. In this book summary, you’ll learn some of Bailey’s productivity tips to help you accomplish more.

Laying the Groundwork

Productivity is often thought of as a superpower that, when mastered, will change your entire life. How else can people wake up at 4 a.m. every day or bike 15 miles to work? But the truth is that anyone can become productive — provided they’re willing to make considerable lifestyle changes.

But before uprooting your morning routine or buying a racing bike, consider why you want to make these changes and how you need to grow in the three areas of productivity:

  • Time is the most obvious factor. How you manage your time reliably indicates how much you’ll accomplish
  • Attention and your ability to focus will determine how you manage your time.
  • Energy is a key part of motivation. Tracking changes in your energy levels throughout the day will help you assess whether your behavioral changes are working.

For all tasks, remember to apply the “80-20 rule”: 80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your workload. This 20% is comprised of primary tasks; the rest is made up of less essential work. Also remember the 80-20 rule’s companion, the “rule of three,” which states that each workday should begin by identifying the three most critical tasks to be completed. The rule of three is effective because our minds are often compelled to think in sets of three.

When laying the groundwork for your productivity-boosting changes, it’s essential to identify your “biological prime time,” or BPT: the time of day when you have the most energy. If you’re a morning person who feels your energy peak earlier in the day, you should reserve mornings for creative, demanding work, and leave simpler tasks for the afternoon. If you aren’t sure about your BPT, keep a log for a few days that rates your energy levels from one to 10 every half hour. Then, look back at this log and note which times of day you’re the most energetic.

Wasting Time

You might be relieved to hear that procrastination is human nature. Everybody is guilty of procrastinating to a certain degree — even people who appear productive or successful. These people are tempted to procrastinate just like the rest of us; they simply have better methods of keeping themselves on track. To develop your own techniques for maintaining focus, you must first learn why you procrastinate and how to train your brain to avoid procrastination.

Procrastination is the result of two parts of your brain dueling with each other. First, there’s your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical thinking and associating smaller tasks with long-term goals. Then, there’s your limbic system, which controls pleasure and other emotions and thrives on getting its way as much as possible. The activities of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system dictate the decisions you make throughout the day. Together, they balance instinct and reason and encourage you to make better choices. The prefrontal cortex often gives in to the limbic system, so you can be happy in the short-term. Working to overcome procrastination will strengthen your prefrontal cortex and, by extension, your willpower.

There are a few methods you can use to bump your prefrontal cortex to the front of the line and tell your limbic system to wait their turn. Here are a few ideas to do just that:

  • If you must put something off, try to procrastinate productively by making a procrastination list. List high-priority tasks that you look forward to and can chip away at in 15 to 30 minute intervals.
  • List the costs or consequences of putting something off, such as falling behind on a deadline or losing income due to lost productivity.
  • If you find yourself putting off your work, set a timer for 15 minutes just to get you started. Even if you don’t want to continue when the timer goes off, you still accomplished 15 minutes of work. But if you end up becoming engaged with the task, you can effectively carry on working.

Additionally, remember that it takes more time and energy to stress about or justify procrastination than it does to just get to work.

Cozying Up to Ugly Tasks

You’re more likely to procrastinate on frustrating or boring tasks, tasks that lack purpose or reward, and unstructured or difficult tasks. Next time you feel compelled to procrastinate on such a task, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, think about why you’re avoiding the task and see if it can be reframed to seem more interesting or appealing. Wresting control of your limbic system involves identifying the rewards of accomplishing a task or negotiating with the limbic system to make the work a little more attractive. You can accomplish this in the following ways:

  • Change your environment if you’re feeling bored or restless. Try leaving the office and working from a café.
  • Research and write out the steps to complete a difficult or unstructured task, so you can develop a systematic approach.
  • Identify personal meaning or reward to make a task feel more important in the short-term.

The ubiquity of the internet, a constantly available stimulant for our limbic system, spells out trouble for productivity. While online tools or apps can boost your productivity, they can distract you even more. To prevent distractions from derailing your work, try to disconnect for a span of a few hours (or an entire workday, if you’re ambitious). This will be nerve-wracking at first, but in the aftermath, you’ll be amazed at how much attention you’ve given your work. In a study conducted by psychologist Tim Pychyl, participants spent around 47% of their time procrastinating on the web — and that’s a conservative estimate. Multitasking or utilizing constant breaks to check Twitter is great for the limbic system, but this destroys the potential of the prefrontal cortex.

The End of Time Management

During the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, when manufacturing processes shifted and factory work became the norm, productivity was easy to measure: If you built or processed a certain number of things per hour, you were working productively. But today, our economy has morphed into a knowledge economy, and many jobs take place in an office or on electronic devices. It’s more difficult to regulate your creativity or attention span than it is to meet material, quantifiable demands, which is why time management is so commonly discussed.

But despite all this emphasis on time, productivity is more meaningful than time when it comes to making money. Managing time is a futile effort if you’re not managing your attention and energy as well. Working more hours rarely leads to more productivity: If you worked 90 hours per week, you would only accomplish a tiny bit more than if you worked your regular schedule. Investing more time in your work doesn’t mean anything unless you give it the energy and attention it deserves.

If you give yourself time constraints, you’ll be more motivated to give your work your all. This is why procrastinators work better with deadlines looming: When there’s absolutely no choice but to commit to a task, the sense of urgency makes it easier to buckle down and finish. You can use the following tactics to develop time constraints for your work:

  1. Spend less time on important tasks. When scheduling large tasks or projects, set less time aside to complete it. This is especially effective if you consider the potential benefits of the extra time, such as the freedom to look for new business or engage in management efforts.
  2. Set a limited number of working hours per week. Most people will hit their productivity peak at 35 to 40 hours per week. Anything more won’t yield any benefits. Delegate reduced hours to major projects and use the rest of your time to work on other tasks and creative work.

To make the most of your reduced hours, try blocking off your biological prime time (BPT) on your calendar and setting reminders prior to the beginning of your BPT. Plan on working on a high-priority task during this time and make the effort to shut down as many distractions as possible. If you don’t know where to start, allocate energy to the tasks you want to accomplish that day by rating them from one to 10. Tasks that require the most energy should be reserved for your BPT.

The Zen of Productivity

The mission is to KonMari your time by getting rid of tasks that no longer spark joy — or tasks that don’t provide motivation or productivity. Decluttering your schedule gives you the mental space to focus on things that matter, expand your creativity, and feel engaged in completing your priorities. Scheduling maintenance days, knowing your BPT, and handing the keys to your prefrontal cortex can all help you remove extraneous tasks from your calendar.

Most people check their email 30 to 40 times per day, or around every 15 minutes. The task of checking your email has become a problem. While it’s necessary to check your email every day, hyper-focusing on your emails derails your precious focus. Switch to only checking email three times per day while spending more time on your replies. Only check your email when you have the time and attention to thoroughly answer each actionable message. After all, if something is so important that you’re doing it that many times per day, why treat it like it’s mindless?

It’s impressive (and overwhelming) when someone can rattle off a lot of information without consulting notes or to-do lists; however, attempting to memorize these details can result in significant mental overload. Externalizing these thoughts or reminders is the best way to take some of the pressure off your brain. Methods for externalizing this information include:

  • Try brain dumping. Write down actionable information on paper, including both work tasks and things that need to be accomplished outside of work. Try writing a grocery list over the course of several days instead of trying to remember everything you need immediately before going to the store. Make “brain dumping” an ongoing system by making notes in your phone or a notepad that you carry with you.
  • Create “waiting for” lists. This list should include tasks that aren’t actionable at the moment but will be in the near future. Such tasks could include making an expected payment, replying to an important email, or receiving packages that are in transit.
  • Make a “worry list.” Anxiety weighs on your brain, even when you know the source of your anxiety is frivolous. Writing these worries down can clear space in your brain and encourage you to reconcile with these fears head-on.

While it’s crucial to gain and maintain control of your brain, letting your brain relax is a similarly essential component to practicing productive habits. Allow your brain time to wander and enjoy the process. This is one of the brain’s natural modes: a freewheeling, relaxed, daydreaming state of mind like the one many people experience while they’re in the shower.

The Attention Muscle

Intentionally daydreaming and allowing your mind to wander are valuable activities, but when it comes time to work, buckling down and committing to your work is imperative. Start keeping track of how often your brain wanders during a one-hour period of work or while trying to complete a time sensitive task. If you can’t stay on-task, you may need a bit more intentionality regarding your work. The way to approach your work with intentionality is through attention, a mental action comprised of:

  • The central executive: your thinking and planning faculties, operated by your prefrontal cortex
  • Focus: your ability to determine which tasks should be prioritized and to commit to this prioritization
  • Awareness: the capacity to balance environmental stimuli

The key to maintaining attention is eliminating distractions, such as email and phone alerts or notifications that hog your attention. When you experience these interruptions, your brain rapidly processes the distraction and quickly dismisses it. This adversely affects your memory because your brain is too overstimulated to complete the cycle of processing information from stimuli. Try to reduce distractions by leaving your phone face-down and disabling desktop alerts.

Many of us try to make ourselves look like overachievers by multitasking. There are times when multitasking is appropriate and times when isn’t. Driving and listening to music is fine; reading a book with the TV on in the background is probably not effective. Nevertheless, you might multitask because it feels like you’re getting more done. This is because your brain rewards you when you multitask with a shot of the pleasure chemical dopamine. Multitaskers are not effective at sorting information based on relevance, and they usually don’t produce better work — in fact, their work tends to be even worse. If you want to become a champion of productivity, resist the will of your limbic system and learn how to do just one thing at a time.

For the ultimate single-tasking challenge, try meditation. Carving out very short periods of time to meditate and focus solely on your breathing and emptying your mind can strengthen the attention muscle. It’s unlikely that you’ll transition from constantly multitasking to calmly meditating an hour per day overnight. Instead, begin by meditating for five to 10 minutes, and notice any wandering thoughts during your session. If you start thinking about work or future obligations, gently bring your thoughts back to the moment.

Taking Productivity to the Next Level

If you feel good about your overall work routine but want to experiment with methods to improve it even further, try adjusting your diet and exercise. Here are some commonly suggested tools and tricks:

  • Drinking Soylent. This meal replacement drink is said to improve your day’s overall efficiency because you get all your nutrients and calories by drinking liquids. However, if you love food, don’t try to sacrifice that love in the name of efficiency. If you want to give Soylent a try, substitute just one meal with the shake.
  • Exercise to be productive. The time you spend exercising will almost always pay for itself in increased productivity. Exercise empowers your brain to battle stress and encourages the release of dopamine and endorphins that make you feel good. Exercising more helps you feel more focused, sleep better, and stave off mental fatigue.
  • Get more sleep. Depriving yourself of sleep to work more might help you finish a project, but you’ll lose productivity in the long-run. For every hour of sleep you lose, you lose two hours of productivity due to decreased-problem solving capabilities, low mood, and diminished working memory. To get more sleep and improve the quality of your sleep, stop drinking caffeine eight to 14 hours before bedtime and put away all devices with screens at least 45 minutes before going to sleep.


Make Your Time Count

You get 24 hours every day to live your life and pursue your dreams. If you’re like most people, once you take care of your obligations, you’ll still have about two and a half hours of discretionary time left. That’s not much time to achieve what really matters to you.

“It’s difficult to be productive when you try to cram as much into your day as possible, because you’ll inevitably create a mental logjam as unexpected tasks crop up.”

The only way to find more time is to increase your productivity by becoming more deliberate in everything you do. Productive people don’t operate on autopilot. They work smarter and more efficiently, move slowly, focus on what’s important and handle everything with purposeful attention.

Productivity Components

Productivity has three components: “time, attention and energy.” To become more productive, you need to manage all three – individually and simultaneously. You can exert maximum energy and a laser focus, but if you waste your time, you won’t be productive. And, if you’re always tired, having time and focus won’t help.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when they invest effort in improving their productivity is that they continue to work automatically, in response to the work that comes their way.”

For maximum productivity, prioritize your tasks and duties. Assess what matters most to you and in what order, and direct your productivity efforts to those tasks. Then you’re ready to embark on a full-fledged productivity program.

Productivity Strategies

Draw from this menu of 25 effective methods, techniques and strategies for getting the most from your time, energy and attention.

  1. “Deep meaningful reason” – Becoming more productive is hard, but with strong intention and clear purpose you can maintain a productivity program. It takes “efficiency, meaning, control, discipline, growth, freedom, learning” and “staying organized.”
  2. “Not all tasks are created equal” – Some activities, tasks and goals matter more than others. Productivity requires stepping back to gain perspective on what is really important. Your goal is meaningful productivity. Devote your time, attention and energy to your most vital activities, tasks and goals.
  3. “Three daily tasks” – In Getting Results the Agile Way, J.D. Meier recommends following the “Rule of 3” to become more intentional and deliberative. At the beginning of each week, write three goals for that week. At the start of each day, write down three tasks to do before bedtime. Don’t make your tasks and goals too big or too small.
  4. “Everyone procrastinates at times” – Don’t worry about this normal behavior unless it gets excessive. A survey reports that nearly one of three people wastes an hour or more daily and more than one of four wastes at least two hours daily. To motivate yourself to avoid procrastination, list the costs you will incur for tasks you put off doing. Jump into a task you dislike. Spend only a little time on it initially, say, 15 minutes. Use a timer. Often, a task doesn’t seem as onerous once you begin to work on it.
  5. “Meet yourself…from the future” – Every time you put off a task, you’re assigning it to your “future self.” Most people treat their future selves (themselves tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and later) as strangers. This is easy because your future self isn’t that important to you today. But if you stay close to your future self, you’ll be less inclined to create a backlog of delayed tasks. Periodically use a website like to send the future you an email – from you to you.
  6. “Work smarter” – When you schedule specific work chores, you establish “attentional and energy boundaries” for each task and focus on each component of productivity: time management plus energy management plus attention management.
  7. “Working less” – Many people assume that their productivity will increase if they work extra hours. Actually, putting in longer hours is counterproductive to productivity. You will lose energy and risk burnout. When you’re working longer hours, you may tend to work less urgently. But, when you have fewer hours available to get your work done, you’ll focus more intently and become more productive of necessity. People who work 35 to 40 hours each week are more productive than those who work longer hours.
  8. “Energy enlightenment” – Every person has what author Sam Carpenter – in his book Work the System – calls a “biological prime time” (BPT). This is when people have the most energy, operate most effectively and are most productive. Individual BPTs vary. Some people are early birds. Others are night owls. Author Chris Bailey finds that he has two BPTs: 10 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Schedule your most crucial, most challenging work – your Rule of 3 tasks – for your BPT.
  9. “Ready for prime time” – To discover your BPT, monitor your “energy levels” for a couple of weeks or at least a few days. Log every hour of every day. During this tracking period, avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and any additional stimulants, because they affect your energy levels. Likewise, don’t use an alarm to wake up. Instead, go to bed at whatever time seems most natural and get up whenever you awaken.
  10. “Cleaning house” – Maintenance tasks – shopping, laundry, cleaning, yard work – don’t generate any income, but you’ve still got to do them. If it’s practical, do all your maintenance tasks the same day – your “maintenance day.” That lets you focus on your priority tasks the rest of the week.
  11. “Highest-return tasks” deserve most of your time – Give your “real” work the majority of your time, attention and energy. Give less impetus to “low-return” tasks such as conference calls, email, website maintenance and meetings.
  12. “Shrinking the unimportant” – Parkinson’s Law says that work always expands to take up all the time you make available for its completion. This is especially true for low-return maintenance tasks. They’re “work candy” – easy to do and quick to finish. They give you a great sense of satisfaction but a false sense of productivity. When feasible, cut back on low-return tasks. See if you can reduce meetings, phone calls and projects that demand your time but involve you only tangentially.
  13. “Removing the unimportant” – Whenever possible, delegate. Some low-return – but time-consuming – maintenance tasks don’t require your direct involvement. Figure out what your time is worth and how much time a specific low-return task takes. If it makes financial sense, delegate it to someone who will do it for money. You can also pay someone to do both professional and personal tasks. Recruit qualified freelancers, and pay them well. You’ll get the best workers and spend less time training and coordinating them.
  14. “Emptying your brain” – The purpose of your brain is to figure things out, answer problems and come up with new ideas. Don’t use it as a mental storage facility for accumulated tasks, goals, plans, ideas and bits of information. Retaining all that data in your head is a stressful, losing proposition. Productivity expert David Allen explains, “Your head is not for holding ideas; it’s for having ideas.” To free your mind, do a “brain dump” and externalize your to-do list, planning calendar and other reminders. Keep notepads available to jot down new goals, tasks and ideas as they come up.
  15. “Adding in hot spots” – To get the best picture of your life, how you are trying to improve it and what you want it to be like in the future, view your tasks, plans, goals and activities from “10,000 feet” up. Gain this perspective by using Meier’s concept of hot spots. Think of hot spots as “the portfolio of your life.” Segment your to-do lists and other lists into these seven hot-spot categories: “mind, body, emotions, career, finances, relationships” and “fun.” This gives you a helpful bird’s-eye view of everything you’re doing and planning.
  16. “Becoming more deliberate” – On average, people can focus their attention on a task only 53% of the time. Then, their minds start to wander. Take steps to build your “attention muscle.” Neuroscientists explain that exerting attention involves the thinking and planning part of your brain – the “central executive”– plus the brain’s focusing and awareness functions. Develop both parts to strengthen your ability to pay attention.
  17. “The art of doing one thing” – To build your attention, focus on a single task. This is the opposite of multitasking, which is never productive. When you “single task,” you rivet your attention to only one thing. Use the “Pomodoro Technique” to single task: Intently focus on one task for 25 minutes; take a five-minute break. When you complete four 25-minute work sessions, take a 15-minute break. Repeat this throughout your day.
  18. “Attention hijackers” – You face a million daily interruptions: emails, instant messages, phone calls, computer alerts, Facebook notifications, and more. Every time one of these steals your attention, it can take 25 minutes to regain your focus. The research firm Basex reports that interruptions and the necessary recovery periods rob workers of 28% of their work time. To avoid these productivity killers, turn off alerts and notifications.
  19. “Making room” – When you’re at work, you don’t want your mind to wander. At other times, a wandering mind can become a positive asset. For example, many people come up with their best ideas when they’re in the shower, where ideas are free to “bubble up” to the surface. Occasionally make time for your mind to wander – but do it strategically.
  20. “Why the Internet is killing your productivity” – The Internet, one of the modern era’s primary disruptors, can waste your time and ruin your productivity. Many routine tasks and activities are not fun or sexy; nevertheless, you must do them. In marked contrast, the Internet, with its endless intriguing sites and attractions, is fun and super-sexy. Your routine tasks can’t compete with the web for your interest and attention. The Internet will win every time. Use the same strategy with the Internet as with all electronic attention hijackers: Turn it off when you must focus on an important task or project.
  21. “Meditation” – To be productive, you need to be in control of your mental processes. Such control enables deliberation and intentionality – essential requirements for productivity. Meditation takes charge of your mental processes, including attention. To meditate, find a quiet place, sit straight in a chair, use a timer to measure your meditation time (start with five minutes), turn your attention exclusively to your breathing and passively observe your breath. When your attention wanders from breathing (it will), refocus. That’s all meditation requires.
  22. “Refueling” – You need to feel energetic to be productive, and the food you eat is fuel for your energy. The foods that support productivity are the same foods you should eat to maintain good health. Follow two dietary rules for good health and maximum energy: First, let unprocessed foods form the bulk of your diet and, second, stop eating as soon as you are full. If that’s not how you normally eat, try to change. Making minor, incremental changes to your diet is the most reliable way to achieve long-term dietary success.
  23. “Drinking for energy” – Drinking coffee gives you a temporary energy boost. The problem is that you steal this energy from yourself later in the day when you crash from your caffeine high. You will experience the same thing with alcohol. Drinking coffee and alcohol together only exacerbates the energy loss that comes from “borrowing energy from tomorrow.” Consume coffee strategically, for example, shortly before you deliver an important presentation or start a major project. To bolster your energy and your health, drink plenty of water. The recommendation is eight cups daily. When you drink water, it turbocharges your metabolism, helps you lose weight and boosts your energy.
  24. “The exercise pill” – You will achieve a tremendous productivity payoff from exercise. Author John Ratey writes in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “If exercise came in pill form, it would be plastered across the front page, hailed as the blockbuster drug of the century.” If exercise is new to you, start small and build up. Spend 15 minutes walking to elevate your heart rate. If 15 minutes is too much exercise initially, cut the time to whatever seems right for you.
  25. “Sleeping your way to productivity” – About half of the people in the United States suffer sleep deprivation. To maintain energy, everyone needs seven to nine hours of sleep. Don’t shortchange your sleep to squeeze a little more time out of each day. Every hour of sleep you lose translates to two or more hours of lost productivity. To get enough sleep, set up a “nighttime ritual.” Starting at the same time every night, go through a customized routine to let go of the day and ease into restful sleep. Take a nap during the day to recharge your batteries. The blue light from electronic devices sabotages restful sleep, so shut off your electronic devices a few hours before you go to bed.

Be Happy

Happy people are productive people, so strive to be happy. To increase your happiness, periodically reward yourself as you work. After you complete a big project, do something nice for yourself. Buy yourself a gift, or enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant.

“People like Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall and Steve Jobs all willed into existence some of the most brilliant ideas and inventions humanity has seen – and they had the exact same 24 hours every day that we do.”

Increase your energy by taking regular breaks. The more breaks you take, the more energetic you’ll feel. As your energy goes up, so will the deliberative nature of your work.

Create a positive feedback loop: As productivity increases, so does happiness. As happiness grows, so does productivity. “Investing in your happiness and being kind to yourself can have a huge impact on your productivity.”


Working to increase your productivity should not make you miserable; rather, incorporating at least one of these changes into your routine should help you get more rest, improve your mood, and encourage you to take care of your physical health. Most importantly, you should focus on your happiness and make changes that increase your joy — happier people tend to be more productive and motivated.

Remember to disconnect from hard work every now and again, and to reflect on the happy things in your life that help you keep going.

Remember these tips to jumpstart your productivity journey:

  1. Think about your daily and weekly goals in sets of threes, instead of staring at a full page of chores.
  2. Find your Biological Prime Time (BPT): the time when you have the most energy to dedicate to tasks that require considerable focus.
  3. Make a habit of creating written lists of tasks, action items you’re waiting on, and even things you’re worrying about to declutter your brain.
  4. Focus on engaging your prefrontal cortex instead of giving control to your limbic system by procrastinating.
  5. Stop multitasking and limit your use of electronic devices, especially during your BPT.
  6. Practice letting your mind wander and prioritize giving yourself more time to daydream.
  7. Try to slowly tweak your diet, exercise, and sleep schedule to see what makes you feel best and perform at an optimal level.

About Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey spent a year experimenting with as many productivity tricks and tools as he could, and he documented it all on his blog, A Year of Productivity. Since then, Bailey has written hundreds of articles about productivity and given a number of talks, including one for TEDx Talks. Bailey is a graduate of Carleton University.

Chris Bailey is an author and productivity consultant. During his year-long productivity project, he wrote more than 216,000 words (864 pages) about productivity in his blog, A Year of Productivity.

Chris Bailey, a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, wrote over 216,000 words on the subject of productivity on his blog,, during a year long productivity project where he conducted intensive research, as well as dozens of productivity experiments on himself to discover how to become as productive as possible. To date, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject, and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as The New York Times, The Huffington Post, New York magazine, TED, Fast Company, and Lifehacker.


Professional Skills, Productivity, Self Help, Personal Development, Psychology, Business, Management, Leadership, Employees Attitudes, Macroeconomics, Organization and Time Management Skills, Organizational Behavior, Self-Improvement, Stress and Anxiety Management, Motivation, Self-Esteem

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
A New Definition of Productivity 9

Part 1 Laying the Groundwork
1 Where to Start 19
2 Not All Tasks Are Created Equal 27
3 Three Daily Tasks 36
4 Ready for Prime Time 43

Part 2 Wasting Time
5 Cozying Up to Ugly Tasks 55
6 Meet Yourself … From the Future 69
7 Why the Internet Is Killing Your Productivity 76

Part 3 The End of Time Management
8 The Time Economy 87
9 Working Less 93
10 Energy Enlightenment 101
11 Cleaning House 109

Part 4 The Zen of Productivity
12 The Zen of Productivity 119
13 Shrinking the Unimportant 123
14 Removing the Unimportant 134

Part 5 Quiet Your Mind
15 Emptying Your Brain 147
16 Rising Up 160
17 Making Room 168

Part 6 The Attention Muscle
18 Becoming More Deliberate 179
19 Attention Hijackers 184
20 The Art of Doing One Thing 190
21 The Meditation Chapter 201

Part 7 Taking Productivity to the Next Level
22 Refueling 215
23 Drinking for Energy 225
24 The Exercise Pill 236
25 Sleeping Your Way to Productivity 245

Part 8 The Final Step
26 The Final Step 255

Afterword: One Year Later 271
Acknowledgments 273
Notes 275
Index 285


A fresh, personal, and entertaining exploration of a topic that concerns all of us: how to be more productive at work and in every facet of our lives.

Chris Bailey turned down lucrative job offers to pursue a lifelong dream—to spend a year performing a deep dive experiment into the pursuit of productivity, a subject he had been enamored with since he was a teenager. After obtaining his business degree, he created a blog to chronicle a year-long series of productivity experiments he conducted on himself, where he also continued his research and interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts, from Charles Duhigg to David Allen. Among the experiments that he tackled: Bailey went several weeks with getting by on little to no sleep; he cut out caffeine and sugar; he lived in total isolation for 10 days; he used his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months; he gained ten pounds of muscle mass; he stretched his work week to 90 hours; a late riser, he got up at 5:30 every morning for three months—all the while monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work.

The Productivity Project—and the lessons Chris learned—are the result of that year-long journey. Among the counterintuitive insights Chris Bailey will teach you:

  • slowing down to work more deliberately;
  • shrinking or eliminating the unimportant;
  • the rule of three;
  • striving for imperfection;
  • scheduling less time for important tasks;
  • the 20 second rule to distract yourself from the inevitable distractions;
  • and the concept of productive procrastination.

In an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging read, Bailey offers a treasure trove of insights and over 25 best practices that will help you accomplish more.


“Chris Bailey has tackled the daunting task of personally experimenting with any and every technique you can imagine that could positively affect your productivity. His dedication to the project and his intelligent conclusions, combined with his candor and articulateness, make this a fun, interesting, and useful read!” — David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

“Chris Bailey might be the most productive man you’d ever hope to meet.” — TED Blog

“Here’s a book that promises, in the title, to pay for itself. And, the truth is, it will, in just a few days. And you’ll even enjoy the journey.” — Seth Godin, Author of Linchpin

“Chris has written the ultimate guidebook for setting your life on fire. Read it, and you’ll not only get more done, you’ll feel better about it too.” — Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It

“So often we get stuck just doing what we have always done, even if it’s not really working. This book helps you cut through all the productivity advice out there to find and test what really works for you.” — Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage

“The Productivity Project is well-written, fun, practical and useful all at the same time. I loved this book. It’s practical Buddhism at its best!” — Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of Triggers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Chris doesn’t just want you to be more productive. He wants you to live a better life. This book is a two-hour ticket to not only becoming more productive, but becoming genuinely happier.” —Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Takeaway: Everyone likes the idea of becoming more productive and making positive changes to his or her life. But in practice, both are tough, and having a deep, meaningful reason for becoming more productive will help you sustain your motivation in the long run.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes, 40 seconds

A Dream Come True

Before each chapter, I’ve included a takeaway of what you’ll get out of it, so you can prime your mind for what’s to come. I’ve also included an estimate of how long it will take you to read each chapter, based on an average reading speed of 250 words per minute.

I have been enchanted with the idea of becoming an early riser since I can remember. Before starting my project, I would frequently daydream about waking up just a few minutes before my alarm clock sounded at 5:30, propelling myself out of bed to ritualistically prepare a coffee, catch up on the news that had taken place overnight, meditate, and go for a morning run before the rest of the world woke up. In my daydream I also woke up beside Mila Kunis, but that’s for another book.

Suffice it to say, when I started A Year of Productivity, I was determined to wake up at 5:30 every morning—even if it took me all year.

Before my project, as obsessed as I was with productivity, my nighttime and morning routines couldn’t have been less conducive to an early morning routine. After I would finish working for the day (as efficiently as possible, naturally), I would often lose track of time reading, hanging out with friends, or soaking in online cosmology lectures until I was either out of time or energy for the evening. As much as I was in love with the idea of rising early, becoming an early riser would have meant completely changing my nighttime rituals and morning routines, which felt like more than I could handle.

Of all the productivity experiments I conducted during my year of productivity, waking up at 5:30 was easily the most challenging. At first, I found that my 9:30 target bedtime snuck up faster and faster, and that I often had to make the choice: pack things in earlier in the day when I still had lots to do, or stay up late to get everything done and sleep in later. I sometimes found myself going to bed right when I had the most energy, focus, and creativity—I’m a natural late-night person—and so I decided to stay up later. I also wanted to hang out with my friends and my girlfriend when I was finished researching and writing for the day, which would have been impossible if I headed to bed early.

After about six months of chipping away at countless habits to integrate an early morning routine into my life, I settled into a new wake‑up ritual, one where I rewarded myself for waking up early (page 132), shut off my devices from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. (page 186), quit drinking caffeine at noon (page 228), and eased into the ritual by gradually moving my bedtime earlier over the course of a couple of months (page 248). I’ll explain these tactics in detail later on, but needless to say, this was one of those experiments where I learned a lot of valuable lessons the hard way.

Nonetheless, six months in, I had done it: I had woken up at 5:30 every weekday morning for several weeks and settled into a new morning ritual. My morning routine was the stuff I imagined productivity dreams are made of:

5:30–6:00: Wake up; prepare and drink a coffee.

6:00–7:15: Walk to the gym; plan out my entire day while working out.

7:15–8:15: Make a big, healthy breakfast; shower; meditate.

8:15: Reconnect to the internet (after my daily shutoff ritual).

8:15–9:00: Read.

9:00–: Begin working.

I continued to follow the ritual for several months afterward, religiously powering down my devices every night at 8 p.m., heading to bed at 9:30, and waking up promptly at 5:30, feeling virtuous and pleased with my efforts until, one Monday morning, I realized something that stopped me cold in my tracks. I absolutely hated going to bed and waking up early.

After my initial excitement over my new routine wore off, I found myself growing tired of saying no to hanging out with my friends, simply because I had to head to bed early. I couldn’t stand quitting work when I was “in the zone” late at night. Every morning I found I felt groggy for the first hour or two I was awake. And I discovered I much preferred to meditate, work out, read, and plan out my day later on in the day, when I had more energy and attention to bring to the tasks.

Worst of all, the ritual didn’t make me more productive. With my new routine, I found I accomplished what I intended to a lot less often, wrote fewer words on average per day, and had less energy and focus throughout the day. And after doing the research, I discovered that there is absolutely no difference in socioeconomic standing between someone who is an early riser and someone who is a night owl—we are all wired differently, and one routine is not inherently better than another. It’s what you do with your waking hours, I discovered, that makes the difference in how productive you are (I talk more about this on page 250).

As much as I adored the idea of waking up early, in practice I liked waking up later much more.

Productivity with a Purpose

I think the same is true of productivity itself. Everyone likes the idea of taking on more and making positive changes to their life. But in practice, becoming more productive is one of the toughest things you can undertake to do. If it were easy, I probably wouldn’t have dedicated a year of my life to exploring the topic, and there would be no reason for this book to exist.

Though I learned a great many productivity lessons from this yearlong experiment, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was just how important it is to deeply care about why you want to become more productive.

If I were reading this book instead of writing it, that last sentence is one I might have glossed over, so I think it’s worth repeating: perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from this experiment was just how important it is to deeply care about your productivity goals, about why you want to become more productive.

When I committed to turning my morning and nighttime routines inside out to wake up at 5:30 every morning, I didn’t think much about whether I deeply cared about waking up early. I was in love with the sepia-toned fantasy of being the “productivity guy” who rose while everyone else was still sleeping and got more done than everyone else. I didn’t think much about what it would take to make that a reality, or about whether I actually cared about what was involved in making that change on a deeper level.

Working deliberately and purposefully throughout the day can make or break how productive you are. But having a purpose is just as important. The intention behind your actions is like the shaft behind an arrowhead—it’s pretty difficult to become more productive day in and day out when you don’t care about what you want to accomplish on a deeper level. This productivity insight is by far the least sexy tip in this book, but it may be the most important. Investing countless hours becoming more productive, or taking on new habits or routines, is a waste if you don’t actually care about the changes you’re trying to make. And you won’t have the motivation to sustain these changes in the long term.

Sexy Values

The reason I have continued to research and explore productivity over the last decade is that productivity is connected with so many things I value at a deep level: efficiency, meaning, control, discipline, growth, freedom, learning, staying organized. These values are what motivate me to spend so much of my leisure time reading and seeking out online science lectures.

Waking up at 5:30 every morning? Not so much.

A long procession of people before me have written about “acting in accordance with your values,” and to be honest, whenever I’ve read those kinds of statements about values, I have almost always tuned out, or simply read on. Unlike Mila Kunis, values are anything but sexy. But they are most definitely worth thinking about when you’re planning on making major changes to your life. If I had taken just a few minutes to think about how waking up early was connected with what I deeply cared about—not at all—I could have saved myself months of willpower and sacrifice and done something much more productive with that time. Questioning why you want to make a change to your life can save you countless hours or even days of time, when you discover that you don’t really want to make the change in the first place.

The Practical Part

I know right now you’re deep in “reading mode” and aren’t eager to stop reading and perform a quick challenge, despite how much more productive doing so will make you.

But making the jump between knowing and doing is what productivity is all about.

Let’s gently transition from “reading” into “doing” and try the first productivity challenge of the book. Don’t worry, it’s a lot easier than you think: most of the challenges in this book will take you less than ten minutes, and all you need for most of them is a pen and a sheet or two of paper. There isn’t a challenge in every chapter, but I have added them when I think they will be worth your time. I know your time is the most valuable and limited resource you have, and I promise I won’t waste any of it. For every minute you spend on these challenges, I promise you’ll make that time back at least ten times over.

Ready to go?

Go ahead and grab yourself a pen and paper, and then read on.

The Values Challenge

Time required: 7 minutes

Energy/Focus Required: 6/10

Value: 8/10

Fun: 3/10

What you’ll get out of it: Access to your deeper reasons for becoming more productive. If you’re using the tactics in this book to take more on, you could potentially save countless hours by only focusing on the productivity goals you care about. The return on this challenge can be massive.

I know that if I simply suggested you make a list of your deepest-held values and then create a plan how to act in accordance with them, you’d either put down this book to write a negative review on Amazon, or skip ahead to see what other productivity tips I have up my sleeve.

For that reason, I’ve instead selected a few very simple questions for you to ask yourself that I’ve found helpful when examining new routines and habits. I’ve personally done every single one of the challenges in this book and can vouch for their efficacy. They work. I’m not just pulling them out of the ether to waste your time. To start with:

Imagine this: As a result of implementing the tactics in this book, you have two more hours of leisure time every day. How will you use that time? What new things will you take on? What will you spend more time on?

When you picked up this book, what productivity goals, or new habits, routines, or rituals did you have in mind that you wanted to take on?

Here are some important questions regarding your values and goals to think about.

Go deep. Ask yourself: What deep-rooted values are associated with your productivity goals? Why do you want to become more productive? If you find yourself coming up with a lot of values you deeply care about (like meaning, community, relationships, freedom, learning, etc.), chances are you care about the goal on a deep personal level, and the change you have in mind is probably worth making. If you find yourself blustering your way through this exercise, maybe a particular change or goal isn’t in tune with your values and is not really all that important to you. (Google “list of values” for a few great lists to start with.)

If thinking about values is too daunting to you, fill in this blank with each change you want to make: I deeply care about this because _____. Spin off as many reasons as you can to determine whether you care about each change on a deeper level.

Another quick shortcut to determine if a change is meaningful to you: fast-forward to when you’re on your deathbed. Ask yourself: Would I regret doing more or less of this?

I believe the point of greater productivity is to carve out more time for the things that are actually meaningful to you.

But tasks and commitments aren’t valuable only because they are meaningful to you. They can also be valuable because they have a significant impact in your work.

Not All Tasks Are Created Equal

Takeaway: Not all tasks are created equal; there are certain tasks in your work that, for every minute you spend on them, let you accomplish more than your other tasks. Taking a step back from your work to identify your highest-impact tasks will let you invest your time, attention, and energy in the right things.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes, 47 seconds

Meditating for Thirty-Five Hours

I learned the hard way how important it was to slow down and work more deliberately when I abandoned my meditation practice. So I decided to conduct an experiment to get to the bottom of just how much meditation and slowing down impacted my productivity—and designed an experiment to meditate for thirty-five hours over six days.

As a seasoned meditator I was no stranger to meditating for long stretches of time. Before the experiment, I had meditated for thirty minutes every day for several years, practiced meditation with my Buddhist meditation group every week, and attended an occasional meditation retreat, where I lived in total silence for days at a time while meditating with other attendees for five or six hours every day.

Thirty-five hours of meditation in a week would be a lot for even our old friend the seasoned monk, who takes an hour to do anything. But I was too curious not to do it. To spice things up, throughout the week I also performed the same simple chores and tasks I would usually undertake, but in a mindful state.

While running the experiment, I tried my best to remain as productive as possible during the time when I wasn’t meditating, so I could observe the day-to-day effects of meditation on my energy levels, focus, and productivity.