Work Better, Not Harder

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and EnergyThe Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The danger of books on productivity is that they seduce you to spend more time on reading about productivity than actually producing. Fortunately, Chris Bailey had done much of the heaving lifting in his year long (and ongoing) study of productivity, a product of both extensive research and sometimes bizarre personal experimentation (e.g. working 90 hour weeks, drinking only water, and isolating himself completely for a month) to measure environmental impact on productivity. In the course of year, he summarized his findings in this tightly written manual and continues to do so on his blog.

Bailey's mantra is managing energy, focus, and time, with time a distant third. Time, after all, is fixed; what we mean by managing time is managing ourselves. This is not to discount the value of organization, but merely to point out that "managing our time" should be more aptly seen as maximizing our return in the time we have.

To that end, maintaining adequate energy to complete our tasks and adequate focus to avoid being distracted are key elements. Among Bailey's many insights, two of the most obvious but most overlooked are that the principal productivity killers in modern American life are lack of sleep and overwork.

Not only is it clear that lack of sleep — a common American disorder — impairs judgment, saps energy, and obscures focus, but also the Protestant Work Ethic fails to take account of the law of diminishing returns. Bailey quotes studies that find, for example, that after 60 hours of work, "in order to accomplish one more hour of work, you need to work two hours of overtime." Another study finds that after 55 hours, most people accomplish nothing at all. In fact, from a productivity standpoint, the ideal work week is 35 hours. pp. 97-98. None of this, of course, takes into account the fact that people who claim to put in 80 hours of work a week are generally lying.

Bailey's approach is to work better not simply work more. The reward is that when you maximize the returns of work, you leave more time for the things that matter most to you, and if you don't know what those are, you are missing the point entirely.

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