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The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – Book Notes, Summary, Review

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – Book Notes, Summary, Review - Cover Image

Published: January 15, 2021

Reading Time: 13 min


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Reading The Productivity Project showed me that being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. When we are productive we are accomplishing the right things that we intentionally set out to work on.

Each productivity experiment the author undertakes is detailed using his personal experiences to great effect. This allows us, the reader, to better understand how each one could impact our lives if we were to try them.

This book is well suited to those new to the concept of productivity and looking to dip their toes in the water.

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Who Should Read This Book?

I would recommend this book to anyone totally new to productivity. With that said, I would suggest you read Getting Things Done first.

The Productivity Project book contains a lot of core productivity concepts that would be useful for getting started with becoming a more productive person.

It is a practical book that gives you a good way to dip your toes into popular productivity “hacks” to see what they are like.

With that said though, most of the concepts in this book are discussed at length in lots of other productivity or self-help books.

So if you’ve been around the block and have read several books in this area (productivity), there might not be a lot of new things here for you to learn.

Without being overly negative of this book, an excellent feature in the book is the exercises that are included at the end of each chapter. This allows you to follow along with the author and get a feel for each ”productivity lesson”. That way you can understand what methods might work for you.

Also, if you are interested in the story behind the book and how the author Chris Bailey conducted his year of productivity experiments, then there is certainly a lot of detail about that in this book.

How This Book Changed Me

I have to honestly say that there wasn’t too much in this book that was new to me.

As someone who has now read many productivity and self-help books and articles, as well as listening to dozens of podcasts on the subject, there wasn’t a whole lot that I hadn’t heard before.

With that said, if this book did nothing else, it cemented the argument for a lot of “productivity methods” or “productivity ideas” that I had learned about and have been practicing for some time now.

I also did enjoy the author’s story of his year of productivity experiment and found that element of the book quite compelling and enjoyable to read.

My Top 3 Quotes That Resonated With Me

“Productivity isn’t about doing more things – it’s about doing the right things.”

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – p40

“The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself.”

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – p75

“Energy is the fuel you burn throughout the day in order to be productive, and without it, your productivity is toast.”

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey – p231

Book Notes

A New Definition Of Productivity

  • Desire paths – pathways are deliberately not built. Instead, as people walk through an area a common pathway will emerge based on where people naturally walk.

A Meditation On Productivity

  • Meditation involves sitting still on a chair or a cushion and observing your breath.
  • When your mind starts to wander away to other things, bring your attention back to your breath.
  • Over time you’ll get better at this – with practice.

The Monk And The Cocaine-Fueled Stock Trader

  • The most productive people work fast enough to get their tasks done, but slow enough to understand what’s important and then work with intention.

The Three Ingredients Of Productivity

  • Being productive is about managing your time, attention, and energy effectively.
  • Getting enough sleep requires more time, but it helps maintain your energy and attention.

Part One – Laying The Groundwork

Productivity With A Purpose

  • It is important to learn why you want to be more productive. This will continue to give you the motivation to work at it.

Not All Tasks Are Created Equal

  • Some tasks are more important than others at providing you with the most value.
  • By identifying your highest-impact tasks you can prioritize your time, attention, and energy on the right things.

Measuring Productivity

  • When considering how productive you are you should ask yourself: did I get done what I intended to?
  • If you’ve accomplished what you set out to do each day then you’re being productive.

Working Smarter

  • By carefully planning your week, this will help you to manage your time, energy, and attention. This, in turn, will help you to accomplish more.

Your Most Important Tasks

  • The Pareto Principle – 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort/work
  • With this principle in mind, completing a small number of tasks will help you accomplish the majority of the work.

The Rule Of 3

  • When you sit down each morning, write down the 3 things you want to have accomplished at the end of the day.
  • 3 is a good number because it’s not overwhelming and allows you to move the needle providing you’ve prioritized your tasks well.
  • At the end of the day, reflect on how realistic those tasks/accomplishments were.
  • Did you allocate enough time? Were the tasks too big to get done?
  • By reflecting on your work each day, you can become better at estimating your tasks

Biological Prime Time

  • BPT (Biological Prime Time) – this is when you are optimally focused. This time is different for everyone.
  • By making note of your energy levels throughout the day, you can determine when your BPT is and schedule your highest-impact tasks i.e. those that are more cognitively demanding.
  • By rearranging your tasks based on your energy levels you can work smarter not harder.

A Day In Your Life

  • Every few months (maybe once a quarter) track your time to understand how effectively your time management is.
  • Keeping a time log also allows you to document your level of focus throughout the day.
  • Simply check-in each hour and write down what you’re doing as well as your focus levels.
  • This can allow you to determine why you might be procrastinating so you can tweak things.
  • Time tracking can also encourage you to maintain focus. You want to ensure you’re tracking your best time.

Part Two – Wasting Time

Cozying Up To Ugly Tasks

  • Your most important tasks are often the most intimidating to work on. They require more time, attention, and energy than low impact tasks.

The Six Triggers Of Procrastination

  • The more unappealing a task is, the more likely you are to put it off.
  • Unattractive task attributes:
    • Boring
    • Frustrating
    • Difficult
    • Unstructured or ambiguous
    • Lacking in personal meaning
    • Lacking in intrinsic rewards (not fun)
  • The more of these attributes a task has, the more likely you’ll be to procrastinate on it.
  • The next time you face a task that you are procrastinating on, consider how you can reverse some or all of these unattractive attributes. This should help to motivate you to get working on the task.

Part Three – The End Of Time Management


  • In the time economy, we traded our time for money.
  • In the knowledge economy, we trade much more than time. Most people trade their time, attention, energy, skills, knowledge, and ultimately productivity for a paycheck.

Today, time is no longer money. Productivity is money. Page 98

Two Huge Lessons

  • By controlling the time you spend on a task, you also control the attention and energy you spend on it.
  • Simply measuring how busy you are isn’t a good way to see how productive you are. We can all be busy without necessarily being productive.

For Important Things, Spend Less Time

  • Limiting the amount of time you spend on a task can often help you get them done and avoid procrastination.
  • By doing this you’ve made the task more structured, less boring, and less difficult. Here you’ve flipped the procrastination triggers on their heads.
  • Also, by setting a deadline, you can be motivated to work towards that deadline as a sense of urgency has been created.
  • This topic was also mentioned in a recent article I read: How To Use Parkinson’s Law To Your Advantage.

Extreme Makeover: Taxes Edition

If the task is:

  • Boring – go to a café to do your work
  • Frustrating – set a timer for your work – try the Pomodoro technique
  • Difficult – Research and understand what you have to do before you do it
  • Unstructured or ambiguous – Create a detailed plan outlining each step to carry out
  • Lacking in personal meaning – think about the meaning behind why you’re doing that task
  • Lacking in intrinsic rewards – treat yourself when you accomplish your task

Three More Ways To Regain Control Over Your Brain

  1. Create a procrastination list
    • By creating a list of tasks you can do the next time you procrastinate, you can procrastinate productively.
    • By giving your brain a choice to work on one of two tasks, you’re ensuring that either one you pick will be of high impact.
  2. List the costs
    • Simply list out the costs of putting something off. This will help to convince you to work on the task.
  3. Just get started
    • Set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes and just work to that
    • Consider Emmett’s Law: The dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than doing the task itself. (p75)

The Difference Between You And Taylor Swift

  • If you imagine your future self as a stranger, you are more likely to give your future self more work i.e. put off work until tomorrow.
  • The prefrontal cortex causes us to not consider our future selves when we make decisions.

Getting In Touch

It’s so easy to commit your future self to things your current self wouldn’t want to do. We call this a ‘planning fallacy’.

Hal Hershfield – p81

  • By doing the rule of 3 technique in the morning, you are making a plan with your future self in mind. By thinking about the end of the day and what you want to accomplish you can make a better plan for the day.

The Zen Of Disconnecting

  • By disconnecting from the internet to work on unappealing tasks, you’re less likely to get distracted.

Your Prime Time In Action

  • To determine when your BPT is:
    • set an hourly alarm on your phone and make note of your energy levels
    • This will give you an insight into your energy levels at various stages of the day
    • Then with this data, you can understand the optimal times to work on your high impact tasks and when to schedule low impact tasks.

What I Do On Maintenance Day

  • By batching your “maintenance tasks” into one day you can get them all done that day. This will allow you to focus on your more important tasks for the rest of the week.
  • Create a maintenance list to work from to allow you to work more effectively.
  • This concept of task batching has come up in a number of other articles I’ve read including: The Secret Power of ‘Read It Later’ Apps.

The End Of Time Management

  • The most productive people prioritize their energy and attention over how they manage their time.
  • Of course, some time management is needed to work around others but overall this allows you to work more effectively without burning out.

Part Five – Quiet Your Mind

  • Externalizing your tasks by writing them down will help you to free up mental space. This brain dump will motivate you into action.
  • This concept is also featured in a lot of other books and articles I’ve read, most notably in Getting Things Done.
  • The Zeigarnik is yet another concept referenced in Getting Things Done as well as almost every other productivity article I’ve read recently.


  • Consider adding these questions to your weekly review:
    • What do I need to spend more time on next week?
    • What did I spend too much time on last week?
    • What obstacles will get in the way of my goals next week?
  • These questions will help you to plan out the week ahead with your most important areas top of mind.
  • I recently restarted my weekly review process so these questions might be useful.

Part Six – The Attention Muscle

Attention Hijackers

  • Removing distractions before they happen can help to prevent interruptions.
  • These interruptions can be costly in terms of your attention when they happen so it’s best to eliminate them when your working.
  • Consider turning off your phone or putting it in airplane mode. Or even moving it into another room when you’re working.

The Meditation Chapter

  • Another case for the benefits of meditation!
  • It makes you calmer, happier, and more focused
  • Mindfulness is the art of deliberately doing one thing at a time.

Part Seven – Taking Productivity To The Next Level

For The Love Of Water

  • Drinking water first thing in the morning can fire up your metabolism faster.
  • It also partially fills your stomach so you generally don’t need to eat as much.
  • There are certainly a lot of benefits to drinking more water so it’s important to make an effort to do so.

Part Eight – The Final Step

Tactics to take away from this book:

  1. disconnect from productivity more often
  2. recall three things you’re grateful for each day
  3. journal about a positive experience you had
  4. break tasks down
  5. ask yourself for advice – by being objective you can work through your problem
  6. reward yourself
  7. Know you can grow
  8. create an accomplishments list
  9. look at pictures of cute baby animals

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