Productivity advice for people who are exactly like me


  • Tools don’t matter. No system is Lindy-proof. All systems will break eventually.
  • Micro/clock-level/short term: if you want to defeat procrastination, the dragon to be slayed is intentionality. I claim that at any given point in time, there is exactly one thing that you are meant to do. The catch? It’s usually non trivial to figure out what that thing is. But when you do, it turns out to have been deceptively simple. It is easy to miss the forest for the trees. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind. They will tell you what needs to be done. Slowing down helps. Mindfulness is great. See Wu Wei. You must tame the unknown unknowns, and nurture them into known unknowns. How do you detect? Ugh fields are usually a sign. Most icky tasks are icky because you need to do some figuring before they are processing ready. Scoping is very broadly speaking helpful for reducing anxiety because you now know what to do and how long it will take. (ht Malcolm Ocean)
  • Macro/calendar time/long term: do things many times. For best results, do things many times in a row. Skills are cumulative. Your efforts will compound. Compounding is king. If you have to miss a day, that’s ok. But never skip two days. A week is good, a month great, a year amazing, and a decade => you have probably figured out what you want to be doing for the rest of your life (ht The One Thing - David Perellel). If you struggle with the idea of opportunity cost, you are not alone. FOMO is real.
  • At both the micro and macro levels, knowing what you want is more important than doing a lot of things without knowing why you want them. Pithily, the vector is more important than the magnitude. How do you figure out what you want?
    • Turn inwards to your core values. These are things you might struggle to vocalize, but recognize immediately to be true when pointed out about you by others. They are things your Mom will be able to notice about you. The things you have been enamored with since childhood. What brings you true delight? Life will never be completely devoid of suffering. What’s the meaning of life, then? It’s the suffering you are willing to undertake. (ht Mark Manson, although certainly not unique to him)
      • Mark has an example that strikes a chord with many. As a teenager, he thought he wanted to be a rockstar. Spoiler alert: he did not become a rockstar. It turns out he didn’t really want to live the life of a person who becomes a rockstar, only the outcome — the status and power that comes with being a rockstar. Yes, pun intended. This is the key distinction to notice — there are things that you like the idea of wanting, and things that you want and would stop at nothing to get.
  • Tension is key. You can get a lot done by having two things on your plate instead of one. [WIP]
  • Set timers to induce action. Thorny, unscoped, ambitious problem e.g. solve alignment? Set a 1 hour timer. Need to get over the initial hump of an ugh”-y task? Set a 5 minute timer. Ridiculously simple but cannot overstate how effective this is. (h/t Alexey)


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April 7, 2023