Issue #83
#83 - Let's ̶G̶e̶t̶ ̶P̶r̶o̶d̶u̶c̶t̶i̶v̶e̶!̶ ̶ Ask What It Means To Be Productive
September 15, 2023

#83 - Let's Get Productive! Ask What It Means To Be Productive

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”
- Peter Drucker

Folks, your faithful curators are on the move this week.

Usman, just back to Dubai, moves into a new place later this month. And on Friday I moved from one home to another in Singapore. By Sunday afternoon I was feeling it 🥱, and this Tweet about Red Bull and Monster energy drinks had me salivating 🥤:

Provocative! I even asked ChatGPT to come up with names for the drink. (I loved "9toThrive" and "PromPotion". My own: "I Just Perk Here". 🤣 🤣)

But as a card-carrying member of this "productivity-chasing professional-managerial class" who writes a weekly newsletter to other members, it was also the prompt to dig into some of the latest thinking around personal productivity. Not into checkbox hustles and the latest to-do-list app ❌ . But into a more elevated dance with efficiency. ✅ Literally, in some cases:

🎯 Story #1 - No surprise that one of the productivity trends we found was in Silicon Valley, whose work cultures are so often on the cutting edge. Still, learning that people were injecting themselves with ketamine in their quest to be more productive was a bit...👀. Let's look at what's at play.

🎯 Story #2 - We've got some research to share, and it's good news for most of us: a ton of data from diverse fields suggest that "giving it your 85%" may actually be more productive than giving it your all. 🤔 Here's why, in Story #2.

🎯 Story #3 - A 2021 book that landed on multiple 'best of the year' lists has a novel take on productivity. It asks us to check traditional productivity at the door, and offers a vision that manages to be sobering and inspiring at the same time. (No energy drinks or ketamine required). ⬇️

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a fantastic week!

Aki + Usman


#Productivity #Edge #Ketatation

First, a summary of this read on people experimenting with ketamine as a means of achieving more. Then we'll get into what it might mean.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Santa Cruz, California, and the seven women and one man in the group lie down on fluffy blankets and pillows and slip on eye masks. Then they each lift a sleeve so that John Grady, an osteopathic doctor, can inject their shoulder with 100 milligrams of ketamine.
Ketamine, which the US Drug Enforcement Administration describes as a “dissociative anesthetic hallucinogen", distorts users’ senses and makes them feel detached from their bodies.
The participants are largely mid-career professionals—a nonprofit director, a chemist, an executive coach, a midwife—some engaging in their first psychedelic experience. On their minds are questions of work-life balance and how to show up best for themselves and their families.
It’s also gaining popularity as a way to maximize professional performance, in a trend similar to Silicon Valley’s embrace several years ago of microdosing LSD. In professional circles where optimization is sought at every opportunity, it makes sense for people to regard ketamine as a new method of approaching the project of themselves.

The last line of the summary is revealing: many of us grapple with the constant desire to optimize that it refers to; the desire to do more with less, to be more efficient and productive. And the article makes clear that for people experimenting with ketamine, the assumption is that "we" are the lever. There is no mention of our calendars or to-do list software.

There's also the premise, throughout the article, that our personal and professional selves are intertwined; that they're both parts of one whole, and that each part impacts the other.

"Productivity 2.0" feels more elevated then, and a bit radical. I don't know if I'll be donning the eye mask and rolling up my sleeve just yet. But it's also inward-focused, and holistic. We'll see more of this trend in Story #3.


#Productivity #85Percent #LessIsMore

One of my dad's favorite refrains was to give 110% to everything I did -- or not to bother doing it at all. But this Wall Street Journal article squarely challenges that logic:

So many of us, raised in the gospel of hard work and max effort, were taught that what we put in was what we got out. Now, some coaches and corporate leaders have a new message. To be at your best, dial it back a bit.
The trick—be it in exercise, or anything—is to try for 85%. ​Aiming for perfection​ often makes us feel awful, ​burns us out​ and backfires. Instead, count the fact that you hit eight out of 10 of your targets this quarter as a win.

The read pulls in examples and research from different realms -- business, but also sports and exercise -- that call into question the ROI of giving everything 100%, all the time. Even machines seem to learn best when faced with 85% -- not maximum -- difficulty:

In a 2019 paper, researchers used machine learning to try to find the ideal difficulty level to learn new things. The neural network they created, meant to mimic the human brain, learned best when it was faced with queries set to 85% difficulty, meaning it got questions right 85% of the time.

We're excited to see research like this make the rounds because implied in this calculation of "What does it make sense to put in?" is asking, "What is the cost of what I put in?" and, "What benefit will I get from that investment?". In short, it's healthy to see a cost-benefit analysis.

So many of us came of age at work without ever asking questions like these. In part because it was so drilled into us (see: "Always give 110%."). But in part because the benefits of putting 100% effort into work might have reliably materialized over time.

But more recently we see young generations -- older ones, too -- beginning to question: "What does putting 100% of myself into work actually get me? And could I get more with my time elsewhere?".


#Productivity #4000Weeks #ThingsThatMatter

When my brother-in-law first recommended Oliver Burkeman's "​Four Thousand Weeks​", I flashed to this Tim Urban ​post​ and thought: "Oof, another reminder of just how little time we actually have left." 😮‍💨

To be fair, the premise of Burkeman's book is precisely that we all only have about ~4,000 weeks of time to work with:

The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. Given this limitation, it makes sense that the typical approach to time management is to seek ways to cram ever more into our finite number of days.

But this harsh math is just Burkeman's starting point. And he uses it to explore time management in a way I found inspiring, despite the morbid undertone. For Burkeman, traditional time management thinking is flawed, and instead of focusing on external productivity tips, we ought to change our internal mindset.

Why? Because the idea that we can accomplish everything we want is fantasy; and the reality is:

1) we won't ever finish everything we want to get done

2) every choice we make limits other -- potentially fulfilling -- options

3) our time is short, and running out

He explains:

Once you’re no longer kidding yourself that one day you’re going to become capable of doing everything that’s thrown at you, you get to make better decisions about which things you are going to focus on and which you’re going to neglect.

So for Burkeman, better we prioritize meaningful work and relationships, over miles-long to-do lists and efficiency hacks. Better we focus on what truly matters, and shift from a productivity-centered life to one that values presence, depth, and connection:

You can have efficiency in the absence of a deeper understanding of what it’s all for, which, ultimately, is to spend more of your limited time on things that matter deeply to you and less on things that don’t. A life spent chasing the mythical state of being able to do everything is less meaningful than a life of focusing on a few things that count.

Or to put things even more starkly:

You can make time for things that matter, or you can make time for more email.

Peter Drucker, the "father of modern management", was talking about widgets, but said much the same thing in the quote that opens this issue, back in 1963:

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Thanks for reading. 🙏

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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