Book Review: The Little Book of ProductivitySeptember 10th, 2008 · 17 comments
Scott Young recently released a new eBook titled The Little Book of Productivity. The idea is simple: The volume of available information concerning “productivity” is overwhelming. (Scott’s blog alone has contributed close to 300 articles on the subject.) This eBook attempts to cut through the clutter and identify 99 of the best ideas. Each idea gets one page: some of this advice comes from Scott’s blog; some comes from other blogs; some is brand new.
Unlike related guides, such as Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done (affiliate link) or David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Scott does not attempt to construct a comprehensive system. Instead, he provides an arsenal of small ideas, and hopes, I assume, that readers will use this as a starting point for piecing together a custom system.
Scott divides his 99 ideas between seven chapters Below I list the chapters and provide a brief description for each, including what I liked and didn’t like. Keep in mind that the entire first chapter — Beating Procrastination — is available as a free download, so don’t just take my word for it, check out the content for yourself.
Chapter 1: Beating Procrastination
This chapter focuses on getting started. It’s advice spans from detailed time management techniques to big picture psychological questions. My favorite tip was to train your self-discipline like a muscle (a strategy I’ve recently adopted). Some redundancy — inevitably — lurks in these pages. For example, tips on “time-boxing” and “sprinting theory” both emphasize the same point: work in scheduled chunks of time.
Chapter 2: Becoming Organized
This chapter focuses on organization. It’s motivating idea: if you’re organized you can finish projects with less effort. Amen! It’s advice spans from the literal — clean your desk — to the conceptual — capture tasks. I was intrigued by his Simple Organizing System (SOS), which simplifies his task landscape down to three piles: projects, tasks, and events. On closer inspection, it’s a tweak on GTD. Students might enjoy the rules for moving tasks between the daily, weekly, and project level, as these simplify work decisions. On the other hand, productivity junkies might be bored by yet another small variation on Allen’s timeless system.
Chapter 3: Staying Energized
This chapter focuses on the often overlooked importance of energy-management. I’m a big believer in Scott’s advice to take days off, work in cycles, and build play into your schedule. Too many students fall into the easy (but stressful) mindset that equates stress and fatigue with being responsible and relaxation with being a slacker. This theme of avoiding mental guilt-trips shows up in multiple chapters, and I give Scott credit for hammering it home. The rest of this chapter is hit or miss. Most readers will likely skim the notes on drinking water and exercising, for example, as being obvious and lacking that pop that distinguishes the most clever ideas in the book.
Chapter 4: Getting Things Finished
This chapter focuses on completing projects. I have a particular fondness for this content because some of it is motivated from a popular guest post I wrote for Scott’s blog. Most of the ideas in this chapter attack the completion-centric philosophy from different angles — from avoiding over-planning to escaping the “pay by the hour” mindset. This is a great treatment of an important topic. As my readers know, however, I’m not a fan of pseudo-scientific self-help laws, so I skimmed pasts his obligatory tributes to Parkinson and Hofstadter.
Chapter 5: Automate Your Routine
This chapter focuses on the idea of using habits to remove willpower from the productivity equation. This is a topic that Scott has tackled in a previous eBook and a popular series of articles. Here’s the thing: Scott’s the de facto expert on this concept. If you’ve read his habit material before, you won’t find much new in this chapter. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Either way: there’s no filler here.
Chapter 6: Productivity Hacks
This chapter focuses on more outlandish moves to boost productivity. A lot of the ideas here are rewarmed Tim Ferriss, from outsourcing to batching. I don’t blame Scott. He makes it clear that he’s collecting the “best” ideas, not necessarily just those he thought up, and Tim certainly contributed some advice worth hearing. If you’ve read 4HWW you’ll skim about 30% of this chapter, if you haven’t, you’ll find some cool ideas. In terms of new material, I like his advice to “avoid lazy people” and “seek exponential payoffs.” Other advice, however, such as “sensory deprivation” (remove distractions), seems redundant with earlier chapters.
Chapter 7: Doing the Right Work
This chapter focuses on finding the right things to work on. This meta-idea is important in itself, and the actual ideas that support it contain a few gems. His focus on measuring results and turning attention toward accomplishment, in particular, are crucial. I also enjoy his reference to Jim Collin’s Hedgehog, which I didn’t know about, but seems to echo my strong belief in the power of focus.
The Look and Feel
I have to give Scott credit, the layout of the eBook is beautiful. It’s optimized for being viewed on a screen, which is nice for a lot of people. I worry, however, that the complexity of the background thwarts those who want to print the pages without burning through a full cartridge of ink. I also noticed that in my PDF viewer (kpdf on linux), the letter “i” disappeared whenever it followed an “f”? Strange. But it might just be my setup.
Who Should Buy This Book
If you’re looking for a coherent system, this book is not for you. Similarly, if you’re an obsessive reader of productivity blogs, you’ll be frustrated with the lack of new ideas.
On the other hand, if you feel stressed, or if you feel should be accomplishing more, or if you’re new to the world of productivity blogs and are eager to soak up as much as possible, then I think this eBook is worth the $10. It’s a smart review of some of the smartest productivity ideas floating around on the web. You’ll come away with at least a few new strategies to add to your personal arsenal of life hacks.
My bottom line: If you’re hungry for advice, spend the $10. If you feel like you’ve seen it all before, take a pass.
Buying the Book
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- Buy the eBook (part of the price goes to supporting Study Hacks)
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