Feel-Good Productivity



  • Author: Ali Abdaal
  • Full Title: Feel-Good Productivity


Intro / Chapter 1 — Play

Feeling good doesn’t just end with feeling good. It actually changes our patterns of thought and behaviour. I now learned that the study had become the cornerstone of a wave of research exploring the way positive emotions affect many of our cognitive processes. It showed that when we’re in a positive mood, we tend to consider a broader range of actions, be more open to new experiences, and better integrate the information we receive. In other words, feeling good boosts our creativity – and our productivity. (Location 82)

My notes: If sleep affects mood and feeling good (which I believe it does), then good sleep after has these same benefits. This is a variation on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

feeling good boosts our energy. (Location 108) - Note: So true. When I recently aspirated a pill and for almost two weeks I didn’t feel good and I wasn’t interested in being productive.

Endorphins are often released during physical activity, stress or pain and bring about feelings of happiness and diminished discomfort – and elevated levels usually correlate with increased energy and motivation. (Location 116)

My note: I often find exercising to be a form of pain and stress, so this checks out.

Serotonin is connected to mood regulation, sleep, appetite and overall feelings of wellbeing; it underpins our sense of contentment and gives us the energy to tackle tasks efficiently. (Location 118)

Dopamine, or the ‘reward’ hormone, is linked with motivation and pleasure and its release provides a satisfaction that allows us to focus for longer. (Location 119)

oxytocin, known as the ‘love’ hormone, is associated with social bonding, trust and relationship-building, which enhances our capacity to connect with others, boosts our mood and, in turn, impacts our productivity. (Location 120)

This is the ‘undoing hypothesis’: that positive emotions can ‘undo’ the effects of stress and other negative emotions. If stress is the problem, then feeling good might just be the solution. (Location 140)

My notes: This feels a bit like a catch 22. If you are stressed or having negative emotions, it is likely hard to feel good. I was likely in Ali’s camp on this until I recently started having some health issues and health anxiety.

Individuals who frequently experience positive emotions aren’t just more sociable, optimistic and creative. They also accomplish more. (Location 146)

People with a positive demeanor are likely to accomplish more

My notes: I’m fine with this statement as someone with a positive demeanor, but how does someone who doesn’t act on this?

Success doesn’t lead to feeling good. Feeling good leads to success. (Location 153)

My notes: As someone who hasn’t felt good recently, I agree with this.

Konstantin Novoselov, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for helping discover graphene, put it most simply: ‘If you try to win the Nobel, you won’t,’ he reflected. ‘The way we were working really was quite playful.’ (Location 242) - Note: The importance of play. The childlike exploration of the things you love often leads to the best outcomes.

Psychologists increasingly believe that play holds the key to true productivity, partly because it provides a sense of psychological relief. (Location 245)

The 8 Play Personalities

  • The Collector loves to gather and organise, enjoying activities like searching for rare plants, or rummaging around in archives or garage sales.
  • The Competitor enjoys games and sports, and takes pleasure in trying their best and winning.
  • The Explorer likes to wander, discovering new places and things they’ve never seen, through hiking, road tripping and other adventures.
  • The Creator finds joy in making things, and can spend hours every day drawing, painting, making music, gardening and more.
  • The Storyteller has an active imagination and uses their imagination to entertain others. They’re drawn to activities like writing, dance, theatre and role-playing games.
  • The Joker endeavours to make people laugh, and may play by performing stand-up, doing improv, or just pulling a lot of pranks to make you smile.
  • The Director likes to plan, organise and lead others, and can fit into many different roles and activities, from directing stage performances to running a company, to working in political or social advocacy.
  • The Kinesthete finds play in physical activities like acrobatics, gymnastics and free running.

Identifying and exploring our play personalities helps us reclaim some of the adventure that defined our childhoods – a time when feeling good was the norm, not the exception. (Location 314)

The study showed that people were a whopping 30 per cent more likely to recall a fact they found interesting, rather than a fact they found boring. (Location 328)

By adding a side quest to your day, you create space for curiosity, exploration and playfulness – and could discover something amazing and totally unexpected along the way. (Location 348) - Note: Side Quests increase serendipity

Wants vs Needs Leaving space for serendipity Be curious, not judgement (Ted Lasso reference)

What would this look like if it were fun? (Location 390) Note: When dealing with a task that you are dreading. What would this look like if it were fun?

His aim was to show that we’re hugely, disproportionately impacted by negative consequences – even arbitrary ones. And these consequences make us afraid of failure, even when we needn’t be. (Location 471)

success isn’t down to how often you fail. It’s about how you frame your failures. (Location 476)

These are data points and you are still getting experience. Be flexible on what the outcome is

Life is like a plate of spaghetti — Josh Medeski

The quote “Life is like a bowl of spaghetti. Every once in a while, you get a meatball” is attributed to author Sharon Creech

Imagine how you’d approach things if you treated them as experiments, where failure would be just as valuable as success. (Location 484)

Chapter 2 — Power

When McCord used the word, she meant a sense of personal empowerment: the sense that your job is in your control, your life is in your hands, and that decisions about your future are yours alone. This power isn’t something that we exert on others; it’s something we feel, the energy that makes us want to shout from the rooftops: ‘I can do it!’ (Location 586)

Feeling confident about our ability to complete a task makes us feel good when we’re doing it, and helps us do it better. (Location 615)

Believing you can is the first step to making sure you actually can. (Location 622)

Switch The idea of self-efficacy is intriguing, but maybe not that surprising. Of course our levels of self-confidence affect our abilities, you might think. Anyone who’s (Location 629)

After decades of research, he concluded that confidence isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something you learn. (Location 634)

The next time you’re not feeling good enough to take a chance, simply ask yourself, ‘What would it look like if I were really confident at this? What would it look like if I approached this task feeling confident that I could do it?’ (Location 654)

Why did this small change make such a big difference? If Albert Bandura were to comment he’d probably attribute it to something called the ‘vicarious mastery experience’. This is when you witness or hear about someone else’s performance related to a task that you’re going to undertake yourself. You see other people’s examples, and it boosts your confidence. (Location 686)

Find people who are going through the same challenges as you and spend time with them – or find other ways to hear their stories. By immersing yourself in vicarious success, you’ll be building a powerful story in your own mind: that if they can, you can too. (Location 711)

an enactive mastery experience refers to the process of learning through doing. (Location 729)

One Zen concept that came up time and again in Jackson’s coaching practices was the Japanese word shoshin, which roughly translates as ‘beginner’s mind’. Shoshin refers to a state of mind in which we approach every task and situation with the curiosity, openness and humility of a beginner. (Location 744)

You don’t need to be a guru. You can just be a guide. (Location 794) Guide vs Guru

it’s worth remembering that the people we learn from best are often the ones who are just a step ahead of us in the journey. (Location 796) - Note: I need to force myself to comment on topics that I’m still actively figuring out. Split keyboards are the current example.

He found that those who were offered a financial reward for solving the puzzle were, weirdly, less likely to enjoy the task and were more likely to give up solving the puzzle after the reward was removed, compared to those who weren’t offered any money at all. (Location 802) - Note: Extrinsic Motivation can erode the benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

According to self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation is substantially more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Lasting motivation comes from within. (Location 813)

Our need for control is why we hate being micromanaged by our bosses and our parents. Our need for control is why we love to decorate our bedrooms when we’re kids (or design our homes as adults). And when our control over our lives is taken away – if we end up in prison, or shackled to a job we don’t enjoy – it can have disastrous consequences for our physical and mental health. (Location 822) - Note: Or physical health

Sometimes, we’re right: there is nothing we can do. But often we have more agency than we realise – if not over the whole situation, then over parts of it. We have control even when we don’t know it. (Location 834) Locus of Control

I couldn’t choose whether or not to put in the IV drip, I realised. But I could change my mindset. (Location 885)
- Note: You may not be able to control the situation, but you can choose your mindset

Notes from Book Club We are poor judges of our own value Community can help with this. Con man is a confidence man.

The outcome isn’t always in your hands. But the process, and certainly your mindset, often is. (Location 920)

Chapter 3 People

He noticed that all the most innovative and ground-breaking musicians of his time were not working in isolation; they were part of a larger scene of artists, producers and fans who were all pushing each other to explore new sounds and ideas. Eno had discovered the genius of the collective scene. Or, as he called it, scenius. (Location 956)
- Note: I first heard this from Austin Kleon, but this is the originator.

Participants in the ‘together’ group ended up working on the puzzle for 48 per cent longer. They had developed what I call a comrade mindset. And they were doing better as a result. (Location 987)

-Note: You are more likely to stick with something if you have a support system. This reminds me of the quote to find others who are going through the same thing you are, or even better, find someone who is two steps ahead of you.

Competitor mindset Comrade mindset ‘You win, I lose’ ‘You win, I win’ ‘My success’ ‘Our success’ ‘I rise by outdoing others’ ‘We rise by lifting others’ (Location 997)

As Walton concluded, ‘Simply feeling as if you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges.’ When the going gets tough, it’s better to have friends to lean on than enemies to lord it over. (Location 1003)
- Note: Support System

Luks’s research showed that when we help others, our brains release a flood of chemicals that create a natural high. Feel-good hormones like oxytocin surge through our bodies, creating a wave of positive energy that can last for hours – even days – after the helping has ended. (Location 1045)review - Note: Helper’s High. This something I have to think about as I was always to person people came to for IT support growing up, so I don’t naturally seek this out commonly.

This concept is today known as the ‘Benjamin Franklin effect’. It suggests that when we ask someone for help, it’s likely to make them think better of us. (Location 1086)review - Note: This is a novel idea that asking for help will actually make people like you more. Interesting and unintuitive.

It’s a pity, then, that most of us are bad at asking for help. We might need a crucial piece of information from a colleague, but instead of ‘bothering’ them, we try to figure it out ourselves, wasting time in the process. (Location 1089)review - Note: It’s okay to ask for help, it’s actually socially beneficial to ask for help. There is something I should leverage here.

In a 2017 study, Bohns found that ‘help-seekers assumed making a request via email would be equally as effective as making a request in person; in actuality, asking for help in-person was approximately thirty-four times more effective’. (Location 1097)review - Note: Ask for help in person. As someone who works from home, this is tough. I wonder if asking verbally is equally effective to in person.

Avoid using negative phrases like ‘I feel really bad for asking you this…’ and avoid turning it into a transaction by saying things like ‘If you help me, I’ll do this for you.’ Instead, emphasise the positive reasons for why you’re going to that specific person for advice: ‘I saw your work on X, Y, Z and it really had an impact on me. I would love to hear how you did A, B, C.’ By emphasising the positive aspects of the person you admire, they’ll think you genuinely value their opinion – and be more likely to help you. (Location 1100)review - Note: Build this person up as part of your request. This will increase the odds of them helping you and will leave both of you energized.

When framed correctly, asking for help makes the person you’re asking feel as good as the help makes you feel. (Location 1104)review

When you think you’ve communicated plenty, you almost certainly haven’t. (Location 1116)review

A Swedish proverb says: ‘A shared joy is a double joy; a shared sorrow is a half sorrow.’ When one person shares good news with another, both people are happy. And when one person shares something sad with another, the act of sharing takes some of the sadness away. (Location 1121)review

in a 2006 study, researchers videotaped seventy-nine couples who were dating to examine how they discussed good news and bad news with each other. It turns out that how participants responded to their partners’ good news was the strongest predictor of how long they’d stay together and how happy they were in those relationships. (Location 1146)review

Chapter 4 — Seek Clarity

discipline is when we do stuff that we don’t feel like doing. It’s the opposite of motivation; it’s taking action despite how unmotivated you are. (Location 1249)

The main way uncertainty drives procrastination is by creating ambiguity over our ultimate purpose. If we don’t know why we’re embarking on any given project, it’s near impossible to get on with actually doing it. (Location 1326) Notes: I think this is the main premise behind Start With Why

German officers embraced the concept of Auftragstaktik – mission-type tactics – a philosophy that prioritised a clear sense of why over an excessively detailed sense of how. (Location 1335) - Note: If you communicate the why, a good practitioner can figure out the how.

Previously, when I embarked on a project my instinct was to immediately press ahead, planning every step – without ever really thinking about my desired end-state. (Location 1361) - Note: When embarking on a new project, take a moment to think about your desired end state. Define a desired end state

Whenever somebody in my team suggests we embark on a new project, I ask ‘why’ five times. The first time, the answer usually relates to completing a short-term objective. But if it is really worth doing, all that why-ing should lead you back to your ultimate purpose, as laid out in your commander’s intent. If it doesn’t, you probably shouldn’t bother. (Location 1400)

I call this the ‘crystal ball method’, though it’s sometimes also known as a ‘pre-mortem’. It offers a way to identify the big obstacles to your goal before they have derailed your plans. The idea is simple. By running through what could go wrong in your head, you dramatically reduce the likelihood that it actually will. (Location 1485) - Note: pre-mortem. By going through what could go wrong, you dramatically decrease the likelihood that it will, and you will be prepared if it does.

It concluded that when we intentionally set an ‘if … then…’ statement for ourselves to follow, we’re strengthening our mental representation of the situation in advance. When the trigger happens, it’s hard to overlook it. You’ve already made it part of the mental model you use to navigate a situation. (Location 1541) - Note: If, Then Triggers. By removing the need to think about or remember to do the thing, you are much more likely to do it. It’s like autopilot or putting blinders on a horse. The Architect vs The Pilot.

Level 1 is to time-block specific tasks you’ve been avoiding. At this level, you start addressing those tasks that have been sitting on your to-do list for far too long. (Location 1566) Timeblocking

time-blocking your ‘ideal week’. (Location 1575) - Note:todo. There is a potential video here on how to start with time blocking.

Chapter 5 — Fear

At the end of the study, all groups reported feeling distressed about the experience. But some fared better than others. And the group that fared best of all were those who had put their fears into words. They were substantially more likely to get close to the spider. And they reported feeling their fears gradually subside, to be replaced by a new-found sense of control. (Location 1660)review

Verbalize your fear

This technique is called ‘affective labelling’. Put simply, it’s the act of putting your feelings into words, which forces you to identify and get to know the sensations you’re experiencing. It works in two ways. First, it increases our self-awareness. By naming and acknowledging our fears, we cultivate a deeper self-awareness that helps us better understand our emotional patterns. Second, it reduces our rumination. (Location 1665)review

When we label our emotions, we become better able to process and release them – and so escape the cyclical thoughts that make us put things off. (Location 1669)review

When you’re procrastinating, say to yourself, ‘What am I afraid of?’ Our core vulnerabilities and insecurities are often at the heart of procrastination. To work through them, we have to first identify them. (Location 1676)review

‘Where does this fear come from?’ Is it a ‘me’ reason or a ‘them’ reason? ‘Me’ reasons are fears associated with your perception of your ability. For example, being scared that you’re not good enough or not well prepared enough to start. ‘Them’ reasons are fears associated with how other people will react to what you do. (Location 1678)review

people who are given negative labels are much more likely to repeat troublesome behaviours. The labels we give ourselves, Becker showed, affect our behaviour. (Location 1696)review

Becker called his insight ‘labelling theory’, and it suggests that labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Location 1698)review

One of the reasons fear is so paralysing is that we tend to catastrophise. (Location 1732)review

simple way to put cognitive reappraisal into practice is to remind yourself that the thing you’re feeling so bad about probably won’t matter that much in the future. You can do this by asking yourself the following three questions, which add up to what I call the 10/10/10 rule. Ask yourself: (Location 1743)review

my belief in my own ability is less than the ability I believe is required. If you’re into mathematical notation, you might write it like this: Self-Confidence = Perception of Ability – Perception of Standards (Location 1773)review

Beyoncé said that Sasha Fierce was a persona that she could channel on stage to become more confident, more powerful, and free from inhibitions. ‘Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I’m working and when I’m on the stage,’ she said. (Location 1803)review

we spend our lives believing a spotlight is always trained on us, and that everyone around is constantly looking at us, analysing our behaviours, and passing judgement on our worth as human beings. (Location 1837)review

In a series of papers published in the early 2000s, psychology professor Thomas Gilovich and his co-authors proved, time and again, that individuals have a remarkable tendency to overestimate the degree to which others are thinking about or judging them. (Location 1838)review - Note: No One Cares

These researchers chanced upon an intriguing insight. The children who were asked to imagine themselves as superheroes or other characters exhibited significantly better self-control, focus and perseverance than those in the other two groups. (Location 1867)review - Note: Choose an Alter Ego

overcome your fear. If you’re scared of what other people think, remind yourself that most people are not, in fact, thinking about you. We’re a self-conscious species, but we’re not usually a judgemental one. (Location 1898)review

Chapter 6 — Getting Started

The objective: reducing the friction – and so making it easier to get started. In particular, this involves focusing on what behavioural scientists call our default choices. (Location 1952)review - Note: This is similar to what we do in Design with Default Choices

The five-minute rule is a simple but powerful technique that encourages you to commit to working on a task for just five minutes. (Location 1975)review - Note: This isn’t new to me, but I like how he relates it to overcoming inertia.

We’re not going to leave a conversation without you having at least one, two or three actions to take.’ (Location 1998)review

Just as Wohl had guessed, students who said they were able to forgive themselves for not studying were much more productive. Self-forgiveness allowed students to let go of post-procrastination guilt and shame. (Location 2120)review

Perhaps my favourite way is a method I call Find the Win. It involves celebrating something, however small, and however unrelated to your work. I like to use the format: ‘I didn’t do X, but I did do Y.’ (Location 2127)review

Chapter 7 — Conserve

It can happen to anyone when work stops feeling meaningful, enjoyable or manageable. (Location 2171)review - Note: About Burnout

The idea of the ‘energy investment portfolio’ is simple. You simply come up with two lists. List A is a list of all your dreams, hopes and ambitions. These are things you would like to do at some point, just probably not right now. List B is a list of your active investments. These are the projects you’re actively investing energy into right now (Location 2248)review

When you’ve got a large degree of choice in what you could be doing with your time, it makes it a lot harder to commit to something in a given time slot. (Location 2272)review - Note: This is my current challenge

Opportunity Costs reflect the fact that every ‘yes’ we say is a ‘no’ to whatever else we could’ve been doing with that time and energy instead. (Location 2291)

In one study, the software company Draugiem Group set out to find out how much time people spent on various tasks and how it related to each worker’s productivity. The workers who were most productive were not the ones who chained themselves to their desks. Nor were they the ones who gave themselves a healthy-sounding five-minute break every hour. The most productive workers gave themselves an almost unbelievable amount of time off: a work-to-break ratio of fifty-two minutes of work to seventeen minutes of rest. (Location 2404)review

Every day, before starting work, I think about when I’ll be feeling most overexerted and I time-block fifteen minutes out at the slots when I think I’ll most need it. And whenever I’m tempted to push through it, I remember the science of self-regulation – and that the harder you work, the more overexerted you become. And I remind myself of the importance of rest – even when you don’t think you need it. (Location 2443)review

Life isn’t about maintaining focus all the time. It’s about allowing space for little moments of serendipity and joy. (Location 2471)review

We thrive in environments where we can learn from one another, exchange ideas, and celebrate our successes together. (Location 2586)review - Note: A great note about the value of Community and Human Connection

The ‘shower principle’ isn’t just a Redditor’s fantasy. When the brain relaxes sufficiently, creative solutions do appear. (Location 2686)review

Chapter 9 — Align

Misalignment burnout arises from the negative feelings that arise when our goals don’t match up to our sense of self. We feel worse – and so achieve less – because we’re not acting authentically. (Location 2820)review

Your Current Path: Write out, in detail, what your life would look like five years from now if you continued down your current path. Your Alternative Path: Write out, in detail, what your life would look like five years from now if you took a completely different path. Your Radical Path: Write out, in detail, what your life would look like five years from now if you took a completely different path, where money, social obligations and what people would think, were irrelevant. (Location 2894)review - Note: Odyssey Plan

Ask yourself: ‘If I was to make the 12-month celebration a reality, what would I need to do over the next year to get there? (Location 2991)review

your job, or your relationships, or your hobbies. (Location 3055)review - Note: I like this as a pie of life. Three primary areas

Misalignment burnouts arise when we spend time on goals that don’t match up with our sense of self. (Location 3079)review