How removing options makes me more productive


Hey friends,

I woke up this morning at 6:15 and, as usual, I was pretty groggy and tired. At that point, as usual, the Resistance started whispering to me – “You went to the gym yesterday; you should take a rest day and sleep for another hour”, “you were feeling tired at work yesterday; you should get back into bed and get your beauty sleep”, “skipping one gym session isn’t going to change anything”.

It’s remarkably similar to the voice that whispers to all university students – “You don’t need to go to that lecture – you’ll just fall asleep anyway, so you might as well stay in bed”, “You’ll be more productive if you just watch the lecture recording”, “You don’t feel too good today, how are you going to concentrate in that lecture?”.

The reason the Resistance whispers in both these situations is that we’re viewing our action as optional. Each day, I’m choosing whether or not to wake up early and go to the gym. Each day, we’re choosing whether or not to turn up to our lectures.

The key therefore, is to remove the element of choice: to view going to the gym each day, or turning up to our lectures, as not-optional. After all, we don’t consider it optional to brush our teeth each night (I hope), and those of us tied to wage-slavery certainly don’t consider it optional to turn up to work each day.

When we remove the optionality from the stuff we know we should do, the Resistance disappears and doing it becomes a lot easier. That’s the main reason this email newsletter is still going – each Sunday, it’s not an option for me to write and send it, it just has to be done. At the start, we do have to convince our brains of this, but once we’ve put in that cognitive effort a few times, it becomes much easier.

Albus Dumbledore once said:

Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy.

Harry’s life would’ve been more productive if Dumbledore had told him:

Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all remove the choice between what is right, and what is easy.

Have a great week!


PS: This idea of The Resistance comes from the book The War of Art. If you struggle with procrastination, it’s worth a read. My brother wrote a book review of it that inspired me to start writing my own book reviews.

Stuff I’ve enjoyed this week

(1) Podcast – I’ve started listening to the The Knowledge Project podcast. Their parent website, Farnam Street, is famous for its very theory-heavy articles about aspects of everyday life, and their podcast is a classic interview format where the host interviews interesting people about how they got where they are, with discussions about mental models and ways of thinking about stuff. I’m not really doing it much justice here, but I listened to the two most recent episodes – The Dying Art of Conversation and Inventing the Future. Both were excellent and this podcast is now part of my regular weekly line-up.

(2) Another podcast – I really enjoyed listening to Matt D’Avella’s interview with Bret Iwan, the voice actor who plays Mickey Mouse these days. It’s always cool getting a behind-the-scenes perspective on an industry that I’ve never really considered before (Disney voice acting), and there are a lot of good life lessons sprinkled in.

(3) Board game – Snatch – I wrote the bulk of this email a few days ago, because this weekend I’m on holiday with some friends in the Peak District. We’re living in a super fancy barn thing, and in the evenings we’ve been playing the game Snatch It – if you’re into playing thinking-heavy tabletop games with your friends, you should check it out 🙂

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1 month ago

It is absolutely crazy hack. Can’t wait to try it out. Thank you for this wonderful technique. Love from India ♥️♥️