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I’ve been digging through some old articles about productivity, and I found an absolute gem by Cal Newport from 2007. It’s called The Art of the Finish: How to Go From Being Busy to Being Accomplished.
Here’s Cal’s basic observation:
Accomplished people have an obsession with completing tasks. Once a project falls into their horizon, they crave, almost compulsively, to finish it. […] It’s this constant stream of finishing that begins, over time, to unlock more and more interesting opportunities and eventually leads to their big scores.
If you want to get stuff done rather than “feel” productive, Cal recommends completion-centric planning. At the start of your work day, identify your most important project and ask yourself “what’s the closest I can get to finishing this today?”
This is the basic thinking behind Minimum Viable Products and Parkinson’s Law: the less time we give ourselves to finish a project, the better we get at identifying (and executing) that handful of crucial tasks that’ll get the project over the line. Focusing on project completion rather than task completion saves us from what Cal calls Zeno’s Paradox of Productivity:
Give me any project, and I can fill days with easy, fun little tasks on the project without ever finishing it.
On a team retreat in Wales two weeks ago, I wrote four whole book chapters in four days. It was probably the most productive week of my life. And it happened because I was laser-focused on finishing one chapter, done and dusted, every single day. On Day 3, even after a midnight swim with the team, I went back upstairs to my laptop at 1.30am to write my last few paragraphs of the day.
All because I wanted to get the damn chapter done. And it worked.
Sure, I felt tired the next morning, but a good kind of tired, like you get after a long, successful hike. So the next time you feel you’re not getting much done, try asking yourself “How close can I get to finishing my most important project, today??”
Have a great week!
PS Fun experiment. If you have a project you want to finish this week, send a 1-sentence reply to this email telling me what it is, and in two weeks’ time (to allow for some processing) I’ll include a list of all the projects you guys worked on. Should be interesting.
Good luck, and here’s a David Goggins clip for extra motivation 🏋️
🎉 Get started on YouTube
Ever wanted to take YouTube seriously, but haven't known how to start? My team and I have been hard at work for the last few months, and we’re finally ready to present Cohort 6 of the Part-Time YouTuber Academy 🎉 🥳 🎪
PTYA is our flagship live-cohort course, where I’ll teach you how to make amazing videos and level up your YouTube channel. Every week there’s a live 2-hour keynote led by myself, Q&As with incredible YouTubers, guest workshops with creators like Dickie Bush, and video assignments for you to complete.
Now, you don’t need a paid course to succeed on YouTube. There’s a ton of free content online that’ll help you out. But it’s a lot easier with PTYA. If you put in the work, engage with our community of experienced and beginner YouTubers, and use the feedback we give you to improve your videos, you’ll have way more structure and support than if you learned by yourself.
So if you’re interested, the course will run from 11 July to 12 August, and the cart opens tomorrow for enrolment: 27 June at 16:00 BST. We have less slots this year (400 instead of 500), so if you’re keen I suggest signing up early 🚀
♥️ My Favourite Things
🧠 Shortform Summary - When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté. Apparently, when we don’t feel like we can say “no” to pressures in our life, our body sometimes does the job for us by creating some kind of illness like a massive headache, or chronic back pain. Kind of like an internal ‘emergency stop’ button. At least, that’s what the author argues.
🎙️ Podcast - Deep Dive with Mo Gawdat. This interview with ‘happiness expert’ Mo Gawdat might be my best podcast episode yet. Mo used to be the Chief Business Officer of Google X (basically Google’s moonshot division). But in 2014 his son Ali died, and he decided to change his life goal to ‘helping 1 billion people lead a happier life’. That includes writing books like Solve for Happy and That Little Voice in Your Head.
📝 Article - The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More by Doing Less by Cal Newport. The basic idea is that we’re “most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention”. Really common, solid advice. Similar to Oliver Burkeman’s open and closed to-do list.
🥣 Food - Skyr Yoghurt. It boggles my mind how glorious Skyr yoghurt with berries is. High protein, low calorie, super tasty. It’s apparently made with x4 the amount of milk that goes into normal yoghurt.