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The Pilot, The Plane, The Engineer

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

Hey friends,

I’ve just launched a brand new Skillshare class, The Principles of Productivity. It’s 1.5h of me explaining the productivity equation, and the 3 myths, 3 powers and 3 laws of productivity. I’d love for you to check it out - as always, if you don’t have a Skillshare subscription, you can sign up to the 2-month free trial (and yes, you can always cancel before your trial’s up to avoid paying, but it’s genuinely a worthwhile subscription to have).

Anyway, in this email I’ll introduce the mental model for productivity that I enjoy - the Pilot, the Plane and the Engineer.

The Pilot’s job is to set our course, our goals, our direction. He (or she) decides what we’re doing on a given day based on our internal desires and external realities. We should probably spend around 10% of our time being the pilot. I like to be the pilot at the start of each day, during my morning coffee when I take a birds-eye view of my day and figure out what to do for the rest of it.

For the rest of the day, we are The Plane. We’re executing on the orders of the pilot. That involves (a) taking off safely, (b) not deviating from our course, and (c) landing safely. When it comes to getting stuff done, most of us struggle with the taking off part of this, and even more of us struggle to stay on-course and not get distracted while we’re doing the work. We should probably spend around 85% of our time being The Plane.

For the final 5% of the time, we’re The Engineer. The engineer’s job is to create and maintain systems that keep the pilot organised, and plane fuel-efficient. Things like maintaining a to-do list, calendar and sensible file storage system. But also things like improving our typing speed, which for almost all work done on a computer, speeds us up significantly.

All 3 are reflected in the Productivity Equation:

Productivity = (Useful Output / Time) x Fun Factor

The pilot makes sure our output is useful, the plane how much outputting we’re doing, and the engineer helps make the process more time-efficient.

I explain the Productivity Equation in much more detail in the first video in the class, which is also available for free on YouTube if you fancy checking it out.

Because this is all just a mental model, it’s clearly not a 100% accurate representation of reality, but I’ve found it quite helpful in figuring out how to allocate my time, and in working out which bits of “productivity” I need to work on myself.

Hopefully you’ll find it useful too.

Have a great week!

Ali


This Week on Not Overthinking

Not Overthinking is the weekly podcast hosted by me and my brother. If you enjoy these emails, you’ll hopefully like that too. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Castro (my favourite podcast app) or any other podcast app - just search for ‘Not Overthinking’.

How To Convince Your Friend To Start A Blog | Not Overthinking

In this episode, we explore we often fail to convince our friends to start having an online presence, and what a better approach might be. Possibly applicable to general "convincing" tasks as well.

My Favourite Things This Week

Book - I’ve just finished The Elephant in the Brain, an incredible book about the hidden motives in everyday life. It led to many uncomfortable realisations of just how much of human behaviour generally (and my own behaviour specifically) is motivated by selfishness, status and prestige.

Quote of the Week

“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the same time, effort makes skill productive”.

From Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Resurfaced using Readwise.

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Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.