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What maximum productivity looks like for me
I am just reporting on this ecologically, I don’t intend it to be life advice necessarily.
At times, I am astoundingly productive. During the most productive year of my life, I wrote a book, while being a full-time freelance copywriter, and traveling the world and studying chess, while still having a fair amount of free time, somehow. But when I am most productive and happy, my days look nothing like what I’ve heard a productive person’s do. Meanwhile, when I’m trying to be a productive person, like, trying to assume the normal trappings of productivity, I don’t get anything done.
Maximally productive Sasha looks like this:
I have no routine. The closest thing I have to a daily structure is that I usually “meditate,” which is, for me, just sitting mostly still allowing myself to feel whatever it is I feel, either while drinking coffee, or right after it. Sometimes I skip this, when I’m really excited to work on something immediately.
I organically do what seem like the most important actions on my most important projects. Sometimes, I am best at creative projects while multi-tasking, in spite of everything I’ve heard. When I’m staring at the word processor, occasionally my thinking becomes too strained, because I am trying to think. So, when this happens, I’ll click back and forth between Pages and a YouTube video of a chess streamer, or a professional chef being upset about something.
My output on social media tends to go up, rather than down, when I am getting done what needs to be done. There appears to be some universal variable behind my productivity, which is something like “comfort with smoothly transferring my energy into the world,” that results in more Tweets, more posts, more chores getting done, and more money being made.
Usually, I take a walk at some point, or find some errand to do as an excuse to fart around. This is when the real thinking gets done, and this is also meditation—I am a big believer in walking practice.
Sometimes I never stop work, and continue acting right up until the point of exhaustion. Other days, 3 PM seems like the right time to sack it off. Stopping myself from overworking seems just as hard as stopping myself from underworking, so I try not to, and just assume that if my system needs leisure, I’ll hear about this internally.
I’m better with high sleep quality. But when I’m really excited about something, and thus most industrious, I never sleep that well or that long, and this appears to be okay, for stretches of time, like a week or so, which are often followed by sleeping for 12 hours for a period of 1-3 days. Generally, I am best off if I don’t think about sleep quality too much, and just resign myself to whatever’s going on naturally.
This is related to another principle I’ve arrived at: if I’m not having trouble containing my obsessions, I am working on the wrong thing, or working with the wrong people.
I suspect this is all an outgrowth of some underlying trait of mine, which is that I am a person who is difficult to cajole. If I sternly tell myself to do something, I will refuse myself within a few days. This has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that I spent a lot of time flaking out of jobs, not doing particularly well at school, and, generally, underachieving. The advantage is that, through spontaneously following my excitement, I’ve gradually shifted my life towards one that is composed mostly of my interests, that requires little ongoing strain. Probably, this style of character is long-term advantageous if you luck into some degree of social mobility, and really hard if you don’t.
I eat what makes me feel good. This is almost never “health food,” I have noticed.
Systems do exist: I have to-do lists and so on. But the systems are generally dead-simple, and they fall apart, and then are dynamically replaced with other ones, and that is fine. Right now I’m into Tana, but I might go back to paper to-do lists when Tana mysteriously disappears from my life. When required, I am capable of being systematic, but I try to spin up as much system as is required, and no more.
My archives are generally not good, I read many interesting things that I lose track of. But I try to consider forgetting to be a feature of my intellectual life. I have faith that I will be able to create from the thoughts I’m having today, rather than notes about something I read a long time ago.
Productivity, for me, is a natural outgrowth of passion. If I need to think about “productivity” as a separate discipline from “doing the thing,” something has gone wrong.
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