"The Productivity Project" by Chris Bailey

Book Summary:

"The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy" by Chris Bailey is a result of a year-long series of productivity experiments Bailey conducted on himself. He also continued research and interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts, from Charles Duhigg to David Allen. 

Among the experiments that he tackled: Bailey went several weeks with getting by on little to no sleep; he cut out caffeine and sugar; he lived in total isolation for 10 days; he used his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months; he gained ten pounds of muscle mass; he stretched his work week to 90 hours; a late riser, he got up at 5:30 every morning for three months—all the while monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work. 
In an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging read, Bailey offers a treasure trove of insights and over 25 best practices that will help you accomplish more.

Author Bio:

Chris Bailey, a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, wrote over 216,000 words on the subject of productivity on his blog, ayearofproductivity.com, during a year long productivity project where he conducted intensive research, as well as dozens of productivity experiments on himself to discover how to become as productive as possible.

To date, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject, and has garnered coverage in media as diverse as The New York Times, The Huffington Post, New York magazine, TED, Fast Company, and Lifehacker.

Author Chris Bailey.

Author Chris Bailey.


1) Identify Your 3 Most Important Tasks

That may seem like an arbitrary number on the surface, but it’s large enough to fit the main things you want to accomplish, and small enough to make you think hard about what’s important.
— Page 40

Author Chris Bailey writes that the Rule of 3 is “the absolute best technique I’ve found to work deliberately and with intention.” And the good news is that this technique is super easy to implement. 

At the beginning of each day, ask yourself “If I could only accomplish three things today, what would they be?” Do the same at the beginning of each week. 

That’s it. 


This technique will give you direction as to what important tasks need to be completed and will keep you from getting distracted. 

Here’s an example of my 3 goals:


  • Edit and publish a new article for Alex and Books

  • Go to the gym to lift weights

  • Watch Joe Rogan Podcast with Elon Musk (Highly recommend watching)

This Week:

  • Create, publish and edit a new YouTube video

  • Invite close friends over and catch up with everyone

  • Finish reading “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss

The goals should be simple, clear, and aligned with your values. Also, it doesn’t have to be all work goals. It’s called work-life for a reason. Make sure you include things like spending time with friends, family or your significant other. 

Now why is it called the Rule of 3 and not the Rule of 2 or 5? 

It’s because brains are trained early on to think in threes: the beginning, middle and end; the three bears; the three musketeers; gold, silver and bronze; our minds are wired to think in groups of threes.


Try to make this a daily ritual before you go to sleep each night. I find this works best on a calendar or you can also do it on your phone. At the end of each day and week, reflect on how realistic your three goals were. 

Were they too small and easy? Or were they too large and intimidating? Reflecting on your goals and accomplishments will help you become better at using the Rule of 3 and will make you more productive than ever before.

2) Identify Procrastination Triggers

The reasons you feel so much less mental resistance to watching Netflix than you do with doing your taxes is Netflix is far less boring, frustrating, and difficult, and it’s more stimulating and structured. Because watching Netflix has almost no procrastination triggers, we don’t put it off.
— Page 59

Procrastination is human. Simply put, the more unattractive a task or project is to you, the more likely you are to put it off. There are 6 main triggers that lead to procrastination:

  • Boring

  • Frustrating

  • Difficult

  • Unstructured or ambiguous

  • Lacking in personal meaning

  • Lacking in intrinsic rewards (i.e. it’s not engaging)

The more of these attributes a task has, the less attractive it becomes and the more likely you are to procrastinate.

For example, doing your taxes likely hits at least half of these triggers. That’s probably why about 7 million taxpayers fail to file their taxes on time each year.


Here are a few ways the author fights back against these procrastination triggers:

  • Boring: Go to my favorite cafe and have a fancy drink while working.

  • Frustrating: Work for 30 minutes then take a break.

  • Difficult: Research ways to make the work easier.

  • Unstructured or ambiguous: Make a detailed plan that lists very next steps needed to finish the task.

  • Lacking in personal meaning: Think about how this tasks will benefit you.

  • Lacking in intrinsic rewards: Reward yourself $5 to spend on anything for every 30 minutes of work.

Bailey finishes the chapter by saying that readers should also be aware of the costs of not doing the thing they are procrastinating. Not doing a project will lower your GPA, not doing your taxes will result in fines, etc.


Also keep in mind that every task, no matter how intimidating, can be broken down into smaller ones, which makes it a lot easier to get started. Cleaning an entire basement can be daunting, but cleaning one-tenth of it can be easy. 

So remember to ask yourself why you are procrastinating, find out your procrastination trigger, and look for ways to flip that trigger and get started on the task.


3) Have A Maintenance Day

My Maintenance Day ritual is incredibly simple, and incredibly powerful: throughout the week, I simply collect all of my low-return maintenance tasks on a list–everything from going grocery shopping to cutting my nails–and instead of doing them throughout the week, I do them all at once.
— Page 110

Similarly to the Rule of 3, this productivity technique is easy to do and very beneficial to your life. You simply collect a list of little household chores, errands, and tasks, and do them all in one day. 

This can include:

  • Grocery shopping

  • Meal prepping

  • Trimming beard and shaving

  • Cutting nails

  • Doing laundry

  • Watering plants

  • Reviewing Rule of 3 goals

  • Cleaning the bathroom

  • Vacuuming the house

To make it even easier, you can perform your maintenance tasks while listening to music or a podcast. For me, my maintenance day is usually Saturday mornings. I like to get all of these small tasks out of the way so I can enjoy my weekend and get a fresh start for the new week. 


4) Have A Brain Dump

To summarize decades’ worth of complex neurological research in one sentence, our brains are built for solving problems, connecting dots, and forming new ideas–not for holding on to information that we can simply externalize.
— Page 148

Through his research, Bailey concludes that the brain isn’t meant to store information but rather it’s meant to solve problems. Think about it, people would rather write down phone numbers on paper or save it on their phone rather than memorize the contact info of all of their friends and family members.

Readers should apply the same method to their work. A few simple examples include:

  • Making a to-do list to get the information out of your brain and onto paper to give your brain more room to solve problems

  • Putting appointments and meetings on calendars so you don’t have to memorize the person, place and time of the event

  • Writing down the grocery list so you don’t forget to buy the things you needed


This is what Bailey calls a “Brain Dump.” Write down all of the things that you need to get done, it can be on a notepad, phone, or laptop. And if something new pops into your head during the day, add it to your list. Instead of memorizing that you need to buy milk, eggs and paper towels after work, just write it down to remind yourself. Your head is not for holding ideas–it’s for having ideas and solving problems. 

By externalizing your tasks and writing them down, you’ll free up mental space, get organized, reduce stress and increase your focus on important tasks. 

5) Multitasking Is A Myth

Unless you’re doing totally mindless work...your brain is simply not built to focus on more than one thing at once. In fact, your brain can’t focus on two things simultaneously–instead it rapidly switches between them, which creates the illusion that you’re doing more than one thing at a time.
— Page 194

Here’s a counterintuitive truth people need to understand, just you feel productive doesn’t mean you are–and the opposite is often true. Multitasking may make you feel like you’re completing four tasks at once, but the truth is the brain doesn’t work that way.

What is actually happening, is that your brain is rapidly switching between each task which creates the illusion of doing more than one thing. The only exception where multitasking works is if the other task requires very little attention. Such as doing chores and listening to music or watching a movie and eating. 


Bailey points out that several research studies all come to the same conclusion: multitasking actually makes people less productive, more prone to errors and takes longer because it costs time and attention to switch between tasks. 

However, when you only do one thing at a time, you give your work the attention it deserves. 

Think about it, when you finished a project or assignment that did really well, you were likely completely focused on it and not listening to music, texting a friend, watching YouTube videos and working on the project at the same time. 


This can be a difficult habit to develop because of all the external stimuli in the world: social media, text notifications, emails, and other things that try to steal your attention, but remember when you invest all your attention to one task, you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more in a shorter amount of time. 

Make a conscious effort to push back against a wandering mind and continually bring your attention back to your most important activity. This will actually strengthen your attention muscle over time and help you control your brain instead of it being the other way around. 


This is one of the best books about productivity books that I’ve read for two reasons. First, the author has put in a lot of research and talked to several experts in the field and secondly, he has a Tim Ferriss-like style where he actually performs the experiments on himself to test the research.

The author also starts each chapter with a takeaway and ends with a summary and actionable item for the reader. Both are extremely helpful to readers and make it easier to absorb the important information found in the chapter. 

The book is less than 300 pages and can be read in two or three days since it is told as a story rather than a textbook style work. If you’re looking to become more productive, I’d highly recommend reading this book. And make sure to apply what you learn!

Rating: 5/5 Stars

You can get the book here or by clicking on the image below.

If you've enjoyed "The Productivity Project" or are looking for another book about productivity, I highly recommend reading "The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results" by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan.

For literally 5 bucks and a few hours of time, a book will give you an enormous amount of valuable information that can help you in life. It’s practically highway-robbery. So take advantage of this and read as much as you can.

If you want to check out my list of recommended books, you can find that here.

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