Ari: Hi and welcome to the podcast. Today we’re talking with ChrisBailey of the website A Year
of Productivity. Hey, Chris, thanks for talking with me today.
Chris: Thanks for having me Ari. It’s exciting to be here.
Ari: First of all, tell everybody what A Year of Productivity is.
Chris: Yeah, for sure. I’d love to. So, I recently graduated in May; I guess that’s a couple of
months ago and I was offered these two great jobs after I graduated but I decided to decline
them both and that was because I had a plan to start this project. What A Year of
Productivity is, you probably can infer from the name actually, but from one year – May 1st
2013 to May 1st 2014, I'm basically devouring everything I can about productivity. I'm
interviewing people. I'm conducting these weird productivity experiments where I use
myself as a guinea pig for them. I'm reading as many books as I can and I'm writing about
everything that I've learned. Hello?
Ari: Hi, Chris; keep going.
Chris: Oh, okay; sorryabout that. That’s basically the cracks of the website. A couple of
interesting things that I'm doing is the first of them, I'm keeping stats for everything that I do
everyday. If you go to ayearofproductivity.com there's a little stats tab at the top and it has
these elaborate tracks of how many hours I've invested everyday, exactly how many words I
write for articles and pages for the site each day, the number of book pages that I've read, a
daily work log of exactly what I do every single day from what I write to what I read to
everything. It’s always going forward. I'm going to put my body composition up there
because I'm doing this productivity experiment where I'm hacking around with my body
composition to see how that affects my productivity. The second interesting thing I'm doing
is, at least at this point, I don’t have ads on the site. I'm doing this thing called ‘pitched in’ so
if people find what I write valuable, they can pitch in a few bucks that will go towards the
project and 75% of that get reinvested in this project to build it up. That’s what a year of
productivity is about.
Ari: Ok. So, the first question I have is productivity is sort of a general term, right? I know as
far as I'm concerned it can encompass how you work, the times of day that you worked,
definitely health and wellness goes into that but what's some of the maybe unusual things
that you're considering under the wing approach that you're trying out?
Chris: I see productivity, going into your point, everyone kind of has a different definition of
productivity. Some people might define being productive is making a lot of money. Some
people might define productivity as having as much free time as possible so they can spend
their time however they want. I probably fit more into the second campus. If I wanted
money I probably would have accepted one of the two jobs but instead I want to build up this
interesting project. One of the interesting ways I define productivity is how many people
interact with this website. So far it’s been incredible over the last couple of months; there's
been about 24,000 people that have signed on to the website and have eaten up an article or
two. That’s kind of the main metrics that I use to define productivity is, is this thing that I'm
putting up there – this project – is it actually shaking people up a bit? Is it changing the way
Ari: So your output is your writing, right?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Essentially, I'm doing the craftwork on behalf of people who want to become
more productive. In a way, I'm going out there, I'm interviewing people, I'm reading the
books. I wanted to steal all of this stuff that’s out there, figure out what the BS is and set that
aside, figure out where the golden nuggets are and I want to talk about those things on the
Ari: So, on the physical or mental side or the biological side, what crazy things have you tried so
far other than your ten days of reclusion which I do want to get to in more depth? What are
some of the crazy… sleep hacking? Not eating?
Chris: Yeah, it’s a ton of stuff. The ten days of reclusion; that was a terrible ten days. One of the
things is I'm waking up a 5:30 every morning and that’s been a hard one to hack around with.
I wrote an article, maybe a few weeks ago, called So Far I'm Failing At Waking Up At 5:30
because I'm having so much trouble with this one. Right now, I'm really trying to honker
down and figure out what habits I can change, whether going to bed earlier will help and
that’s been helping so far. That’s one of them. The second one that might be a little more
up your alley is changing my body composition; I think I mention that a bit. I'm reducing my
body fat which is 17% rate – that’s an average level but I want to reduce it from 17% to 10%
which is considered very athletic in a male. I think 17% is very athletic in a female but I’m a
male. So, 10% to get to the athletic level and gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle mass in the
process to see as I work out how’s my ego affected? How’s my confidence affected? How
is my focus, my concentration affected? That’s another one. Maybe another one that’s
more of a mind hack is I'm really into meditation. I meditate for half an hour to an hour every
day. I really see that as a high leverage activity in my life. One of the things that I'm going
to do is meditate for an entire week straight. Not for 12 hours a day, for 5 hours every day
which is kind of the maximum a person can tolerate so I'm going to meditate for 5 hours a
day for an entire week to see how that affects my productivity also.
Ari: It almost sounds like you're taking a mythbusters approach. They try to prove something
and when they can’t they do the extreme absolute like end of the limits to make it possible.
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Ari: I think that’s where we actually discover stuff.
Chris: Kind of outline places. I could’ve, I guess, taken the easy approach to this project and say
I'm just going to write something a day and I might would’ve gotten the same amount of
website traffic and interest that way but i thought why not use this opportunity and just hack
the hell out of my life because I have a year to do it.
Ari: That’s a wonderful opportunity. So, what have you found as far as diet? Let’s start with
that. What's been particularly helpful and particularly not helpful?
Chris: Well, maybe we can jump to the reclusion experiment because…
Ari: Ok, let’s do that.
Chris: Yeah, because that kind of works into the diet. I wrote a post on the site, I don’t want to
keep talking about this but that’s kind of what we’re talking about, I'm just going to plug away
here. I wrote an article, the top things that I learned living in reclusion for ten days. I lived in
a basement, total reclusion – not talking to any people, not having any sunlight for ten days.
I found, near the beginning of that experiment, that I hit these really low spots. I had no
physical energy. I had no emotionalenergy. I actually got quite sad at some times; quite
depressed because there's no people around. One of the keys to staying sane down here,
in addition to meditating and stuff like that is that the boring kind of cliché things are the
things that actually work. By boring cliché things I mean if you ask somebody, how do I live
a better, healthier life? They’ll say things like eat well, get enough sleep, workout, take a
vitamin a day, drink a lot of water. The problem I think is that they're repeated so often that
they lose almost all their meaning but I think that behind every one of these clichés is a truth
that is so incredibly powerful that people feel compelled to repeat the phrase again and
again and again. When I started eating better I started thinking, how much protein am I
actually getting down here. I wasn’t getting enough protein so I ate more protein and that
upped my energy levels. I stopped eating prepackaged food and I started eating these
wonderful meals that I could prepare and that my girlfriend could help me prepare down
here. I started drinking a ton of water. I went from drinking a couple liters a day to three or
four liters a day and that really helped living in this dry environment. Those are kind of a few
things that I played around with that actually work.
Ari: The obvious question that I want to throw out there is how much of that do you think is
affected because you had no sunlight? You know, you think that if you're like on a desert
island and maybe had no sun or water….
Chris: Oh, that would be wonderful. Compared to living in this hell for ten days, yeah, that would
have been lovely. There's kind of two factors that I think affected my mood, my energy
levels, my motivation throughout the experiment. The first was the amount of sunlight that I
received and the second was the amount of social interaction. In some ways it’s difficult to
separate the two but sunlight definitely has a huge influence over how productive you are; it
regulates your sleep. When the sun goes down, your body starts to produce melatonin
which helps you go to sleep. I'm sure if you’ve been hacking around with this kind of stuff
here you're familiar with it. It regulates your mood, it helps you with stress. So, living in the
basement I found that it really did affect my productivity; I wasn’t sleeping as well. I was
sleeping much longer hours because my body didn’t know when to wake up. There were
some nights I went to bed at 9:30 and I woke up at 10:00 in the morning and I felt just as
rested as I would have if the sun would come up at six, like it usually does here. I found that
really affected my productivity.
Ari: I can only imagine; it sounds awful and interesting at the same time. So, how many months
is this now? Three or four?
Chris: Two months in; two and a half.
Ari: Two and a half months in. So, have you picked up any gold nuggets yet?
Chris: Absolutely, yeah.
Ari: Tell me one.
Chris: One of the things is self-honesty. It doesn’t matter how many productivity hacks and tips
that you learn about, if you're not honest with yourself about where you succeed and where
you fail. I’ll give you a few examples. The first is I have a to-do list every day; actually quite
a complex to-do list that I manage each day. And being honest with yourself whether your
to-do list is actually doable is incredibly important to becoming more productive. If you find
you just keep putting stuff off to another day, you're really not being honest with yourself
about how much you can get done every day. Same thing with goals and New Year’s
resolutions that are too ambitious. You're not being honest with yourself there. If you hit
the snooze button every day, ten times, maybe you should instead be a little bit more honest
with yourself and set the alarm half an hour later when your body actually wants to get up.
So being honest with yourself; I mean there’s so many examples of this. Do you ignore
your mind when it’s overworked? Do you ignore your body when it tells you that it’s full?
Do you spend several hours in front of the TV and forget about where all your time went?
Kind of that double loop; we have these things that we do every day but having a double loop
around the things that we do whether we reflect on is this actually what I want? Is this
actually accomplishing something? That’s huge.
Ari: On the counter side of that, have you found anything that anyone should absolutely not do in
Chris: There's so many things you shouldn’t do; there's so many things that you should do. I don’t
know if there's kind of one thing. I think productivity, at least how I define it, is kind of a
holistic thing. I measure productivity in a number of different ways in terms of how happy I
am, how many words I write, and everything in between. Maybe one thing is cutting out TV.
I think I wrote an article a few months back that the average person spends 13 years of their
life watching TV. You know, we only have so many hours in every day and I don’t want to
try and take an inspirational turn here but that’s a lot of time when you think about it. 13
years of the time you have on this planet to make yourself better, to make other people
better, to become happier. I can think of so many better things, higher leverage things that
a person can do instead of watching TV.
Ari: I think that’s a very good tip. Since we have three kids under the age of 19 months, TV is a
luxury that we had to sort of give up.
Ari: But I found it to be a very cathartic experience honestly.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. It’s really hard to get rid of, right? This might be going back to the
self-honest thing; how much TV do you actually want to watch? Is it too hard on me if I
suddenly cut TV out of my life? Should I instead reduce it by half an hour a day or month,
whatever? But it’s huge; when you get rid of it there's a TV kind of shaped hole in your life
that you can fill with better things when you get rid of it; like reading, like writing, like actually
calling up a friend and having a coffee with them. You'll see it’s like the whole doing less
philosophy; when you do less you actually do more. When you get rid of TV all these higher
leveraged things come flooding into your life that end up making you more productive in the
Ari: I'm very much in line with that because that’s a very good sentiment. You're relatively at the
beginning stage of this experiment which I'm glad I got to speak to you at this point of this
because I hope that a lot of people listen to this and then want to follow along with what you
come up with. I think that the sort of vacuum that you created for yourself to be able to do
this experiment is unique and a really wonderful opportunity to test something that you
usually can’t test in a laboratory.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, thank you.
Ari: Yeah, I think it’s great. so the last question that I always like to ask people on this podcast
and again I’d actually love to interview you again at the end of this year but at this point, what
would you say are the top three productivity tips that keep you kicking ass basically?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. I try to kick as much ass as I can with this. The first one, I gave it away
earlier because it’s just so huge, is to be honest with yourself. Pretty much every tip or hack
or method that you can see or read about including less doing is totally useless, it’s totally
useless if you're not honest with yourself. That might sound a bit hippy dippy which I think I
was talking about but it really isn’t. People who are honest are rare as diamonds but people
who are honest with themselves I think are even rarer. That’d be the first one; kind of keep in
mind these games that you play with yourself and just be honest about where your strong
suits are, where your weak suits are because that’ll make you a better person at the end of
the day. The second one I’d say is to meditate. Meditation, it’s not very accessible to a lot of
people because you say meditation and people don’t know what the hell you're talking
about. It’s like sushi for me; maybe some people like it but when somebody says, you want
to go out for sushi, and I don’t even know what sushi is and you're so resistant against the
idea. I think people overcomplicate meditation and I wrote a guide that I think is pretty
helpful to getting started meditating because it’s so simple. Meditation is a no-brainer for
me. You think sitting on my ass for 20 minutes at a time, how is that going to make me more
productive? that’s a big question but one of the things that I've been doing with this project,
A Year of Productivity, is scoping out the benefits both real life, both laboratory benefits of
meditation. It calms you down. It lets you handle stress better. You need less sleep
when you meditate. If you spend 20 minutes meditating every day, you need to sleep for 20
minutes less anyways. It’s a zero cost to your time. It will let you focus better; that’s a
huge one. It will give you more discipline. It helps your mind defragment its thoughts so it
can make better sense of who you are and what you're doing. So, the second tip I would
give is to meditate. Ari, I’ll send you a link after if you want to link folks to the meditation
guide I wrote. I've heard from a lot of people that it’s helpful. The third one is I’d say the
rule of three. This is a daily ritual that I love and it’s definitely not as deep as being honest
with yourself or meditating every day. It won’t be life changing, well, it might be life
changing, who knows. Every day; here’s how the rule of three works. Every day, you write
down three things that you want to accomplish that day; only three. That’s it; you're not
allowed to write any more. You can write less than three but you have to write down three
things that you're going to accomplish that day. Also, you write down three things that you
want to accomplish that week at the beginning of the week and you accomplish three things
that you want to accomplish that year. That’s it. Always revisit these three things every
day, every week to see if you're on track to meet them. That’s the third one I guess.
Ari: I like that last one a lot; it’s actually another rule of three in survival which is basically like
stress can kill you in three seconds, three days is how long you can go without water, three
weeks without food. It’s something like that; it’s sort of like a weird similarity to me.
Chris: Yeah. Oh, could I do like a 3.5?
Ari: Of course.
Chris: Can I do a three and a half tip? This one is huge and I entered it as a musician for the
project named Ernie Halter. He’s a big, famous singer guy. He has a half million followers
on Twitter; he’s famous. I guess that’s famous. But one of the things he talks about, he
writes a hundred songs a year, this guy, which is just mind boggling to me because you have
some of these musicians you want to release a new album like every month but they take a
few years. But one of the things he mentioned was every day he does something that is
important but not urgent because so many people just focus on just putting out fires all day
and they never actually accomplish anything. They only focus on the urgent things that
aren’t important. They don’t focus on the important things that aren’t urgent. I fall into this
trap all the time because it’s so many tweets with so many emails and so many text
messages and so much of everything; it’s easy to only focus on the fires while you miss the
whole forest and the bigger picture. That’s 3.5.
Ari: You know what? That is an excellent one to end with, honestly. I think it all ties very well
together because that goes into self-honesty. A lot of people think everything is urgent
when it really isn’t and what's urgent to one person is often not urgent to someone else.
Chris: Yeah, just because something feels urgent doesn’t mean it is.
Ari: Chris, this is great. Those are great tips. I'm really glad that we’re kind of catching you at
the beginning of this journey and I hope that everyone follows along with it. Thank you for
taking the time to talk to me. Tell everyone the URL for where they can follow you.
Chris: Absolutely. It’s pretty simple; it’s ayearofproductivity.comand I'm also on Twitter at
ayoproductivity because a year of productivity was too long as a handle to get.
Ari: Okay. Well, Chris thanks again. Everyone check out Chris and follow as he discovers the
best of productivity for us all.
Chris: Thanks a lot Ari.