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How To Be the Most Productive Person You Know w/ Chris Bailey

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Chris Bailey, the web's top productivity guru, returns to Becoming SuperHuman to share his best strategies.
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“Productivity isn't about how much you produce; it's about how much you accomplish.”
— Chris Bailey

Greetings, SuperFriends!

Today, I’m excited to welcome back one of the most entertaining, engaging, and personable guests we’ve had on the show – productivity expert Chris Bailey. For this of you who don’t know, Chris is a life-long productivity enthusiast and devoted a year of his life to testing every productivity hack and strategy and blogging about it. His blog exploded in popularity, and so this week, Chris is publishing his much-anticipated book, The Productivity Project, through Crown Publishing and Penguin Random House. Because you guys loved the previous episode so much, I just had to have him back on the show to take a deeper-dive into some of his techniques, strategies, and wisdoms shared in the book.


In this episode, we discuss some of the more nitty-gritty details of how to achieve peak productivity, and Chris was kind enough to share so much of the wisdom and so many teachings of his book in such an engaging and informative way on the podcast. Just like last time, the episode is not only packed with actionable takeaways that you can put into practice TODAY, but it’s also freaking hilarious. Chris is an absolute delight, and he had me cracking up half the show. We did have a little bit of a connection issue, so at times it might seem a little disjointed, but I think for the most part everything got ironed out in editing, so not to worry.


This episode is brought to you by the all new SuperLearner Academy!

This episode is brought to you by the all new SuperLearner Academy!

In our second episode with Chris Bailey, we discuss:

  • What Chris has been working on while in “lockdown” mode
  • The benefits of having an editor for providing perspective
  • Why email is evil, and how you can cut it down as much as possible
  • Where should you begin if you want to increase your productivity?
  • What are the 2 different ways that a task can be valuable?
  • The differences between producing more vs. accomplishing more
  • Time vs. Attention vs. Energy – and how to manage each
  • Why your brain resists high impact work in favor of busy work
  • What factors make a task high-risk for procrastination or aversiveness
  • Practical Buddhism and meditation – and how they relate to productivity
  • The idea of biological prime time and when you should work
  • Why Chris Bailey's publishers might have to add an “anti-masturbation talk” clause in his contract (ha!)
  • How would Chris Bailey set up for a “productivity-0ff” against our previous guest Ari Meisel
  • Willpower, and how to maintain it for things like New Years resolutions
  • How “mindfulness” relates to productivity and working deliberately in the moment
  • What's the main difference between a monk and a cocaine-fueled stock trader?
  • How to beat the temptation of technology that distracts us
  • Why Chris Bailey is devoted to meditation for life
  • Why “time management” is BS – and what the alternative is
  • What are the more crazy, weird, and bizarre experiments that Chris did while researching his book?
  • How does Chris Bailey measure his productivity, and how has that changed over time?

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Chris Bailey:

“It's almost impossible to look at the world without any bias.”
“Why do anything if you're not going to do it right?”
“Not all tasks are created equal.”
“We have 3 ingredients that we combine over the course of every day in order to get stuff done. Our time… our attention… and our energy.”
“When the day is done, what have you accomplished?… A lot of people are left with nothing at the end of the day.”
“92% of people who make New Years resolutions fail at them.”
“I think that for every minute that you meditate, you make back at least 2 minutes in productivity that day.”


Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host Jonathan Levi.

Jonathan Levi: This episode is brought to you by the all-new and very exciting, SuperLearner Academy. Now SuperLearner Academy is the home of my premium level content and masterclasses from my course on accelerated learning, speed, reading, and memory all the way to my course on productivity. Now in these masterclasses, I go into the gritty detail that I just can't go into on the podcast or in the books, or in the other online courses.

I offer the worksheets and the homework and the types of individualized attention that can only happen in my own platform where I control the learning experience. So if you want to learn faster, if you want to remember more, if you want to read faster and you want to be able to do this all with a cohesive 10-week program, that's going to take you from wherever you are today, all the way to certifiable, SuperLearner status. I want you to check out the exclusive discount that we're offering for podcast listeners only at That's

Greeting, SuperFriends, and welcome, welcome, welcome to this week's show. You guys, this week I'm super excited to welcome back easily one of the most entertaining and engaging, and personable guests that we've ever had on the show.

For those of you who don't know this guest is a lifelong productivity enthusiast who actually devoted a year of his life to testing every single productivity, hack, and strategy that he could find and blogging about it. Now, this blog actually exploded in popularity so much that it became his full-time job up until this day.

And actually this week, our guest is actually publishing his much-anticipated book called the Productivity Project. And he's achieved such a level of success with his productivity teachings that he's actually published through crown Publishing and Penguin Random House all over North America. So because you guys love the previous episodes so much, and because I had seriously, so much fun talking with him.

I just had to get him back on the show to take a deeper dive into some of the techniques and some of the strategies and the wisdom that he shared in this all-new book. Now I do have to mention, I did get an advanced copy of the book and I did skim through it as you'll discover in the episode. And it is awesome. You guys, it is definitely at the top of my reading list.

Now, in this episode, we're going to discuss some of the more nitty-gritty details. As I said, how to achieve this peak productivity, what actually works, what doesn't work. And our guest was kind enough to actually share so much of the wisdom on the show for free.

And so many of these teachings that he's now offering in his book. So I hope you guys will reciprocate and pick up a copy of that book. Just like last time, the episode is not only packed with actionable takeaways that you can put into practice today, but it's also freaking hilarious and he had me in absolute stitches half the time.

Just a hilarious, hilarious episode. I do have to give you a quick warning. We did have a little bit of a connection issue, so. If at some point it seems a little disjointed or the conversations, switches gears really quickly. I do apologize for that, but I think our awesome editor, Evelyn took care of that.

So thank you, Evelyn, from everyone in the audience. And I do think the episode will still be absolutely fantastic. So without any further blabbing, let me present to you guys, my friend, Mr. Chris Bailey.

Hey, Chris Bailey. Welcome back to the show, my friend. I'm glad I hit record because you've been giving me some solid laughs on the, on the warmup. So welcome.

Chris Bailey: You've been very quiet. I can feel that you want to like save my antics for the recording.

Jonathan Levi: I do, because I feel guilty if I heard all the hilariousness like I've had a private conversation behind the audience's back when I really want to share, you know, all your wonderful with the people.

Chris Bailey: But you're basically backstabbing your entire audience. When you think about it. Not giving them access to my hilarious. I'm not that funny of a guy.

Jonathan Levi: You know what? Let's just do it the most egalitarian way. Let's just give everyone your Skype handle. I think that'd be the easiest way just to make sure it's equal access. So how are you doing my friend? Have you been?

Chris Bailey: Oh, I am good. I just got back from a yoga class. I'm feeling good. I had my 30 minutes of meditation this morning after I woke up. I'm in like the send-out mode right now.

Jonathan Levi: That's fantastic.

Chris Bailey: Like, you know, that time, you know, that period like between when you're asleep and when you're awake up, where, when you're awake, you have weight of the whole world is left a haze.

I'm like. In that mode, but with 10 times the amount of energy. So my mind is calm. It's at ease, but it's kind of a feel-good. It's got this natural, like yoga. Hi. It's weird. Have you ever gotten, do you do yoga?

Jonathan Levi:  Once in a while? Once in a while, I do crazy person. Yeah. Which is CrossFit.

Chris Bailey:  Oh, CrossFit. Okay.

Jonathan Levi: So, I need some of that. I need some of that calm because I've been, and I'm actually really looking forward to some productivity-boosting stuff. Cause I've been slaving away at this masterclass stuff, which hopefully by the time this recording comes out, we'll be live. And you know, just it's a lot, man. It's a lot to build your entire whole platform thing.

So I'm hoping you can inspire me with some practical productivity tips.

Chris Bailey: You betcha my friend, you betcha.

Jonathan Levi: So tell me, you've actually speaking of productivity, you've been in lockdown mode for quite a while. I sent you a few emails back and forth, and I know you have this auto-reply. Like I check my email once a decade and only if I like you apply kind of situation.

So what have you been up to tell the audience and how does it feel to come up for air and be among the living again?

Chris Bailey: Oh, it feels amazing. It feels amazing. Yeah. I've been locked down. Where was I in the book when we were chatting last? Was I in the middle of writing it? Uh, do you recall? It was so long ago. I think it was in the middle of writing it.

Jonathan Levi: I think you had written it, but it was kind of in the final federal stages. Yeah. So I handed in my book, my editor and the entire team at my publisher, you know, really dug it. And so then we went through a couple of stages of editing and fact-checking and all that fun stuff.

And so it's been, it's a tedious process because after you create something like a book, I've found that it takes so much out of you, but you're not done after you put it out after you put the words on the page, because you have to read every single word, you know, every single line, every sentence, multiple times, so that it's just perfect and crafted the exact way that you want it.

And especially through these, you know, these editing gates, should that make it better, frankly, that, you know, hone the message. It kind of, you know, makes a Michelangelo's David out of a block of granite because you put these ideas out there. And you kind of see what you write from your lens, right? So you see it through one of the things I'm realizing is it's almost impossible to look at the world without any bias.

And so there's always bias. There's always prejudice, no matter how enlightened you are. The only person on the planet that's ever looked at the world without any bias has been probably the Buddha, but he's achieved, Lightman. And it's, you know, he's an edge case we can say. And so you see all of your words from the perspective of somebody else when you work with a really talented editor go through these different stages.

But the reason you're getting that auto-response is because I've been hunkered down in this mode, just, you know, crafting the very best book that I could. Cause I figure like. Why do anything if you're not going to do it right? And, you know, email is one of those things where you can't get rid of email.

Like nobody gets rid of email, even people who want to get rid of email and have all the flexibility in the world, don't get rid of email, but it's one of these things that you can kind of shrink and control to spend more time and attention on other things. So, first of all, I'm sorry. About the auto-response.

Don't be sorry. I'm inspired by it.

Chris Bailey: I hope the book speaks for itself.

Jonathan Levi: I'm inspired by it. I'm actually, so you're trying to cut down. I now am using rescue time to measure and it sends me a notification when I spend more than 15 minutes a day on email, which hopefully only happens once a week, you know, at the beginning of the week.

But do you have any other tips for our audience on how they can cut down? And when I say our audience, I mean me, how can I cut down my email use?

Chris Bailey: Yeah. So the thing about email is it takes up a disproportionate amount of your attention than it does your time. So you might spend 15 minutes on it throughout the day, but if you switch into that context out of other contexts, such as writing a book or working on a master course, it's going to take up a disproportionate amount of your attention and compromise your performance in other areas too.

So the thing about email. Is it doesn't exist on an Island? It exists in a way that's interconnected with all of the elements of your work. And so when you switch out of different contexts in your work, you end up compromising your performance. So if I were to give some advice and I hate really giving advice, I much prefer to share what works for me because I hate being preachy.

A lot of people are preachy, but it would be to simply track and become aware of how often you check your email every day. And you don't have to make an effort to change things, but just keep a tally, you know, keep a sticky note on your desk. And whenever you switch into that context, away from something else and instant messages are the same way.

And, you know, telephone calls are the same way, you know, whenever you switch into these low-return contexts in your work, um, just make a tally. And the thing about making a tally is it makes you aware of what you're doing because you don't often take that step back to become aware of what you're doing in the first place. And then I think that's where the heart of productivity is.

Jonathan Levi: I really love that. That's a really nice segue into, well, I guess a segue back a back way in to talking about the book, which, you know, I appreciate the advanced copy. I have to admit you gave me a little bit of a productivity and procrastination issue because as I was trying to prep for the interview, I couldn't help, but actually, you know, I'm skimming through the book, skimming through the book, trying to find some questions and I try not to read.

Chris Bailey: Or you skimmed it, you didn't read it, you didn't read it. I come all this way to do this. Yeah.

Jonathan Levi: And so I try not to read the books before I, before I do the interviews because then it can come off.

Chris Bailey:  Because you're lazy.

Jonathan Levi: Because I'm lazy. And I read so slowly, you know, but.

Chris Bailey: Okay. Now I do that too. I do that too.

Like I think everybody, it's kind of like how everybody thinks they're an above-average driver. I think like 70% of people think they're an above-average driver, 80 or 90% of people think they're middle class. I feel like reading is the opposite where everybody thinks they read slower than they actually do.

Because my girlfriend, she says, Oh, I'm such a slow reader. And I think I'm a slow reader. You think you're a slow reader?

Jonathan Levi: I'm just being sarcastic, man. I'm a, you know, I teach a course in speed reading.

Chris Bailey: Okay. Oh, yeah.

Jonathan Levi: But so to read the books before, because then it's like, the questions that I ask are just so disconnected from what the audience probably wants to know, but yeah, you're right, I'm totally lazy.

Yeah. So it gave me an issue though because the book is very interesting and it sucked me in and I ended up spending like an hour, you know, kind of thinking through and reading different sections. Yeah. So I loved it. Yeah. I loved it. I want to read the whole thing and now that we will have the interview over with, but I really like, because we just had an interview with Derek Sivers and he talked about how books need to be more practical and approachable, and applicable right away.

And so I love that your book starts with boom, where to start and you actually give people an estimate of how much time it's going to take to read each chapter. So I wanted to ask you, where does someone start when they want to be more productive?

Chris Bailey: Well, I think the mistake, a lot of people make is not stepping back to figure out what they want to become more productive on.

And so when somebody says, yeah, I'm so under productivity these days, and then they just work faster and harder at, and at a more frenzied pace, they're doing the opposite of what they need to do in order to get more done over the course of the day. And so where I think somebody should start with their productivity and how I've structured the book, I've structured a book.

There's 25 chapters. And like you said, all of them are really short, but you know, I, I had some time to kind of make it fresh and entertaining along the way, because the thing about productivity is it's like for so many people, it's just so boring and you know, I'm different than you're probably different in this regard too.

And maybe a lot of your listeners are, so. This point might not resonate with them that much, but. Most people I talk to, whenever I mentioned the word productivity and say, I, you know, I had studied productivity for a living. They think of something that's so cold and corporate and about efficiency. And, you know, it's like, I turned to a block of ice in front of them that I'm just so boring that I studied productivity.

So, you know, one of the things I try to do is make it entertaining along the way and bring that voice to it. And, you know, I inserted, I don't know if you caught like the Seinfeld references, like a couple of shrinkage jokes in the book scattered throughout. I have a bunch of references to Taylor Swift lyrics.

I'm not sure how I got off on this tangent, but you know where to start is taking a step back. You know, figuring out what you want to become more productive on in the first place. And one of the things that I've realized when it comes to productivity is that a task can be valuable for one of two reasons.

The first is that it gives you a bigger return on your time. And so if you look at a couple of tasks and this is an extreme example, I'll admit, but if you look at it something like watching Netflix for an hour and writing a book for an hour or working on a course for an hour. You know, it doesn't take much thinking to come to the realization that writing the book or working on the course will provide you with an insane amount of productivity or, you know, results compared to watching Netflix.

I conducted a productivity experiment where I watched, I think, 70 hours of Netflix over the course of a week, but that's beside the point, you know, there's different value embedded in different tasks. And so, you know, not all tasks are created equal. And so that's the first kind of ways something can be more productive the second way is that it adds more meaning to your life.

And so, you know, take that same Netflix example and compare that to spending time with a loved one. You know, I would say spending time with loved ones would make you more productive when you equate productivity with how much you accomplish and not how busy you are. And so that's the best place to start, I think is, you know, figuring out, okay, what are the most valuable tasks in my work and in my home life. What adds the most meaning.

Jonathan Levi:  That's brilliant. And that's one of the things I try to emphasize also in my kind of productivity teachings, that really the reason to be more productive should probably not be, to get more work done, you know, to work more in and all that it should be to open uptime. And this is a point that I noticed right away in your book to open up time for things that bring you joy, it's like, get the work. And the providing out of the way and then be productive in another way, which is, you know, being a happy human being.

Chris Bailey: Yeah. And the way I come at things is we have three ingredients that we combine over the course of every day in order to get stuff done. There's our time, there's our attention and there's our energy.

And there are ways to focus better and bring more attention to your work. And there are ways to cultivate how much energy you have, but the time that you have every day, Unless you like sleepless, then you end up wasting more time because you don't work as efficiently. The amount of time that you have every day is fixed.

You get 24 drops of this stuff every day. And it's your job. I think, to manage that time as best as possible to work on these smartest things. And so you can be productive on email all day long and not accomplish a single thing, but if you're productive on the right things, that's kind of where you'll become the most productive.

I think. I think the big mistake. And I think where a lot of people's minds go to when they think about productivity is they go to efficiency and effectiveness, whatever the hell effectiveness means. Instead of like when the day is done, what have you have accomplished?

Jonathan Levi: Right. Right. Yeah. And I think it's, was it what you needed to accomplish as well?

Chris Bailey: Yeah. What you needed to accomplish and what's different in the world or in the lives of the people around you, because you lived a day of your life. And a lot of people are left with nothing at the end of the day. And I know your listeners won't fall into this bucket, but the people who accomplished the most are the ones who create those results.

Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. So I want to ask though, because on the topic of kind of email and doing things that aren't really worth doing. You talk about the other side of things. You have a chapter called cozying up to ugly tasks. Yeah, that was brilliant because for me, so much of my lost productivity is bargaining and negotiating and kind of shying away from the stuff that I just don't freaking want to do.

And I guess when I'm looking for more productivity, what I'm really looking for is more effective way to get that done. So I don't have to worry about it. What are your thoughts on that?

Chris Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. What would you say is the ugliest task in your work? If you had to name one?

Jonathan Levi: Well, right now I'm dealing with, uh, just administrative work, you know, like bookkeeping, bookkeepers, stuff like that.

Chris Bailey:  That's the worst. Yeah. It's just so tedious. Usually, the way things work is, and this is a kind of a weird connection I realized. And when I realized this, you know, I thought, you know, is this really the case? You know, for me or for everyone. And it's that the higher return turn a task is. So the more it allows you to accomplish with every minute of your time, the more your brain resists it.

Because doing busy work is easy and it doesn't lead you to accomplish anything like checking email all day long. Your mind doesn't put up a fight to checking email. I get about 500 emails a day and that used to be a point of bragging, like almost humble bragging. And I'm ashamed to admit that, but it was, it was a point. To say, because, you know, Oh, I get five times as much email as you do.

So the world needs me five times as much, but it's kind of a pain in the ass now. And my mind would gravitate towards doing email versus other things because those types of tasks were less subversive. And we talked about the procrastination triggers last time, I think, right.

Jonathan Levi: Right.

Chris Bailey: It was probably so long ago that somebody listened to that. But you know, the idea behind the triggers of procrastination is that there are certain attributes that a task can have that make you more likely to put it off. And I'm going to try to remember them. I talk about this a lot. So you think boring, frustrating, difficult, whether it lacks personal meaning whether it lacks intrinsic rewards, whether it's ambiguous and whether it's unstructured.

And the more of these attributes, a task has the psychology around the task aversiveness says that you're more likely to put it off, that your mind will have more aversion to those types of tasks. And I find that fascinating because procrastination is such a big, ugly subject, and it's hard to get down to the science of it, but that's what it shows that these big ugly and oftentimes important tasks in your work all have these attributes.

So, you know, making a plan to flip them to fire up logical part of your brain is something that you should do and chances are, you know, If you get paid more than minimum wage, and this is just a reality of the work that we do today, where if you get paid more than minimum wage, and you're not working, you know, this factory type assembly line type work, chances are you do brainwork.

You do knowledge work that has some of these attributes, and that's why people pay you more than minimum wage to do them. It's worth kind of taking that step back and making a plan to, to combat that.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I did also notice that so much about the book is about creating that motivation, setting up the planning. It's like, you know, it's the Abraham Lincoln saying that if you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I'll spend the first four sharpening the ax. And I really saw a lot of that in your book.

Chris Bailey: Yeah. And that's, you know, the book kind of combines that sharpening with a bit of awareness too. And so when I stepped back from writing the book, one of the weird things that I realized, and one of the folks that provided an endorsement for the back of the book, Marshall Goldsmith, he put this in his blurb saying, you know, this is practical Buddhism at its finest.

And I felt like. Really really Buddhist know I study Buddhism and I am Buddhist and I'd meditate every day and stuff like that. And I kind of realized that so much of productivity is about becoming not only more aware of what you're doing, but also more deliberate about the things that you do. And so the thing that lives at the heart of productivity, I think is this intention and we're losing grip of our intention every single day.

You know, that's why we procrastinate. It would be impossible to procrastinate. If you worked with intention throughout the day, you only procrastinate when you lose a grip of that intention and this intention and this deliberateness, which are in my mind, two sides of the same coin really exist at the heart of productivity.

You know, we used to work in factories. And the conditions in about productivity were very, very different in a factory, right? Because we did this repetitive work. We showed up at nine, we left at five and after we left work, our attention was ours and our energy was ours too. We didn't burn out or anything like that.

But today, you know, your work benefits from all the attention that you could possibly throw at it and all the energy that you could possibly bring to it too, you know? Energy didn't matter in a factory because the work was repetitive. It was very simple, focused in really matter. You could be hung over every day.

And I probably would be if I worked in a factory, but it doesn't work with the type of work that you or I do right now. You know, somebody who brings 50% of their attention to their work is going to be so much less productive than somebody who simplifies their work becomes more aware and dedicate 75 or 85 or 95% of their attention to what's in front of them in the moment.

And this is what's changed about productivity, and this is why the whole 9 – 5 idea is frankly, because work doesn't exist inside those boundaries anymore. And it does for some people in some managers, you know, they like to kind of, you know, bring people in at the same time, but you know, what, if you have the most energy in the evening, you know, one of the ideas that I talk about in the book is this idea of your biological prime time.

And so one of the experiments I conducted was every day and this experiment was a pain in the ass, but it gave me some valuable intel every day for three weeks, every hour I tracked how much energy I had and it was subjective of course, out of 10. And after the three weeks and I eliminated caffeine, I tried to sleep my natural patterns and, you know, ate small meals.

After three weeks, I came up with this energy chart for how much energy I had over the course of the day and realize that it was a freaking roller coaster. Over the course of the day, you know, my energy was not constant. And there were times of the day when I consistently brought up more energy and more focus to the work that was in front of me.

And I call this your biological prime time. It was a term coined by, I think Sam Carpenter in his book Work The System, but I'm going to try to draw this back the best I can. You know, in the knowledge economy that we work in today, our time is it's still important, right? Because we have meetings, we have things to coordinate around other people, but I have a chapter in my book called the end of time management.

And this is important because your time in my view, because your time doesn't fluctuate. Every day, you have those 24 drops of time, but what does fluctuate on a day to day on a week to week basis is how much energy you have and how much focus you have. And so why not manage your work around what actually changes on a day-to-day basis whenever you can.

And these things are so much more important in the knowledge economy than they were when we worked in the factory. I forget what the hell was the original question you asked? This is what I do and go on and meditate and do yoga before talking to you. I go, I find like a million tangents at one time.

Jonathan Levi: So the funny thing is I didn't even really so much ask a question. I kind of talked about how I love the motivation and the planning. And then, yeah, we just, you know, we just have fun. I mean, this time we're not talking about masturbation, so we're already way ahead of last time.

Chris Bailey: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So this is a good plus. My PR people tell me, do not make masturbation jokes on podcasts.

Jonathan Levi: Do they actually listen to it and got it?

Chris Bailey: No, no, they did. No, that's a joke.

Jonathan Levi: Because that would be brilliant. I would be very, very honored if a new line went into your publishing contract because of our show.

Chris Bailey: I would love that conversation and it would be so awkward for them, but I would enjoy every second of it. And if they actually listened to like the podcast I've done in the past, And said like, listen, Chris, and I could just see, you can imagine how this conversation will go, you know, listen, Chris, you know, you're great in interviews, you know, you bring a lot of energy and you have a lot of experience and you're like really into what you're talking about.

But occasionally you go off on these little tangents, where are you talking about? You know, masturbation and you somehow find ways to combine that with meditation and Buddhism and, you know, really feel it wouldn't be good for the book. Um, you know, if you're getting a context or anything like that, you can imagine that conversation.

Jonathan Levi: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Chris Bailey: It hasn't, I will update you and your listeners if it does happen, but so far it has not, but yeah, yeah. Back to kind of the practical bit, because this is one of the things I find with productivity books is when I was writing this book, like I wanted to make the ID. I realized I'm going into kind of a selling mode right now.

And I'm really, that's really not my intention. Like this is something I'm so proud of. You know, I look through the end result and I think about the team that came together to make it and the experiments and the interviews and everything. And it was it all came down to this one book. You know, this is kind of the crescendo for my decade of, you know, being into productivity for my years of experimenting with it.

So, you know, I'm going to talk it up a little bit, but, you know, I wrote the book that I would want to read. You know, it has short chapters. It has a lot of subheadings at the beginning of every chapter. I give a takeaway. So if somebody feels like, Oh, maybe this chapter doesn't sound like it's for me, you know, I give a takeaway for like what you'll get out of each chapter.

So you can skip the ones that you don't. Want to read, you know, I'm not going to force you to read the entire book. It has a lot of subheadings. I, I forget if I mentioned that, but the big thing is, you know, it's not only entertaining. It doesn't just have the shrinkage jokes. It also has the practical bits, because really like this has to be a productive book.

Like that was my intention with this book is after somebody reads it. What is going to change in the way that they work or in the way that they live their lives? And that's, I think the only reason to write a book, you know, it's great to write a book about your experience and all that, stuff like that.

But at the same time, you know, after somebody reads it, what is the residue that sticks with them? You know, what is different in their lives? Masturbation jokes aside that actually changes on a day-to-day basis. And. I think know that was my intention with the book. I don't know if you found that, but yeah, that was my intention behind.

It is like, what's the purpose of writing a book. If you're not going to change, somebody's, you know, what's the purpose of doing a talk somewhere? You know, that's one of the things I do these days is talks around productivity. Why get up in front of a group of people. If that talk, isn't going to change someone, you know, why write a blog post? Why make a podcast? Why make a course?

Jonathan Levi: I love ya. I love that. And I told you, in the beginning of the interview, I needed a little bit of your energy and enthusiasm to go back and slog through freaking 70 lectures of a masterclass. So then I just got it. I appreciate it. I've definitely had some value takeaway here.

Chris Bailey: Okay. Good. So are we done? Are we done here then?

Jonathan Levi: No, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, unless you need to run, you're the most productive man I know. So if you have to run, it means, yeah. It's between you and  Ari Meisel. Dude only works two days a week. I don't know. I don't know, man. Yeah. It's like, we give you a stack of documents, and whoever finishes it first wins, but that's not productivity though. That's like efficiency.

Chris Bailey: Yeah. That's just like busywork. That's busy work. Yeah. Busy-ness is and productivity. Yeah. Yeah. How would you do that? Like how would you structure that challenge? Here's how I'd spend a day facing off against sorry, myself.  myself, myself. Okay. I would wake up naturally after getting a solid night's sleep.

I would spend the first 30 minutes of the day meditating sharpening my ax for the day. I would shower, I would eat a full breakfast. I would make a tea and then I'd just work my NASA hose.

Jonathan Levi: I love it. Let me ask another semi-serious question, Chris, which is I think a lot of this comes down to willpower because I know what I should be doing. And then oftentimes I like most people, I looked down both paths. I'm like, yo Chris said, I should do this, but actually, you know this.

Chris Bailey:  What you mean by willpower

Jonathan Levi: At the end of the day, to look down the path and say, yeah.

Chris Bailey: Because willpower is different from discipline. Willpower is limited, right? You have a psychological or physiological rather pool of, of willpower every day.

There are some conflicting theories on that. There's actually for like the super productivity nerds out there. There's this, I think it's called a distraction theory of willpower where the idea is your willpower never depletes, but there are different biological functions that kind of take over. So, if you feel sleepy that that biological function might overpower any kind of self-regulation that you have, but that's definitely beside the point and like we're playing on experts out here, but so by willpower, what do you mean?

Jonathan Levi: So, you know, I'll look down the path of, this is what I'm supposed to be doing, and I've read your book and I've read, skim my bars in your book. I've read Gretchen Rubin's book and you know, you know what you're supposed to be doing. And I know, I know I'm not supposed to check my email before I meditate, brush my teeth, have a shower.

Or have breakfast, but every single morning, what happens every single morning? Well, I'll just, I'll quickly look through my email and it's like, I know what I should be doing, but I don't have the discipline or maybe the self-control.

Chris Bailey: Yeah, the self-regulation. Yeah.

Jonathan Levi: Am I just screwed up?

Chris Bailey: No, no. Everybody is screwed up in the same way in this regard. You know, here's one of the great things, and this podcast will be posted like just after New Year's right?.

Jonathan Levi: Uh, yeah, I think it's coming up the day your book is, which is January 8th.

Chris Bailey: Oh man. And that's so cool. Everybody go out and buy it or go on Amazon and buy it. So that'd be cool. Anyway. See, one of the great things about New Year's, which just passed is New Year's resolutions. And I personally don't make them.

And a lot of people I know do, but. The thing about new year's resolutions is that 92% of people that make new year's resolutions fail at them. You know, it's not 25%. It's not 50, it's not 75%. It's, you know, it's almost, it's kind of asymptotically close to 100%. And this is what I find beautiful about New Year's though is it's this space. And this time to step back from the way that you live and the way that you work to set these intentions for where you want to go in the year ahead.

And that's great, but 92% of people fail at them. And this is the gap that I think productivity has to bridge is that there are all these intentions that you make, whether in general, whether every week, whether every day that you don't act upon.

And this is the thing that humans have in common, you know, only a robot. Works deliberately 100% of the time. It's impossible to completely bridge that gap between what you intend to accomplish and what you actually accomplish. And I think this is where mindfulness comes in. You know, planning is great and it's great to sharpen that ax and, you know, carve out the intentions that you want to make every day, every week.

But every moment is when you actually act on these intentions that you make in the broader sense. And so that's where mindfulness comes in. Is mindfulness is this way? And so many people, and I try to tread lightly with the word mindfulness, but so many people shut off when they hear it. But all it means is this way of working deliberately in the moment.

And oftentimes doing only one thing at one time. So you create more attentional space around the work that's in front of you. And when you work mindfully and slower, and it's such a paradoxical thing that working slower can allow you to become more productive. But I think it really, really does because in this new world of knowledge work and not in the factory anymore, it's about becoming more deliberate about what we're doing in the moment.

It's great to form this intention to work on a report instead of checking email or spend time with our loved ones instead of bingeing out on Netflix. But it's in the moment. That we make these decisions. And I think what happens when that becomes difficult is we lose grasp of these intentions on a moment-to-moment basis.

And so the solution to that then becomes to work on less in one moment. So you create more attentional space around what you're working on. You know, shutting off distractions, creating the conditions to work more deliberately in the moment. And this is the hard part about productivity. And, you know, if we perfectly acted on our intentions every day, every week, every hour, every minute, you know, my book wouldn't exist.

The entire productivity space wouldn't exist, but it's just human to resist things and have this struggle in the moment. You know a monk, does most of the things that he intends to do. And on the other side you have, you know, who's like the least deliberate person, like a cocaine field stock trader.

Like if you picture a monk versus a cocaine field stock trader. The stock trader works in a way that is much, much less productive in a month, doesn't accomplish much either. It's all internal, but the sweet spot between them. Is kind of in the middle, you know, it's at a pace that's fast enough, but not as fast as the cocaine fields stock trader, you know, to bring a lot of energy and focus to your work, but at the same time too, you know, be like the monk and bring more intention to those tasks on a moment to moment basis.

So again, you know, It's a chat with Chris Bailey so it's a really long and secured answer, but I think the answer lies in bringing that deliberateness down to the moment. Because if you were deliberate at the moment, you would definitely accomplish everything you intend to. And the best path that I've found to do that is to slow down.

And to shut off distractions and shut off the internet. If you possibly can. You know, we spend 47% of our time on the internet procrastinating and putting off what we intend to do, you know, creating these conditions to become more deliberate in the moment.

Jonathan Levi:  I love that. And I think a lot of the advice that I've read and been given is just set up the environment, you know? And it sounds like when you say, you know, eliminate the distractions. Well, it might be as simple as just not having my phone near my bed, eliminating that temptation. I mean, I don't want to eat bread and carbohydrates, so I just don't buy them. And it makes it so easy when I go to the fridge there's like leftover steak as opposed to crackers.

Chris Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. It's so fun to start with the intentions and work backward to your environment. And maybe, you know, we're just bigger nerds than other people, but, you know, I do the same thing where, you know, if I want to carve out the conditions to be productive in the morning, you know, I'll leave my phone in the other room.

I'll disconnect my browser because it's too easy, to reconnect on the computer, but then I'll just write. And see what comes out and work my best that way. So, you know, it's a lot of, you know, realizing your weaknesses, right. And, you know, just because I'm a pretty productive person doesn't mean I don't have these same weaknesses, you know, I need to create an environment just like everybody else on the planet but disconnecting the router.

And leaving my phone in the other room and switching my phone into airplane mode from 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM every day, you know, these are ways and, you know, not having it in the fridge. These are ways that a carve-out environment to be productive inside of, and also having a meditation cushion in my office.

And so right next to me here, I can set a picture if you want, there's a meditation cushion. And so if I find myself really struggling with a task and that I need to kind of sharpen that axe throughout the day to bring more mindfulness, more deliberateness, more intention to the work that I do, I find, you know, I'll just sit for five or 10 minutes on the cushion and meditate to sharpen that axe a little bit.

Jonathan Levi: Oh, man, you're inspiring. You're one of those people that everyone's just like, God damn it. Why can't it be that discipline? It's like you ever see that onion article? It's like an annoying over-achieving friend, even meditates. It's like, you know, the picture of the guy who posts a picture of himself on Facebook, meditating is also me.

Chris Bailey: Yeah, I don't, I don't do that. That's like douchey meditation taking a picture of yourself when you do it like a meditation selfie, but here's the thing about meditation. And I think the biggest thing that turns people off about meditation is not only the mental resistance, right? So it has these seven attributes that aversive task says, I think meditation has actually, you know, almost every single one of them, right. It's boring, it's frustrating, it's difficult. It lacks intrinsic rewards a lot of the time cause you have to wade through all this crap that's going on in your brain. It's hugely ambiguous and hugely unstructured. It has personal meaning. But that's drowned out by all the other attributes that it has.

And so we don't meditate, but I think, you know, an equally large cost is that it takes time. And so somebody looks at the choice of, you know, bouncing out of bed and, you know, going about their day and meditating for 15 or however many minutes that they want. And they'll make the conclusion that they'll accomplish more.

If they just get into their day. And they'll get more done that way. And to be honest, they will, but in the medium to long term, I think for every many of you meditate, you make back at least two minutes in productivity that day because you sharpen that axe and you're able to bring more focus and attention to the work that's in front of you.

And this is the thing about productivity. It's not just about time. It's not about how long you work on what you have to work on. It's about how much energy and focus that you spend on it as well. Take two people, right? And like, let's say that you bring 90% of your focus and you're fully energized throughout the day.

And me, I'm like a lazy bomb. And so, you know, I multitask, I have all these distractions and I bring 50% of my focus to what's in front of me. And, you know, I, I don't sleep well. I don't put good fuel into my body. Maybe I drink way too much coffee. So my energy rollercoasters over the course of the day. You're going to get an insane amount accomplished while I struggled to check my email. And that's the difference today? You know, if we both worked in factories, we would both accomplish about the same amount. I might even accomplish a bit more. Cause all that coffee will, will make me off frenzied and everything. And let me get more done because these are rote tasks.

They don't take much thought, but the more you need your brain to work, the more you need to cultivate that attention and that energy. And I really do think, and this is something I believe fundamentally because I've had these periods of time where I've fallen into and out of meditation.

And every time I come back, not because I'm Buddhist, not because of any other reasons, but because it makes me more productive. And if it didn't make me more productive, and this is kind of sad to admit, but, you know, I love things like food way too much. And I value my time way too much. And so I wouldn't meditate or, and I wouldn't eat well and I wouldn't get enough sleep.

If these things didn't actually contribute to how productive I was every day, but they do. That's the beautiful thing about productivity is it's this it's not about time anymore. It's not about managing your time, you know, that has something to do with it, but it's about your energy and your focus at the same time.

Jonathan Levi: Right? I mean, I did see in the book, the end of time management is an entire section, which I think is brilliant when I was growing up with my dad always used to tell me, like, as I was getting ready for high school and then getting ready for SATs, you need to learn how to manage your time. And I never understood what the hell that means. And I still to this day, don't really know what it means to do it.

Chris Bailey: Well, when you manage your time, you're really just managing when you spend energy and attention on something. And because time doesn't fluctuate in your energy focus does.

Jonathan Levi:  You should manage your attention? Is that what you're saying?

Chris Bailey: You have to manage your time because you have to manage when you work on things, but you should manage it around when you have the most energy and when you have the most focus. And cultivate those things in the first place, and you know, you could spend all day sharpening your axe and I'll be the first, maybe I did make him happy sharing. You could spend all day sharpening your ax if you want. There it is. God damn it. I wanted to make it through a whole podcast without anyway, but this is, I think a trap, a lot of people fall into and I fell into this, you know, quite a few times being into productivity, you know.

 You could be productive about productivity, but the thing about investing in your productivity is you have to make all that time back and then some. This is why I spent so much time. You know, the book that I wrote is 304 pages, right?

So it's a long book, you know, it's, it's kind of bite-sized pieces, but there's a lot of value crammed into that, but what's bigger than this book is I could write another 2000 pages about the tactics that didn't work, that aren't in this book that didn't work for me. The product did the quick productivity hacks and tricks that really didn't make much of a difference in my productivity. That didn't allow me to make back the time that I spent on them. And, you know, You can be productive about productivity and not accomplish anything, just like being productive about email, you know, it's about spending your time, your attention, and your energy on the right things.

I think productivity is important, but you have to do the work.

Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. What are some of the most interesting or kind of crazy experiments that you did, uh, you know, doing the research and working your way up to this book. Well, I don't want to know about your, uh, sharpening, the axe experience.

Chris Bailey: That was not what I wrote about. I think something I experiment with frequently. No, I did things like, you know, I lived in total isolation for 10 days. Like here's how I designed an experiment and I'll be the first to admit that my experiments are anything but scientific, but the way I have designed them is I've designed them to really get at a specific thing that I want to play around with research about.

So like living in isolation for 10 days on the surface has nothing to do with productivity. But my intention with that experiment was to observe how people made a difference in my productivity and how sunlight made a difference in my productivity.

When I cut myself off from both of them, doing things like drinking, only water for an entire month and gaining 10 pounds of muscle mass and becoming a total slob for a week. And. Interesting experiments like that, you know, working 90 hour weeks was a fun one. You know where for an entire month I alternated between working 90 hours one week than 20 hours, the next then 90 then 20 to see how my productivity varied when I worked insane hours.

And when I worked more reasoned hours, I conducted dozens of these experiments and they're all up on my website, but, you know, observing these specific topics and using these subjective experiments as sort of a springboard to research different topics that fascinate me, that kind of orbit around this constellation of productivity.

Jonathan Levi: I guess I want to ask a lot of questions about that, but we can read the results and learn a little bit about how you're kind of measuring these things on the website.

Chris Bailey: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, measuring was the hard part, right? Because my project was called a Year of Productivity. And in a way, you know, studying productivity and trying to measure your productivity when you're doing it is kind of like writing about writing.

You know, you think I'm a circulator, you know, in my interviews, but the project that I designed was very secure. So if there was a challenge. In that project, it was measuring how productive I was. You know, at first, I started with these really kind of wrote benchmarks, right? So I measured how many hours I worked every day.

How many pages of books and research articles I read and how many words that I wrote, but you know, th it was very quantitative and very, you know, the Gettysburg address was 272 words. And so what if I wrote a thousand words, but there were crap, you know, you would be more productive writing the Gettysburg address.

And, and that's what I sort of realized is. In a way, I reverted to, and this was at the start of my project and I fixed this a bit later on, in a way I reverted to this factory type mindset. When I tried to measure my productivity and productivity is more of an art than a science. So it's inherently hard to measure, but what I came to realize at the end of the day, you know, towards the end of the project is that I was the most productive when I achieved what I intended to achieve because there was no gap between my intentions and my actions. And I could observe not how much I. Wrote or how much I read, but how much I accomplished every single day.

And also in addition to that, you know, how much I procrastinated and how well I managed my focus and my energy. Now that those became how I measured it. And it was less scientific. And I think a part of everybody wants to quantify things and I'm a science kind of geek myself. And so that's what I started to do at the start of my project.

But. I realized that that was kind of a shallow way of looking at productivity. Isn't about how much you produce it's about how much you accomplish.

Jonathan Levi: Oh, that's quotable for the website. I love that one. Woo. That's going to be the one that goes right under the video on the website.

Chris Bailey: Oh, beautiful, beautiful. That's kind of the crux of the book is its deliberateness lies in the heart of productivity and attention lies in the heart of productivity as well. And what you're left with at the end of the day are the results or what you accomplish. And that's kind of what I've aligned the book towards, because I think I don't want to call other books shallow, but in a way they kind of in a way are when they only focus on managing your time when they, you know, Only focused on these kind of shallow things, you know, you're left with your accomplishments at the end of the day. And I really, really, really believe that.

Jonathan Levi: Brilliant. I think that's a really nice note to end on. Well, first I want to say your book is coming out. Give or take today.

Chris Bailey: It's been an hour already?

Jonathan Levi:  Something like that, yeah. Time flies. We've been so productive. Let me ask this before we wrap on the recording and then you and I can kind of pow-wow and cheat on the audience behind their backs.

Um, If people want to reach out to you, I want to say first off, congrats on the book. It's brilliant. I'm really, really excited to read it.

Thank you, Jonathan.

That is called the Productivity Project and we'll have a link that we would love for you to use on the blog posts to go pick it up on Amazon or the iBookstore. But if people want to reach out to you, learn more about what you're doing, maybe interview you for another podcast, where should they reach out to you? How do they get ahold of you?

Chris Bailey: I am at Twitter @wigglechicken. And that's like the other place that I go to, I'm trying to cut back on social media, but it's really, it's like cutting back.

Jonathan Levi: It's really, really hard.

Chris Bailey: is probably the best place and there's no ads. There's no sponsorships on the website. It's just, you know, There was one of those annoying newsletter pop-ups to be honest with you, but you can X out of that and never see it again in your life. And, you know, I just try to crank out as much valuable stuff as I can on there.

Uh, the book is The Productivity Project. You can buy it, you don't have to buy it, not going to pressure you into buying it, but you probably should. If you want to become more productive.

Jonathan Levi: I love it.

Chris Bailey:  Because this book is, can I go into sales mode for a second?

Jonathan Levi: Do it.

Chris Bailey: Okay. This book is kind of it's everything that I know about productivity and I don't know everything right. Ari Meisel probably knows a bit more than me, but I know almost as much as Ari Meisel. Correct. And this book is, you know, it's the crescendo for all the experiments I've conducted all the research. I've done all the gurus that have interviewed their stories, but at the end of the day, there is the practical bits too.

At the end of every chapter, I have this really simple kind of things that you can do to actually work these things into your life. And yeah, if you get it, I hope you find it helpful if you don't. That's cool too. I hope we're still friends and yeah, that's the book, The Productivity Project.

Jonathan Levi: And again, want to give my full endorsement for the book.

I'm really, really excited. To actually sit down and read it now that it won't be a fear of spoilers. Thanks for that ladies and gents, Mr. Chris Bailey, always entertaining, always productive. Thanks so much for your time today, Chris.

Chris Bailey: It was such a pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

Jonathan Levi: All right. My friend, take care.

Chris Bailey: You too.

 All right, SuperFriends. that's it for this week's episode. We hope you really, really enjoyed it and learn a ton of applicable stuff that can help you go out there and overcome the impossible.

If so, please do us a favor and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Or however, you found this podcast. In addition to that, we are always looking for great guests posts on the blog or awesome guests right here on the podcast. So if you know somebody or you are somebody, or you have thought of somebody who would be a great fit for the show or for our blog, please reach out to us either on Twitter. Or by email or email is

Thanks so much.

Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit We'll see you next time.



  1. Luiz
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    Thanks, I learned a lot of interesting things in past episodes.

  2. Shivaditya Purohit
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    loved th heart and the depth of the conversation. The way that Dr. Metivier shared from his enormous experience and insights was just amazing. Thank you Jonathan for doing this podcast!! 🙂

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