The Productivity Project, By Chris Bailey: A Review

Chris Bailey is young, well younger than me anyway, maybe that’s not so young anymore.

When I saw his fresh face on the inside cover of his book on Productivity I wasn’t sure he had the experience to be a “productivity guru.”

Experience he has, a whole year which he spent trying every productivity technique under the sun.

The book is an easy read and full of useful information. My favourite tips are as follows.

  1. Meditate.
  2. Drink water.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Nap.
  5. Turn off notifications.
  6. The rule of three.
  7. Keep your work week under 50 hours.
  8. Catch your ideas.
  9. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it.

I had some of these practises in place before I read the book, but here’s how I put them into action.


Chris explains that one of the results of meditation is to create space in your brain and that regular practisers create approximately 30% more space for memory, leaving you with more “battery life” to concentrate.

I started small, with 5-10 minutes a day and built up to 30 minutes a day at one stage. 30 minutes didn’t work with my schedule and routine, but here’s the key, instead of not meditating, I just cut it back to a manageable time. That’s 20 minutes for me and I have stuck with that consistently for probably three years now.

I think that’s a great rule you can apply to almost any habit. If you feel you are struggling with it then instead of abandoning it, just reduce the time you are putting into it.

Drink water:

This is not something I have worked at as consistently as I should, but what I try to do is start the morning with a pint of water with some lemon juice in it. It helps you wake up quicker as you are dehydrated after a nights sleep. Lemon is also a great way to hydrate.

It’s helps to prepare this the previous night. As I have said in my previous blogs, a successful morning starts the night before.

Get enough sleep:

As I just mentioned, a great morning routine starts the night before (Click here to see my previous blog on this subject).

Getting enough sleep is so important. Chris compares people in today’s society who are sleep deprived to hoards of mindless zombies, roaming around, unable to operate at full capacity.

I have also read that a good nights sleep depends on the amount of sunlight you receive during the day, bringing things full circle. Sleep depends (somewhat) on sunlight, and daytime alertness, productivity and mindfulness depend on sleep.

Chris also talks about blue light and caffeine. Blue light – ie. screens should be avoided at least an hour before sleep. There are blue light glasses you can buy and filters for your devices if you really need to use them before bed but my general rule is no screen time after 8:45pm. The same applies in the morning, the only screen time I have before 7:00 is to use my meditation app (insight timer).

Caffeine is another one to watch out for. It will stay in your system for 8-14 hours so you should avoid drinking caffiene after 11:30am. Chris also recommends using caffeine strategically, as in timing it so that it will carry you through the low energy parts of the day. I was never into coffee so my caffeine intake is a cup of green tea early in the morning.


I was once asked in a team building exercise what my superpower is. My answer – the ability to fall asleep anywhere. We had a 10 hour layover in Toronto once, so we had time to explore downtown and as Theresa browsed the shops I sat down on one of the display couches and slept.

The author talks about the value of a short nap throughout your work day to boost your productivity or energy levels. For me the optimum time is about 12 minutes. Each time I put my head down for the “12 minutes” I feel like I will not sleep yet the alarm always wakes me. I say 12 minutes because it is not long enough to fall into a deep sleep and you will not have that groggy, heavy feeling when you wake.

Some people just can’t nap, but napping, in my opinion, is a skill that can be practised and learned, just like meditation. It started for me, years ago when I used to drive to different building sites all over Ireland. I might have a 3-4 hour drive home after a though days work. I always made sure to pull over before I felt too tired. A 10-15 minute nap and I would be good to drive safely for another hour and a half or so.

One word of caution, napping will not replace deep night time sleep as your body will not regenerate and repair as it does throughout the night.

Turning off notifications:

This ties back in to my morning and evening. Apple iPhones now have a great system called screen time, which will either limit your phone time or app time or lock you out completely. I restrict my phone so I cannot use it during the night or early morning. I can still receive phone calls if there is an emergency, but my phone will be in do not disturb mode. Another great feature which you can turn on automatically.


Screen shot of Screen Time from IPhone settings

Screen shot of Do Not Disturb from IPhone settings

One thing that annoys me a little is apps that constantly offer to turn on notifications. It’s not my thing. I have almost all notifications turned off. The author talks about the amount of time (25 minutes) it takes to get back into the flow of work after you have been interrupted,whether that be a device or another person.

I really believe that multi tasking is a fable, you simply cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time. My own personal example is that when I’m in the office working away on something and an email pops up in the lower right corner I will immediately open it, lose my work flow and actually start working on the email. (There’s the start of 25 minutes to get back into the flow).

What I like to do to combat this is to put outlook into offline mode and only update my inbox at specific times or when I have fully finished a specific task.

The Rule of Three:

This simply means identifying three things you want to accomplish during the week ahead and also the day ahead. I only use this on a daily basis rather than a weekly basis, but when I sit down at my computer in the office I list my three most important tasks. Indeed, like everybody, we probably have one hundred and seven things on our to do list, but identifying the three most important let’s me see what the priority is. I also have a sense of achievement when I get through them, rather than feeling overwhelmed with the amount I have left to do.

These three tasks may take me an hour or the rest of the day but once they’re complete I can move onto something else or head home knowing I achieved something.

Keep your work week under 50 hours:

This can be a tricky one to put into practise and stick to. Sometimes you cannot avoid working over 50 hours, especially when you work for yourself or if you are a full time parent but the authors experiments (along with other independent research) showed that any work over the fifty hour mark was not productive.

In other words the same amount of work was acieved in 80 hours as was achieved in 50 hours.

I try to stick to this in my own working life by getting out of the office between 5 and 6 every day and not engaging in work (unless absolutely necessary) at home. France has actually made it illegal for companies to contact employees outside of work hours.

35-40 hours is your most productive working time for the week.

Catch your ideas:

Make lists. Many people (Richard Branson among them) carry a notebook everywhere to write down ideas (I suppose everyone does nowadays with a smart phone).

This frees up space in your mind rather than having your brain work away in the background to remember tasks.

I write everything down and have done so for years now. Probably 90% of what I write down is never used but the other 10% consists of important things I need to remember and also creative ideas (like my pending historical fiction novel and these blogs).

I also catch all my work tasks electronically so I am not spending brain power trying to think of what I need to work on. It is easily accessible in my calendar or email with reminders set up to ensure it gets done.

SIRI or voice memo is a great way to note things which pop into your brain when your driving. Just record it or ask SIRI to send yourself an email.

This makes a big difference to our overburdened brain. Have you ever gone to the supermarket without a list and found yourself overwhelmed by everything on offer?

You can also (if possible) address easy tasks right away. Why put it on a to do list if it isn’t worth it? David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) recommends that if a task takes less than two minutes then it doesn’t go on a to do list.

My caution here is to make sure it does not interrupt your work flow. I do not recommend jumping off something you are in the middle of to address a two minute task as the interruption to your work flow is a lot more than two minutes.

If it doesn’t work, don’t do it:

Another really interesting thing I learned from this book is that if it doesn’t work for you then don’t do it.

The author struggled to get up at 5:30am for some time before coming to the conclusion that it didn’t work for him. Many productivity “gurus” talk about using the morning time to your advantage but this isn’t necessarily what will work for you.

Determine your most productive and energy filled times and use them to your advantage.


The verdict:

Overall The Productivity Project is an quick and easy read and has lots of useful info. It’s also written for real, everyday people rather than CEOs and Hedge Fund investors (Whatever the hell that is), though the advise does apply to everyone.

I recommend this book if you work a regular 9-5 job like me, or if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have in your general life.

If you want to know more about Chris Bailey and his productivity experiments have a look at his blog by clicking Here.



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