Flipped Productivity - How Doing Less Can Help You Achieve More

8 min read

Being productive can feel like joining a cult. Everybody seems to have the best system in place, touting their methods through videos, blog posts, and tutorials. To begin, simply install five applications on your mobile phone, integrate them with your desktop software, simultaneously track your mood through a journal app, and don’t forget to intersperse 5-minute breaks to maximize your focus. By the time you jump between clicking boxes and fixing bugs, you might be lucky to have time left over to actually work. It’s overly complex because it needs to be; otherwise it wouldn’t be novel and would make for a terrible video.

Instead of diving into another trend, let’s tune out of the noise and reorient ourselves. First, let’s acknowledge that your primary purpose is not to be productive; you’re a human, not a factory. Tasks are things that must be done to get them out of the way, and the productivity craze was born out of a desire to get them out of the way faster. Any additional time spent on managing tasks should be added to this burden – therefore, we want to include minimizing overhead as part of the goal of reducing the time we spend on tasks. Second, let’s recognize that systems that feel forced or unnatural will eventually decay. Our willpower is limited and while we may be able to perfectly keep everything in order for the first week, eventually we will be lazy and skip filling out a full and verbose description of our most recently assigned TODO. Keeping it simple isn’t less intelligent than a 7-part system, it’s an essential recognition of how hectic life is and the limits on our capacity. Third, let’s appreciate how our mind applies many techniques to already make things efficient, and that following our natural inclinations may provide insight into how we work best.

To put these thoughts into practice, we can start by examining the current system we use from a why perspective, rather than a how perspective. For example, if I am given a task, I do the following: `TODO Task_Here /Deadline’ in my note-taking application. Why? Because it’s something that I can consistently do, that serves the purpose of documenting the deadline for the task, and keeps everything in one application. The how isn’t as important. If I were to switch to another app, I would strive for something similar through different methods, a single line that I can add the task name and the deadline and be done with it.

Your workflow will be different, but you can ask the same question. Let’s say that you add a description to your task, or set up a system with reminders. This may be important because you like to use your TODO list as the place you also get the work done, rather than having to switch to another workspace to actually perform the task. If your TODO application is separate from the rest of your workflow, the reminders can be critical to draw your attention to items that you would otherwise likely miss. Each step should serve a purpose worthy of the time spent on it. Unless you get more happiness from setting up Gantt charts than anything you would be doing in your free time, consider it time that would be well-worth minimizing.

Now that we have our current system in mind and have reduced any steps that don’t serve a purpose, it’s time to pilot. Use the system you have created and all steps within it for a week. Note down any instances in which you should have used the system, but didn’t. This is crucial, as it highlights that either the purpose you thought that step would serve isn’t actually essential, or that it is too cumbersome to use regularly and needs to be changed. Alternatively, note down any times when more functionality might be advantageous and think of ways that you could adapt the system to accommodate this. By following this method, you develop a system that is built around your needs, rather than trying to adapt your needs to a system proposed by someone else.



Obsidian is an incredibly powerful piece of software. In addition to the base program, hundreds of plugins have been developed to adapt the application into an absolute powerhouse of knowledge management. Members of the community are passionate about the product, and will often proclaim the life-changing potential of using it in the most efficient way.

For new members, this can not only feel intimidating but also induce feelings of failure when their use of the software is not just as life changing, or they haven’t implemented the latest plugins. The post below shows how new adopters can choose to ask the community what they should be doing, rather than using the software for themselves and making it work for them.

When I take notes, there are multiple sources that are quite different - textbook summaries, notes from mentors, video summaries, and summaries from questions I answer and their explanations.

With this, I have organized my notes into two sections: topics and logic. For instance, a treatment pathway could be the logic - or a specific topic could be heart failure.

Now my main question is should I make a general summary from multiple sources on a disease - or should I make each source it’s own note? As in, one section on diabetes or multiple? Also, how would you implement logic? Logic ultimately relates to these discrete sections (like insulin medications for diabetes) but as I make my PKMS I do not want to have always pause and make something akin to an insulin section (I’m starting with path and it’s mechanisms first and will study treatments next) - so does it make sense to also have notes like “this treatment is used for this case”

Would you have any general advice? How would you deal with this? Thanks a ton - I really appreciate it

I hope you are having a great day

Using the method here, instead the person posting the question would first think about the objectives that need to be accomplished, and what purpose steps would fulfill in meeting these objectives. It seems like there is a need to document information, either theoretical concepts or specific technical steps to follow to treat an illness. Second, there may be some benefits to linking these technical steps to said theoretical concepts. Perfect, the system could be as simple as writing notes for each, and then putting a link to relevant steps at the bottom of each topic note. The only way to see if this system is too simple or too complex is to use it, the community isn’t having to use the system every day, nor do they have the same personality as the person posting the question.

Finally, let’s consider the friction that can come with using any system, and what we naturally gravitate towards absent any external pressure. Take grocery shopping, when you are getting ready to go out the door to get more food, what do you naturally want to do?

Hopefully, you can appreciate that the first seems quite straightforward and logical, while the second and third sound horrifically difficult. Don’t dismiss the first option just because it doesn’t use the latest and greatest technology, you are naturally drawn to it because your mind recognizes that the benefit of the second and third options are outweighed by the increase in complexity. Don’t spend days grocery shopping – after all, it is called a chore for a reason.

The irony of a blog post about increasing productivity by reading less about productivity is not lost on me. However, I hope that this might have helped you to reconsider how many such blog posts, videos, and courses you really need to read going forward. Nobody, and I really do mean nobody, has the perfect system for you, but they do have every incentive to convince you that they do. Your time is valuable, so take a step back and work from the ground up to get those pesky tasks done and out of the way.