Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity

Jun 4, 2007

One of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures is indulging in productivity porn.

Productivity porn (or, for those really in the know, "productivity pr0n") consists of techniques, tactics, and tricks for maximizing personal productivity -- or, as they say, "getting things done".

Having enjoyed such fine purveyors of prodporn as Merlin Mann, Danny O'Brien, Gina Trapani, David Allen, and Tim Ferriss, I'd like to return the favor with the following: the Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity.

The techniques that follow work together as an integrated set for me, but they probably won't for you. Maybe you'll get one or two ideas -- probably out of the ideas I stole from other people. If so, I have succeeded.

And here we go:

And that's it.

Please feel free to nominate additions to the list! Next time my mobile wiki-based GTD Outlook synchronized hipster PDA reminds me, I'll check 'em out.

Notes based on reader feedback:

Turns out Robert Benchley wrote about structured procrastination back in 1949. Wonderful essay -- highly recommended.

The sharpest reaction has been to my theory of not keeping a schedule. I'll stick to my theory but make (or re-make) a couple of clarifying points.

First, it is certainly true that many people have jobs and responsibilities where they can't do that. Or maybe can only do it partially. And many people enjoy living a highly structured life and obviously this approach is not for them.

But if your reaction is, "boy, I wish I could do that", then it may well be worth rethinking your approach to your career.

I can tell you from personal experience that being stuck in a role where you have a lot of structure but feel like you never get anything done is not the optimal way to advance in one's profession, or maximize one's job satisfaction.

Second, I do not recommend pursuing this approach in one's personal life :-).

On another topic, the tactic of each night, write down the 3 to 5 things you need to do the next day has struck some people as too simplistic.

That may be the case for some people, but I can't tell you how many times I've arrived home at night and am at a loss as to what I actually got done that day, despite the fact that I worked all day.

And I also can't tell you how often I've had a huge, highly-structured todo list in front of me with 100 things on it and I stare at it and am paralyzed into inaction (or, more likely, structured procrastination).

So a day when I get 3 to 5 concrete, actionable things done in addition to all the other stuff one has to do to get through the day -- well, that's a good day.

A few people have said, why not just use GTD (David Allen's "Getting Things Done" approach).

While I find GTD to be highly inspiring, in practice I think it's awfully complex. At least if your job is based on project work (as opposed to having a highly structured role like CEO or head of sales).

For me, an organization system that requires significant time to deal with in and of itself is not optimal. Much better, for me at least, is to focus on stripping away nonessentials and freeing up as much time as possible to deal with whatever is most important.

Finally, I discovered after writing this post that Paul Graham talks a bit about the role of time and focus in personal productivity in his essay on "The Power of the Marginal".

Thanks for all the comments!