Why Productivity? Why Gratitude?

by feanor16001 min read30th Aug 20135 comments


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I recently did a series of online seminars where productivity guru Jason Womack tried to apply his advice for academics.

The productivity advice was good but not especially new after having read a lot of anti-akrasia posts on LW; EverydayUtilitarian recently wrote a great summary of these kind of ideas here. I suppose the fact that the advice wasn't new to me means LW has been doing a good job of bringing in good instrumental rationality advice from elsewhere.

But the most interesting parts of the seminars weren't actually ways to be more productive.

One is a question: why do you want to be more productive?

After asking themselves this, some people might realize that they don't actually need to be more productive. Why get more things done? If you work as a certain kind of corporate drone, becoming more productive might not make you or anyone else much better off. Perhaps you are rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic, becoming better at a job or project when you should be doing something else entirely. If your goal in work is to make you and your family better off, then it might be counterproductive to employ strategies that make you less happy or take you away from your family.

Alternatively, if you realize you have all kinds of really great reasons to be more productive, this should encourage you.

The other big non-exactly-productivity idea I learned about was gratitude.

The most obvious reason to send people thank-you notes is that it will make them happy, and is just the right thing to do. Another good reason you have probably heard of is that it will make you happier, like keeping a gratitude journal.

What I didn't realize before are the tangible benefits of sending thank-you notes. Jason Womack says he tries you send one a day, and has had many people respond by offering to do some project with him. I recently started sending out more thank-you emails to people who have helped improve my work, and have already had someone respond by offering a large and totally unexpected benefit (a letter of recommendation). It seems like sending out more thank you notes is just an all around win.

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