Definitive Guide on Individual Productivity (Part I)

This is the first part of a series on individual productivity. Since I never liked wasting time or working just to get enough hours in, I read and experimented a lot around this topic in the past few years. I want to use my time efficiently so I can do more of what I care most about. I also want to do great work when I work and not half-ass it. During those years in the fascinating, useful, and sometimes toxic personal productivity space, I found some fundamental principles that worked consistently for myself and others. What follows is my 80/20 guide for individual productivity.

This first part gives an introduction to my the productivity formula and the first big piece of the puzzle: How to have high and stable energy levels.

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Red Flags

The concept of red flags found is fairly prevalent because it’s incorporated in every e-mail client. A red flag indicates something that you need to pay attention to. The metaphor of a red flag is associated most often with something negative — a danger.

The second characteristic of a red flag is that it’s preventive. You don’t see a red flag when it’s too late, instead, a red flag shows you before the negative consequence that there is something coming. If you pay attention now and put in place the right measures you might still prevent it.

I think the concept is fairly useful outside of an e-mail context.

In my day job as a Product Manager, we track the behavior of our customers with analytics tools. Once you started to understand the graphs and numbers you get an eye for red flags there as well. Maybe it’s a drop in retention or an unusually high number in the time spent on a new info page data point. The drop in retention might indicate that notifications have stopped working for example. The unusual duration on the page could mean that the explanation is not well written and clear to customers.

If we extend that to your personal life you might be able to see problems before they become catastrophic too.

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What Are Good Sources of Information?

Where do you get your information about the world from?

Newspapers? Facebook or Twitter? Radio or Podcasts?


I’m serious. Why are you getting your info from this source? This isn’t a trivial question, in fact, it is essential. Where you get your information determines your opinions and worldview, impacts your happiness, and influences your decision-making.

But I don’t have to tell you that. We live in the age of fake news and media distrust, do we not? You see the damage of ignorant or falsely opinionated people all the time on the news and social media… (oh the irony).

I myself recently bought some newspapers and weekly magazines, which for me was kind of an occasion because I have avoided any type of news publication for at least three years. It was a conscious decision back then, largely inspired by one of my favorite authors, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

He wrote in one of his books, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if some piece of news is important enough you’ll hear about it from other people. I aptly started to call this my “social filter” and refrained from touching a newspaper for about a month to see how it went.

It was great! I had more time on my hands, didn’t miss anything, and was less pessimistic about people and the world. I shouted “Experiment complete!” and invested the newly gained time into reading books.

So why the change of heart you may ask. Well for one, I try to re-evaluate my habits and opinions once in a while to see if I still agree with them. But the factor that kicked it off was that my reading list grew longer and longer both in books, blog articles, and newsletters. I simply couldn’t hold on to my illusion that one day I would read it all.

So I asked myself this fundamental question: What are good sources of information and knowledge?

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