how to be more productive

A couple of centuries ago some people were thinking the industrial revolution would lead to the end of toil and strife. Automation would bring shorter workdays, fewer work weeks, and an abundance of free time. Email would allow people to attend fewer meetings and spend more time outside the office. It would be a new golden age.

Alas, in practice most of the advances just resulted in more work. Culturally, we traded greater productivity for a higher material standard of living rather than greater freedom. We do more for the sake of more.

This is so ingrained in our psyches that many can’t even grasp the idea of retirement at any age… “You don’t work? But… what do you do all day?!

To wean myself off the drug of perpetual productivity, I started asking how I could accomplish as little as possible.

An Unproductive Life

After 7 years of early retirement, how is that that I have been able to accomplish so little?

Here are my 10 best tips for leading an unproductive life.

10. Procrastinate

How to stop procrastinating is a really popular Google search term. I dunno, maybe stop spending time on Google?

I’ve been a superstar procrastinator for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I embraced it that I was able to accept who I truly am.

Procrastination is a really powerful life skill. That thing you are procrastinating is probably just a meaningless soul-sucking task that has no real value. If you don’t do it, it may just go away. (Does not apply to your tax return.)

Productivity can wait.

9. Travel the World

Ordering drinks at the poolside bar in a fancy resort is nice every now and then, but there is another variety of travel that is both unpredictable and unproductive, the sort that Rick Steves describes in his recent book:

“Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.”
― Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act

Traveling with an open schedule and unplanned destinations is a fun and rewarding way to paint a brighter picture, and makes it difficult to accomplish anything besides personal growth. Or something like that.

8. Toss out the alarm clock

Every day it seems like there is another productivity guru sharing how they wake up at 3 am to achieve maximum productivity. Sleep is for the lazy and the weak. Like me!

I definitely sacrificed hours of sleep during my career, either to hit a deadline or because my brain just wouldn’t turn off. A pot of coffee in the morning helps you make it to the morning meetings… meaning we can trade health and longevity for an atta-boy at the office.

Nowadays, Jr has become our human alarm clock. I never set an alarm, and aim to sleep at least 8 hours per night. (Usually more.)

7. Take regular naps

The only thing better than a whole night’s rest is a whole night’s rest combined with an afternoon nap. I don’t take naps every day, but never hesitate to do so when I feel the need. Sometimes it is only 30 minutes, but a quick recharge is way better than any caffeinated beverage.

Do this thing on the to-do list or take a nap? Hmmm… nap it is!

6. Read for pleasure

Did you know the average CEO reads 187 books per year? I know it is true because I saw it on the Internet.

Supposedly these are all non-fiction books, providing useful knowledge for increased productivity. But the whole productivity porn genre is incredibly boring.

Instead, I prefer to read things that are fun and interesting… for example, IRS documentation, stories about exceptional people, and pure fiction from great storytellers. I’ll probably read 26 books this year, one book every 2 weeks, but have no actual goals (why complicate things?)

Recent reads: The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb (a 4 book trilogy!) & The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor (what a name.)
Currently reading: Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (more stories from The Dresden Files)

All of these books were found at the library.

5. Exercise regularly

Instead of exercise being something to do after the day’s work is done, I make exercise the day’s work. It’s the solitary item on my todo list. Since nobody pays me for this, society tells me this is totally unproductive.

Normally after walking Jr to school in the morning I will get a coffee and then head to the gym or pool or hop on my bike. I have a regular weightlifting/swimming/biking routine. All of this exercise is good for the health, but also very good preparation for an afternoon nap.

Here is a fun ride I did with friends last weekend, a nice 100km ride around Yangming Mountain and along Taiwan’s north coast. It only took 7 hours (5 in the saddle) which means I wasn’t able to do anything productive that day. Alas.

how to be more productive

Just another ride around the volcano

4. Avoid multitasking

A lot of people like to listen to podcasts while biking or lifting weights. Double your productivity!

I find that trying to do 2 (or more) things at once just results in doing multiple things poorly. But at least they got done, right?

Awhile back I was so engrossed in the Destroyer of Worlds episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast that I almost collided with a dog that had jumped onto the bike path. On other occasions, I finished a great workout or bike ride and absorbed nothing from the audiobook I was “listening” to.

So now I just focus on the exercise and breathing (as with swimming) or add a soundtrack to the workout (Pearl Jam’s Ten, with the addition of Yellow Ledbetter, has got to be the best single album for motivation on a big climb on the bike.)

I also hear just being in the moment is a good thing.

3. Schedule unscheduled time

Schedules and to-do lists and essential tools for modern life. In addition, I use spreadsheets for tracking income/expenses and dates for credit card minimum spend requirements/renewal dates for our free travel efforts.

While we have a schedule, unscheduled time is my favorite time. It’s just a big empty space on our calendar, during which I have zero commitments and can do whatever I want.

I usually end up playing guitar or reading, but I just recently binge-watched Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix.

Life is richer when prioritizing enjoyable activities over productive ones.

2. Play with Jr / kids

Kids are great at being spontaneous and in the moment. Jr and I ride bikes to the sandpit, play on the swings and slides, read books, kick around the soccer ball, etc… as I was typing this he asked me to wrestle, so now I am publishing this blog post on Tuesday instead of Monday.

I am really happy to be able to prioritize playtime over anything else. “Sorry son, Daddy has a big meeting tomorrow and I need to finish these PowerPoint slides.” Meh.

1. Plan regular meals and activities with friends

This past weekend was a 3-day holiday weekend in Taiwan and we attended a bbq at a friend’s house and hosted 2 at our place.

Yesterday’s bbq was a 12-hour affair, during which the kids made up games and the adults chatted and schemed over ribs and steak and adult beverages. Fun was had by all.

how to stop procrastinating


We do these events regularly because it is great fun, but I’ve also heard a community is an essential component of a happy life. And having fun with friends makes it almost impossible to not be in the moment.

Speaking of communities, if you are ever in the neighborhood I am always up for a coffee.


Are you tired of trying to figure out how to be more productive? What is this obsession with doing more?

Maybe productivity is the problem. Maybe it is time to do things that are unproductive and yet make life richer for the doing.

What are your best tools for leading an unproductive life?