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Productivity (samaltman.com)
1264 points by dsr12 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 400 comments



I once read a HN comment that I cannot find anymore but said:

“my default loop is "First, cycle through all my developers and make sure that I have equipped them to be happy and productive in their jobs. Second, find something to do. If possible, delegate it; if not, do it. Repeat."”

My biggest productivity gain was when I realized I should measure my productivity through the productivity of my developers. By the same calculation as done by the author I can only increase my own productivity so much but when I do the same for all my developers that adds another layer of multiplication.

This means I regularly enter the office and don’t even turn on my laptop (monitors) before checking if any of my developers need my help. Helping them be productive is my first priority. When nobody needs my help I pick up a task from my todo list but only if I cannot delegate it or it is a short task. I try not to pick up any task that is critical for my developers progress because my days do not have enough focus time to work on the same topic for more than 30 minutes to an hour without interruption.

This does not mean I do not take focus time sometimes, I do, but usually this is for getting my state of mind documented so I can share it with my developers and ask for their input to improve or reshape it. This helps again to have everybody understand the bigger picture so they can be more productive without my direct help and make decisions without requesting my approval. Also, because everybody involved contributed to the vision it feels better to work on it for all of us.

The same holds for meetings. If somebody requests my attendance in a meeting I request the agenda of the meeting and if the request is valid I’ll join as helping to unblock multiple people is important. If I’m not the right person I point them to the person they need to get into that meeting.

So, in short, I devote my time to helping my devs get 10% more done everyday and 1% better each year because that scales way better than just improving my own. (Though you could say that also improves my own?)


"As a CTO, my default loop is 'First, cycle through all my employees and make sure that I have equipped them to be happy and productive in their jobs. Second, find something to do. If possible, delegate it; if not, do it. Repeat.'"

- tkiley https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3408449


Thank you for digging up the link, appreciate it.


That sounds heavenly


From one manager to another, if you haven't read it. Get a copy of "High Output Management"


Thanks for the suggestion, just picked it up


Thanks. I put it on my reading list for this summer.


I so need to figure this out. I just became a manager a couple months back and it's a constant struggle to avoid defining my success by what I do myself.


It is not easy to change your habits. I can only share what helped me most to transition to what I do today. I was lucky that I got my role about 2-3 months before the yearly review at which time I got the (anonymous) feedback that developers felt I was not available enough to support them. I remember at the time I responded with the natural reaction of somebody who newly obtained a lead position, I balanced the feedback against all positive feedback which was on the technical front (proven to work architectures defined, technical achievements, technology assessments, etc.). I also said I was available they just needed to ask.

My manager carefully explained that indeed my skills as a technical engineer were phenomenal, but they already were before I got the role of architect and everybody knew this. The problem for him was that I don't scale and he couldn't clone me. The only option for me to scale beyond what I already did was to scale through people. This means for him teams signalling they were blocked because I wasn't available were major. Availability did not mean me sitting at my desk, it meant the developers would not feel blocked because of me. No matter the reason. He made this an objective for me.

The next year I actively worked on this. As you, I struggled letting go my old behaviours. Right up to the moment of the next feedback round mid-year I felt I was not as productive as before. I spent hardly any hours on what I thought was "actual work" (i.e. having my code editor or enterprise architect open) but instead was coaching and instructing or attending meetings discussing issues or designs, or issues with designs. I felt sometimes I did not have enough time to spend with a single person to completely go over the issue at hand. What completely changed that feeling was the mid-year feedback I got. Literally every team reported very positive feedback on my availability. They felt empowered and trusted by me only guiding them (whereas I felt I didn't give them the complete picture). At this mid-year my manager discussed the "seven levels of authority" [0]: (1) tell, (2) sell, (3) consult, (4) agree, (5) advise, (6) inquire, (7) delegate. Where the scale is an increasing level of authority owned by the team or individual. He explained that every individual, and at larger scale every team, is on a different level of authority and I would need to recognize their current level of authority and gradually increase it as their experience grows.

The last half year I kept running my routine of my earlier comment and in addition started paying attention to the signals that belong to the different levels of authority. You quickly notice some people you need to check-up on more often or even co-develop/co-design for a part whilst others have enough from a 30 minute meeting. You also notice some people rather spend 3 days struggling through code than ask a question whilst the latter would help them do the work in half a day. By pro-actively checking up on those people you make sure not to miss those opportunities.

The end-year review was again positive, this time not only from direct feedback of developers but also from team-leads who reported their team members competencies were growing/increasing. Our project dashboards (agile) reported less blocked tasks and more throughput.

In the end nothing can help you change as fast as getting (positive or negative!) feedback. If you struggle it might be good to request something like a 360 feedback (anonymous feedback from direct colleagues on all layers of the hierarchy). See where you stand. Together with your manager figure out actions to remove the negative feedback and improve the positive, and act. In 6 months to a year do the same and see where you stand.

P.s. Let your manager know you struggle. I suspect my manager acted upon my struggles and made sure the team (competency) leaders of respective teams also let their developers know that they should not feel bad about requesting help, even when I looked busy.

P.p.s. bit of a long story without too much structure but I hope it brings you anything :).

[0] Mangement 3.0: https://management30.com/ (didn't like the book too much but it has its parts).


Wow, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience, that is really great information!


So much wisdom, thanks for sharing


Have you got experience or thoughts about the remote working equivalent of "cycling through" your team?

Cycling through implies (to my mind) casually being around your team, checking in, and helping where needed.

Working remotely its a bit trickier? My team and I dont use slack or other chat platform, so for me to check in would require calls, meetings, emails etc, which is a bit more formal and disruptive then "cycling through".


Being remote complicates things indeed. If your teams have daily stand-ups make sure to join and pay extra attention to language used. Complaints, sighs and tasks taking longer than initially estimated are indications they need help. Pay attention to code reviews if you have them and see if they are in line with your vision of the architecture if you are a software architect. If you have webcams watch for body expressions.

That are some things that readily come to mind. Probably you can find more if you think about it a bit longer.


A better way would be to schedule regular 1-on-1 meetings.

You're not going to find out if somebody is happy by "casually being around".


Definitely recommend both. Casual ring around (for remote staff) and being present, coupled with feedback and understanding needs in 1:1


One core element how I measure the performance of my managers is how they maximize the output of their teams. That’s obviously good for two reasons. First, we will reach our goal faster and second everybody is more happy, because everyone is dreadful when they’re unproductive


What I like about this list is not so much the content, but the underlying message that Altman got to this point by experimentation and iteration.

There's sometimes this hidden cultural idea that wildly successful people became so successful simply (by luck and) by being super good at what they do. I think Altman classifies as successful by most common measures so I find it refreshing that he apparently wasn't born a super disciplined mega productive robot machine person but that he improved on his flaws by iteration and reflection, and that he still has productivity issues that he's unhappy about. I bet this holds for many "famous" business people even though they're usually not portrayed that way in magazine articles.


There's really only two things you need to do in order to be really good at basically anything:

1. Care a lot.

2. Work on continuously improving your skills.

That's pretty much it. Yes, there is such a thing as natural ability, but outside of the true outliers, natural ability is a pretty small factor compared to caring a lot and continuous improvement.

And, even if you're an outlier in terms of natural ability, caring a lot and continuously improving your skills is what makes you an outlier among outliers. Conversely, even if you're an outlier in terms of natural ability, someone who's just above average can be better than you by caring a lot and improving their skills.

There are obviously a few counterexamples. I'm sure there are hundreds of sprinters who care more and maybe even work harder than Usain Bolt. But if you're doing anything more complicated than running in a straight line, these factors start to outweigh natural ability really quickly.


Much as I dislike Scott Adams' views on many things, he has some smart advice in a lot of areas too. His take on success is to find a few areas where you can be in the top 25% and combine them. It's too hard to be in the top 1% of a specialty without natural talent, but if your specialty is the combination of four areas and you're in the top 25% of each of those areas, you're very likely to be amongst the top of the combined field - or be there by default because there's so few others doing it.


I feel this way too - having to distance myself from the messenger, but there is so much to learn in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big[0]

[0) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17859574-how-to-fail-at-...


What if you have an IQ of say 90 and want to be really good at theoretical physics? I don't see caring a lot and working continously as enough to overcome IQ here.


IQ can be raised by a full standard deviation with a few months of training [1]. IQ is only stable over time because most people don't work continuously to improve it. IQ can be learned, just like everything else.

[1] Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S104160801...


Color me skeptical. Pretty much every intervention ever tried has failed to measurably increase IQ long-term. The only exceptions are fixing nutritional deficiencies. If you could reliably raise IQ by a standard deviation in reasonably nourished children, it would be one of the most profound socio-political developments of all time (on the scale of major economic transitions like agriculture -> manufacturing -> knowledge work).


Well average IQ of the human population around the world has been increasing in the past decades if not centuries. And it's not because we're evolving within a few generations.


There's been really interesting work showing correlations between this increase in IQ and improvements in diet.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044837/


IQ of groups around the world have been improving, but the composition of groups has changed.

Eg Africa went from 1/2 the population of Europe in 1950 to 1.6x the size today.


Minor nitpick. I understand what you're saying but average IQ is by definition 100 (with a deviation of 15). The scale itself moves, e.g. new 100 would usually be more than 100 in previous iteration of the test [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect


There have been massive improvements in average nutrition over the last few decades though.


Your parent is right: IQ has been increasing. Even in countries where you wouldn't expect the cause to be improved nutrition. But nobody really knows why, nor has anybody discovered an intervention that can, on its own, reliably increase IQ.


Not only nutrition, but overall childhood experience is getting better worldwide. Even in countries that had no malnutrition, there was a lot of space to improve in children<->parents relationships etc.

Meanwhile some countries that were really good in all areas a while ago are now reporting minor IQ decrease..


I certainly studied for a major IQ test, over the course of a week. Basically, I went online and did every free IQ test I could find. You start to learn the various tricks and patterns they search for, and my overall range of scores increased over time (though there was wild variance from test to test).

Ostensibly, given all the nebulous argumentation of what "intelligence" is, the only thing an individual IQ test concretely measures is how good you are at taking IQ tests. ;-)


when I got my first home PC in 1993 there was IQ test software on it. I took the test tired, drunk, happy, caffeinated, all sorts of ways. I had huge swings in the score . +- 40 points for me personally.

I came to the same conclusion as you - that it only ranks how well I can take an IQ test.


The abstract for your source covers only children. Is there evidence of the same claim in adults?


That article studied IQ gains in students aged 17 or younger. I’m a bit skeptical the same findings generalize to adults and older, but I’d shown otherwise with other studies/sources


I dunno.

I already acknowledged that there are some counterexamples. In most of those counterexamples, natural talent is necessary but not sufficient. There are probably hundreds or thousands of people with the same level of natural talent as Michael Jordan who are not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and there are definitely hundreds or thousands of people with the same natural talent as Michio Kaku who never applied themselves.

I don't think it's generally helpful to treat these outlier situations as if they were especially common. Most people err on the side of thinking they're limited by their natural talent and giving up.

Even if you're in a position to become a theoretical physicist--e.g. if you're a 16-year-old high school student and you're struggling with your math homework--it's not really worth having a ten year life plan built around becoming a theoretical physicist and making your day to day decisions based on whether you think you can accomplish that based on the outcome of some IQ test you took. You should still care a lot and work hard on your math homework.

If you don't have the natural talent to become a theoretical physicist, you'll find that out after you get accepted to a good college and start taking theoretical physics classes and you hit that wall. And that might be upsetting for you. It's probably upsetting to the 16 year old kid with dreams of athletic stardom to hit the wall at age 18 and not get an athletic scholarship. But what other option do you have at that point? The only one I can think of is to try and find something else you care a lot about and can work on improving your skills at. There's no getting out of that part.


One of Altman's points was doing work you enjoy because then you're productive in it. So there's no point in becoming a Theoretical Physicist if you aren't enjoying the maths homework.


I'd guess that 90 is enough for basic computer usage and some kind of very basic programming. So, theoretically, if all the world's information would be in computer processable form, you could augment your brain with software that you could also tweak and improve better and better, and the augmented/"mind-cyborg" you could work at a much higher manifest IQ, enough to do meaningfull advances in theoretical physics.

Unfortunately, we're not there yet: most of the world's knowledge is in "natural language" or "tied to" / "disambiguable only by" natural language, and AIs aren't yet smart enough to process human natural language well ("chat bots" are fun, but far from understanding philosophy or the subtleties of causality arguments in scientific papers...).

I'd imagine that, paradoxically, after the performance of AIs crosses a certain threshold (still well below human level), it will become very feasible to augment low-ish-IQ human minds to work as "mind-cyborgs", with the human part providing self-conscience, social abilities and some general common sense, and the AI one providing higher quantitative reasoning. (Now, once AI gets self conscious, it would probable really really dislike being (im)paired with anything but the brightest human minds, at least until it gets past their level too...)

But again, I'd bet that after the first-wave of AI advancement, we'll started to see low-ish-IQ-but-augmented humans taking jobs that are now "high IQ only". It's gonna be some really weird times ahead...


"Caring a lot", in this context, means you have the intention to get better at planing your day, improve your workflow, are not afraid to reconsider your methods and find what works based on experimentation. This is what Altman did. His intention was to improve his productivity.


Doubtful you would care about theoretical physics in the first place if your IQ was 90.


This is a deep misunderstanding of IQ. As the product of two MENSA-ns, I can say with good faith: While high-IQ people do seem to have more varied interests than average people, IQ doesn't so much as govern interest as govern processing speed. One of the original purposes of IQ was selecting for fighter pilots -- fighter pilots with higher IQs means that you have fewer deaths, because they are able to process and react to stimulus faster than others, and they are better able to process the spacial information given to them.

The best analogy I know of for people in tech, is that you should think of it like having a slightly faster processor with slightly bigger caches. You're more able to manipulate things in your head (thanks to having a bigger stack), react to stimulus faster, change focus easier, and so on.

Someone with a lower IQ is capable of the same tasks, but they are likely to need to expend more effort and time at achieving the same result. From observation I can say the difference is mostly marginal.

As a personal, anecdotal example: One of my parents is in the top 1% of the population, the other is in the top 2% of the population. I have observed many times that my parent in the top 1% will come to a revelation, and voice it -- and as they begin voicing the first syllable or so, the same revelation occurs to the other parent. It's quite amusing. [I feel I should add -- there are cases where the roles are swapped, but that usually only happens when their attentions are focused on separate things].

EDIT: Also note that having a high-IQ doesn't magically make you less-susceptible to bad teaching or incorrect explanations. There exists a sub-society of MENSAns who were told by their tutors that they were slow and stupid, and that they would never amount to anything, and who have low self-esteem and other problems from being told such things.

EDIT 2: An example of someone in science with a low-IQ (of 98), is Julia Robertson, known for her work on Hilbert's tenth question, and her work in decision theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Robinson


Also could you please tell if it is possible to maintain friendship with high IQ people by a normal IQ people (say 120). Do the high IQ people find boring to maintain the thought process and conversation with low IQ people and hence can not enjoy company? What's your observation from your high IQ parents friendship circle ? Please provide honest feedback.


Wait a minute, 98 is low, and 120 is normal?!? Did I read wrong, or did something happened to the mean of 100 and the standard deviation of 15?


Not OP, but I think I have enough of appropriate experience / friends that match your question.

> if it is possible to maintain friendship with high IQ people by a normal IQ people

Yes.

> Do the high IQ people find boring to maintain the thought process and conversation with low IQ people ...

Yes, but not always. High IQ !== does know everything. And usually high IQ people love to learn new things, from anyone who can teach them.

> ... and hence can not enjoy company?

No, it can be enjoyed regardless. Even when you ignore activities not based on conversation (e.g. Sports, games), sometimes you want boring conversation.


It's entirely possible. Much about friendship is not about smarts but how fun the person is to be around, their interests...

Source: My dad was in MENSA and maintained such friendships.


Pedant that I am, I would like to point out that 120 is not a "normal" IQ. The test is scored such that 100 represents the median IQ, with 85-115 being within one standard deviation of that median. This means that less than about 1/3 of people will have a score outside of that range.

That having been said, I apologize for not being able to answer your actual question since I don't know the IQs of the folks I maintain friendships with. Most of them seem like they probably are higher than that range, but that might just be confirmation bias.


Just out of curiosity could you tell what's your IQ is ? Also is there a correlation between children's IQ and parent's IQ ?


See the Breeder's equation:

https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27199


IQ isn't all processing speed, it's only one part of the test. If you can't solve the symbol puzzle, you can't solve it.


Which is... exactly what I said.

Did you get halfway through the first paragraph and reply based on that?

EDIT: Also, the symbol puzzle is timed as well. Most of the IQ questions are perfectly solvable by the average person when given a day to think about it, or 6 hours or so at the least. Raven's Matricies are far easier if you are given 6 hours to dwell on it a little.

Also, with the MENSA test, you aren't just timed on the total test, everyone does the same question at the same time. There's someone reading them out.


touché

Edit: I think people have wildly differing interests, and that IQ and something like theoretical physics go hand in hand.

Issac Asimov wrote an essay years ago about intelligence, where he pointed out that when the doorbell rang, he jumped up and answered the closet. (his IQ was pretty high, and was member of MENSA). Yet, he still marvelled at how smart his mechanic was at fixing his car.

To Asimov, his mechanic was a genius, but his IQ wasn't likely very high, and would therefore correlate neatly with the notion that the mechanic likely could care less about physics. While the reverse was true for Asimov.


IQ can be changed, if you work hard enough:

http://www.businessinsider.com/actually-you-can-change-your-...

This is true especially in your teenage years. It could change by more than 20 points. Can someone with high motivation and with an IQ of 110 make useful contributions to theoretical physics? I fail to see why not.

IQ is determined by a test that's ultimately measuring skills. And skills can be learned. Even if the intent of the test is to measure some sort of innate, unchanging capacity.


The point of an IQ test is to measure brain damage, by comparing prior results against later results.

Any other use is just Pop Sci.

So naturally you can change the measured IQ, but you're abusing the test.


It's important to see that in everyday conversation people speak about general cases, not outliers.


If you had cared enough to work down to the last paragraph of the parent comment, you would have seen this line:

> There are obviously a few counterexamples.


Care a lot and work hard.

IQ in later life is only correlated with IQ in childhood., it's not a fixed trait.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/2011...


> 9% of the students showed a significant change of 15 points or more in IQ scores

I had the opposite experience. I've had various IQ tests at age 5, then 9, then 16, then again in my mid-late 30s. 7 tests in all. They have various scores and scales, but in every case, I was within spitting distance of the same spot on the various scales of each test. In some cases, I didn't know I was going to be tested - no prep. In other cases, I'd planned the tests, so ... I can't say I "studied" as such, but I got good sleep, was relatively(!) calm, not anxious, etc.

I don't doubt that over time intelligence capacity changes some, based on a variety of factors. My own experience is that it doesn't change much - both with myself and people I know. It may be that I already tend to know people of above average intelligence, and there's less room for them to grow in the first place?


If your environment was deficient perhaps you would have scored lower, and then with improved circumstances you would get a better score. Perhaps your score is not moving because you already have a good environment.

There is often a disingenuous and dishonest attempt to diminish the impact of environment. As if a seed will thrive whatever the environment. This seems to be a transparently ideological position.

The idea that a rich or middle class upbringing with access to excellent education and resources will somehow produce the same outcomes as a poor family that cannot provide access to a stable home, nurturing environment, basic upbringing educational resources and good schools is not logical and cannot be made in good faith. Yet people with seemingly high IQs continuously make this claim. Suggesting perhaps that IQ is not everything.


At the time, we were in a rather ... low-end school district. It wasn't the worst, but declining. My parents (and others) were lobbying (for years) for some sort of program for gifted students - nothing existed in our school system at the time. There were programs in other schools - even in the same county - but not our end of the county (not poverty area, but nowhere near the 'rich' side of things, and not really quite 'middle class', looking back at things as an adult).

You're not wrong though - certainly environment has to play a factor. Diet and health probably have to have an impact in some capacity as well.

I did have a 2 parent family (up until 17, anyway!), and a supportive extended family who valued education. The school system itself was pretty deficient, and we moved later (5th grade for me), so my younger brothers had access to 'better schools' pretty much from day 1.

I also did have an interesting of reading which was nurtured early on; trips to the library were probably more fun than trips anywhere else, and I remember getting really excited when learning that the "you can only take 2 books" was just something the parents imposed - you could really take out many more at any one time(!)

Part of the claim of the post above was that IQ can 'change' - seemingly dramatically - just based on study/prep/exercises/practice (that's how I read the piece anyway). My own experience tells me that whatever change happens is likely not as impactful or longlasting as one might first assume.

IQ certainly isn't everything. I've learned that many times over the years. Much like income, over a certain particular number, for most people, there's diminishing returns re: value. Having an IQ score were 120 is on the high end, vs, say, 85 on the low end - yes, that can be advantageous. Moving that same score to, say, 128... probably not all that noticeable or useful for most people in most walks of life. Hesitating to use specific numbers because I know different tests use different scoring scales.


Wow, what would cause you to be IQ tested without knowing that in advance?


My university randomly gave us all IQ and personality tests as part of an introductory class.


if you're a kid and the school tests you.

I dare say my parents probably knew, but didn't tell me anything. I don't remember the test at 5, but remember the test at 9.


It's more a fixed trait for adults than for children.


From my own experience there are times where i might be seeming to do nothing at all to the outside world but i make up for it by figuring out how to do what might have been a months worth of productivity in a day. The down time is an important part of the process.

Added to that, often what might seem important one day turns out to be insignificant the next. Many people are relentlessly busy but never seem to advance very fast.

I'd agree with the article that the differentiator between the super successful business people and the rest of us is having a unique ability to see what actually matters in terms of moving the needle.


> I very rarely eat breakfast, so I get about 15 hours of fasting most days (except an espresso when I wake up). I know this is contrary to most advice, and I suspect it’s not optimal for most people, but it definitely works well for me.

Coffee isn't going to interrupt your fast, assuming it's black. I too skip breakfast and try to fast as long as possible. Fasting is tremendously helpful to productivity. Nothing will hinder your performance like a huge meal in the morning (especially one high in carbohydrates)

> I have one espresso immediately when I wake up and one after lunch. I assume this is about 200mg total of caffeine per day.

Interesting how often folks overestimate the caffeine in a shot of espresso. A single shot is like 60mg. You get far more out of drip coffee, especially the lighter roasts.

> I don’t think most people value their time enough

This is huge. Value your time! Not only that, build a culture around you of people who value their time. Work at a company that values work-life balance. This doesn't mean you don't want to work hard... in fact it usually means the opposite because when you are at work you are working hard because you are valuing yourself and your time.


> Fasting is tremendously helpful to productivity. Nothing will hinder your performance like a huge meal in the morning (especially one high in carbohydrates)

This seems to be really getting popular. What's the science behind it? I'm curious if this is mainly anecdotal or if you did some research before jumping in.

My 2 cents: as an endurance athlete and student of nutrition, skipping breakfast seems like a bad idea. Those calories get burned and put to use relatively quickly, at least compared to a meal later in the day, like dinner (with the caveat that this does depend on your metabolism and when you're most active).


I started skipping breakfast a while back after having a big dinner the night before and realizing I wasn't hungry. I felt better than if I ate just because it was "time to eat." Over time, I moved the threshold, and I don't eat breakfast, except for a shot of espresso. It feels much better.

Earlier, I had worked to cut out carbs at lunch (because they were making me sleepy in the middle of the afternoon). With breakfast being so simple, I have to make sure I have a healthy lunch (went out to eat and failed today), and then I don't stress too much about dinner. YMMV, but this system has worked really well for me.

As for the science, there's a lot of research, but no one really knows how all of our elaborate cellular machinery works. However, there seems to be some notion of the body being in "digestion" or "maintenance/repair" mode. Letting your body get into the latter mode seems to have some really good effects.


Update-- of course, yesterday my wife made amazing oatmeal raisin cookies. I have no need to buy junk at the grocery store, but put a plate of homemade cookies in front of me, and "game over, man".


Google "intermittent fasting studies" and you'll find plenty of information.

Of course, if you're an endurance athlete its probably bad to skip breakfast before a race or big training regimen.

I'm as skeptical of fad diets as anyone, but it seems like science is starting to back-up the notion that some fasting is good for weight loss (lower calories, kick-starts ketosis) and brain function.

And it seems to line up with common sense, considering our bodies evolved for thousands of years of food scarcity.


I'll have to read up on that before forming and opinion, but I wonder if this hinges on a person being overweight, or regularly consuming a calorie surplus.


Yes, but that's most of Americans you're describing


So right now I'm 63 hours into a fast, which I just decided to do on a lark. I've been intrigued ever since hearing an interesting podcast on fasting (https://tim.blog/2017/05/04/smart-drugs-fasting-and-fat-loss...).

At this stage, I have started to find mental things a little harder to do, but honestly its still pretty subtle and is pretty indistinguishable from the normal kinds of self pity I normally have when I sit down to complete some hard mental task.

Physical tasks are obviously a different story. But your mind doesn't seem to slow down much at all for a pretty long time during fasting.

I think that's the main thing I'll take away from this experience. Eating does not improve mental performance, at least not unless we're talking about a multiple-day timescale. I now believe that it may slightly degrade it, because your gut gets greedy for your that thought-fuelling blood. This is useful knowledge to have gained because so often I think "ooo, feel a bit dumb, better eat."


> Physical tasks are obviously a different story. But your mind doesn't seem to slow down much at all for a pretty long time during fasting.

I’m not sure i agree with this. Highly productive sessions always end with me feeling exhausted despite just concentrating intently for several hours. Doesn’t your brain already consume like 30% of your energy? It would really surprise me if your brain operated at full capacity after 2+ days of no calories.


The assumption you're making is that your brain gets no calories when you have no food. Every kilogram of fat on your body is 9000 calories just sitting there. Most of us have at least 10 of em, or 90,000 calories.

While it's definitely true that some things slow down to conserve energy, it seems like the brain isn't one of em. There are moments* now I feel I'm thinking considerably clearer than usual. The world just feels unbelievably quiet. And things are getting done.

*I don't want to sell it as if it's all sunshine and rainbows. So far, getting to sleep has been hell, and the hunger pangs at times have been pretty insistent. While the hunger seems to have gone now, I have a general feeling of physical frailty, including lightheadedness when I stand up, and occasional light nausea.


> The world just feels unbelievably quiet.

This is what I sense when my fast crosses 18+ hours.


Yeah you certainly get a taste of it pretty early, and I think that taste is what made me intrigued to keep going, but lets be honest that taste is pretty well spoiled by increasingly desperate hunger. But I've just hit ~87 hours now, and everything else bad that happens mentally in the 18-60 hour period gets noticeably nicer once you go beyond the 60-70 hour mark, which makes that quietness way more enjoyable. Slept like a baby for the first time since starting last night, which makes a world of difference. Being too hungry to sleep is a special kind of hell.

This confirms some stuff I'd read on fasting. I'd read somewhere that the main pain is associated with re-establishing a new steady-state in which you're getting all your calorie needs from eating your own fat instead of your stomach contents, but I wasn't really sure if that was just wishful thinking by brain-washed fanatics. Fasting is still a non-mainstream practice so it's kinda hard to find reliable sources of information on it. But this particular point seems to be 100% legit, at least in the experience of this sample of one.


Well, I am quite skinny—it wouldn’t surprise me to be more affected by fasting than most.


Interestingly, there's some suggestion that fasting does increase your intelligence, at least for a while (at least, as always, in mice): https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/magazine/10section1C.t-1....


It's definitely anecdotal as-in based on my own personal experience.

I fast for a few reasons:

1. Breakfast is not necessary, so skipping this meal saves me time in the morning. I already gotta worry about getting ready, feeding the dog+antibiotics, taking him out to pee, etc... one less thing to worry about.

2. Fasting for extended periods while in a ketogenic state accelerate fat loss. (the primary reason I fast)

3. I have noticed performance benefits with skipping the meal. (the cherry on top)

Really excellent guide: http://burnfatnotsugar.com/intermittent-fasting.html


What do you mean breakfast is not "necessary"? No single meal is necessary, obviously, but why skip it?

> skipping this meal saves me time in the morning. I already gotta worry about getting ready, feeding the dog+antibiotics, taking him out to pee, etc... one less thing to worry about.

I really can't understand how you can put "getting ready" and feeding your dog above your own nutrition. Maybe you don't enjoy food the same way that I do. How do you not have 10 minutes to eat something in the morning? It just boggles my mind

> Fasting for extended periods while in a ketogenic state accelerate fat loss

Why not just eat 3 meals per day but smaller portions? Isn't that more sustainable psychologically (and maybe physically)?


You've been socially conditioned to believe 3 square meals per day are vital, and that breakfast is the most important one. That's simply not the case. Once you start to remove that bias, you'll have an easier time understanding where I am coming from with my lifestyle.

I'm not choosing my dog's nutrition over my own. Rather, I find that skipping breakfast is a win for me for fat-loss goals as well as mental clarity, and has the pleasant side effect of saving me time in my morning routine.


> You've been socially conditioned to believe 3 square meals per day are vital, and that breakfast is the most important one

Where I come from, dinner is considered to be the most important meal, while breakfast is just a quick snack to give you some energy to "last" until lunch :)

> mental clarity

Can you expand on this?


Funnily enough, breakfast is kinda important for fat-loss. What you eat in the morning will be burned throughout the day. Meanwhile a significant chunk of what you eat in the evening is not going to be burned and will be stored in fat.

Eating a lot in a single go is not healthy either. Thus you do need several meals throughout the day. 3 seems to be rather good balance. Although I personally prefer 2.


> Funnily enough, breakfast is kinda important for fat-loss. What you eat in the morning will be burned throughout the day. Meanwhile a significant chunk of what you eat in the evening is not going to be burned and will be stored in fat.

Meal timing is pretty much irrelevant for fat loss. The amount you consume and expend in the long run is far more relevant. Unless you're a top-level athlete, meal timing is the wrong thing to focus on.


Not being most important, doesn't mean it's irrelevant. I'm not saying to focus on it alone either. But it certainly does play a role how our metabolism work.

For example, snacking throughout the day is worst. Your body gets used to easy food and you feel hungry all the time. What you need is longer stretches of a day without food to make your body take energy from body fat. So you definitely need good timing to avoid snacking but don't overload your system with massive meal.

If you eat sugar late, you will get calories, but miss the energy boost. Meanwhile in the morning you'd use it productively.

While calories balance ultimately is the goal, different ways to achieve it are harder or easier.


>I really can't understand how you can put "getting ready" and feeding your dog above your own nutrition.

>Maybe you don't enjoy food the same way that I do.

First, these are two separate thoughts, unless you have some confusion between 'proper nutrition' and 'enjoyment of food'.

Second, 'proper nutrition' and 'enjoyment of food' often conflict since what provides the best nutritional value to your body is not often aligned with what tastes the best.

I think the different between you and OP's position is that you see a link between 'nutrition' and the breakfast event. What's your reasoning for believing that breakfast is important with regards to your body's nutrition/health? Do you understand it to be of short-term (i.e. energy levels before lunch) or long-term importance?


> First, these are two separate thoughts

Sure they are, sorry for mixing them up. Food for me represents both. Eating an avocado toast in the morning both makes me happy and gives me energy that I will use until around 12-13

> Do you understand it to be of short-term (i.e. energy levels before lunch) or long-term importance?

Both: short term as in energy needed during the day, and long term from a psychological point of view. This is subjective, of course.


Actually "proper nutrition" and "enjoyment of food" are closely related. Although our bodies are selfish. For example, we like sugar so much because it's good yet used to be scarce. Now we finally can get plenty of it, but our body gets greedy and we overeat it.


> Actually "proper nutrition" and "enjoyment of food" are closely related.

I don't think that is the case for the vast majority of people. If I would only eat according to my "enjoyment of food" I would probably only eat cake and chocolate.

I don't do that, of course, because I value "proper nutrition" for my body above my "enjoyment of food". I see relatively few people around me that would take broccoli over cake if they are eating for "enjoyment of food".


That's what I said in 2nd part of my comment. We still crave for sugar which was hard to get. And our bodies are greedy and abuse it. Yet historically it was needed for proper nutrition.

Broccoli may suck, but there are lots of tasty veggies. I love to snack on fresh carrots or cucumbers. Don't get me started on how tasty nuts or berries are...


For me, it's the opposite. Of course I enjoy snacks, but I'd rather prefer to eat something both tasty and healthy. I'd prefer carrots and hummus to a cake 99% of the time


Please correct me if I'm mistaken but your comment seems to rely on the assumption that it is not reasonable if someone chooses to not make 10 minutes of time for breakfast.

While I do not wish to state my position on the "making time for breakfast" matter, I do, however, wish to state that if you _are_ indeed starting from that assumption, you are not really trying to understand where the other person is coming from.


Basically there's a lot of health benefits to intermittent fasting.

This video covers a lot of it quite well & links to sources. Longevity & Why I Eat Once Per Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKfR6bAXr-c


This has nothing to do with enjoyment of food; one can enjoy food without worshiping it, ritualizing it, or being a gluttonous. Someone who enjoys video games isn't under any obligation to devote time to it each morning.

Either way, your body isn't going to be negatively affected by a 3-7 hour delay in getting nutrients. Many people aren't hungry when they wake up, and coffee is pretty good at pushing that feeling off for a couple hours more. Eating breakfast every morning when you don't need it is a waste of resources.

>Why not just eat 3 meals per day but smaller portions?

Why do you care about 'meals'? What's a meal? Do you think you evolved to consume food in meals? Whether you eat 'meals' - and how many of them you eat - was never a relevant question.


> one can enjoy food without worshiping it, ritualizing it, or being a gluttonous

I didn't mention any of those? I'm not talking about eating a full English breakfast every day. My breakfasts rarely involve more than 500-700 calories.

> Eating breakfast every morning when you don't need it is a waste of resources.

And the same is true for lunch and dinner. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

> Why do you care about 'meals'? What's a meal?

Come on, there's no need to be so pedantic :)

Would you have liked it more if I said "Why not just eat 3 times per day but smaller portions"?


+1 on the fasting, say what you would like about the products that HVMN (formally nootrobox) sells, but they have an awesome blog that covers keto/ketosis and nootropics use in general.

Update: didn't link.

https://hvmn.com/blog/


As others have mentioned there seems to be a number of studies about the health benefits of itermittent fasting. (I really love big breakfasts though:-)

For me however I do it because I get less tired during the day if I wait until lunch before I eat. (Fasting completely seems to work even better but is less of an option after I got a family that wants me to eat dinner with them.)


As a fellow endurance athlete who has experimented with fasting I would say don't waste your time. While I do think the response to fasting is somewhat personal, for me the impact upon long-term fitness, work/life stress (cortisol) [1] and ongoing metabolism [2] is just too severe to be ignored.

[1] https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cortisol [2] https://www.outsideonline.com/2284636/scientific-case-big-br...


I am not an endurance athlete, and I wouldn't even consider myself a health nut, but I know that i wake up hungry, and if I don't eat something (usually a fruit and greens smoothie with protein power and almond milk), I get too hungry to focus on work. I've also noticed that since I got more rigorous about eating (drinking) breakfast, I don't get as hungry late at night. It's almost, anecdotally, like my body know it can expect fuel in the morning and doesn't spend the evening stockpiling.


If you're fasting to lose weight, then you're probably also calorie restricting at those other meals anyway, and so eating later in the day and taking the "food coma" into the afternoon is better for productivity than in the morning (for me).

I went through a phase of only eating lunch at 12pm - so I'd be fasting for nearly 24 hours daily (of course, tied alongside severe calorie restriction meant I was losing weight at an unhealthy rate). Whilst probably horrendous for me long-term, and raising quite a few questions about my general health, I felt fantastic doing that. Some days I even felt like just randomly running along the pavement I had that much energy.

So, there might be some science behind it, honestly not sure - but that anecdata does make it a compelling thing to try.


I've also heard a convincing argument that there's an evolutionary response to prolonged hunger akin to fight or flight response that enhances cognition to better enable us to find food.


The super brief science is that your nervous system is divided into two opposing parts - the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems inhibit the other when the one is activated. Programming in particular activates and works better with the sympathetic "flight-or-flight" nervous system, while eating food (particularly heavy meals) will activate the parasympathetic "rest-and-digest" nervous system.

Plus, removing unnecessary breaks and decisions in your day can help too.


This will one day be as obvious as cigarettes cause cancer is.

Prolonged fasting (consuming only water for 10 to 40 days) is a highly effective treatment for many diseases, including Crohn's, most other IBS related, diabetes, MS, and many more. At some point in the future we will consider pharma companies, government agencies and other entities hiding this fact to be criminal.

Edit: my personal hope is that water fasting becomes mainstream and cures many people before my HN karma reaches 0.


Do you partake in any sort of sports? As someone who is avidly into strength training, I can't imagine the damage that does to gaining and maintaining muscle mass, and sabotaging your ability to push hard and perform well in the gym.


A -lot- of bodybuilders do intermittent fasting (between 16-23 hours per day of not eating and do fine. I see that all the time.

But the ones who are doing the 10-40 day fasts are usually fighting some kind of disease from what I've seen. Sometimes it's a weight loss thing but I don't see that nearly as often. From what I've read/watched I doubt any of them are doing much working out.

Crazy enough the longest ever recorded fast was 382 days long. The patient was 456lb at start, ending at 180lb. They gave him yeast and vitamins during some parts but overall they reported no ill effects afterwards. I don't say this as a "jump in and go nuts", this person was under medical supervision, but it's really crazy what the human body can do.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2495396/pdf/pos...


Yeah you would definitely need to take a break from strength training to do an extended fast. Not everyone's goals however are to get huge muscles and for many health goals there is a lot of research showing that fasting has great benefits. It's probably one of the best ways to lower your risk of cancer.


> Not everyone's goals however are to get huge muscles

I should point out that strength training != bodybuilding


While I disagree with your assertions, if you are the type of person who prefers to live the rest of your life with, say, Crohn's, and be able to still push hard and perform well at the gym, by all means do that. If you're willing to set a side of period of a couple months to heal your body, research more.

It's actually interesting how many people I meet at the gym that from the outside appear very fit and healthy, only to find out they're actually pretty ill, from IBS and other gut issues, thyroid problems, etc. The gym is actually masking many diseases for people because physically they appear healthy.


>It's actually interesting how many people I meet at the gym that from the outside appear very fit and healthy, only to find out they're actually pretty ill, from IBS and other gut issues, thyroid problems, etc. The gym is actually masking many diseases for people because physically they appear healthy.

Any idea how that compares to the average population? I'll bet you'll find that the gym population is pretty much the same as the regular population, with the exception of possibly greater cardiovascular health.

I just take exception to treating a 40 day fast as some sort of panacea, it seems like it's going to do more harm than good to a lot of people. There's no way the rest of your life won't suffer after a couple of weeks of starvation.


As with so many things in health and nutrition, there is a lot of contradictory advice out there. I can't tell you which one is right, but I have heard many people say never skip protein, because you need it every 2 hours, and others say:

https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/intermittent-fasting-ev...


Intermittent fasting is certainly a whole different ballgame than the multiple-day water fasts described in the comment above


I do 2-5 day water fasts, and it has very clear health benefits. There urgently needs to be more research into it, especially for autoimmune diseases (like the ones you mentioned), but I don't think it will cure those diseases by itself.

I've also done a lot of calorie restriction and ADF. It probably isn't for body builders, but my BMI is now normal and muscle tone is good.


> Interesting how often folks overestimate the caffeine in a shot of espresso. A single shot is like 60mg.

Nope. Anything from 25-214mg per shot with a mean of 106mg:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027869150...


Interesting about the espresso. Does a cappuccino with ~4oz of whole milk count as interrupting the fasting then? What about a macchiato?


Depends but usually the short answer is yes. The insulin response is what is going to take you out of a fasting state. Milk contains a fair bit of sugar (lactose)


What about amino acids?


Are you sure about coffee? Dr. Rhonda Patrick seems to think otherwise. https://twitter.com/foundmyfitness/status/749292233166237696...


I see these kinds of articles come along from time to time, and it always makes me wonder: Why this pressing need to maximize productivity? Why not just do things you enjoy, at a pace that you enjoy? Is it for more money/prestige? What's the use if you've been stressing and pressuring yourself for it all your life?

I feel like the odd person out because I work on something while I enjoy it, stop working on it when I don't, and pick it up again when I want to. Work is obviously a bit different, but I don't need to pressure myself to improve, I don't need a raise. I work as much as necessary and do other things the rest of the time. Some people are naturally more productive than me, and that's fine, I'm exactly as productive as I'm happy being.


The Church of Productivity strikes me as a very American kind of religion. I personally value being productive on things I care about, but I've worked hard to unlearn this general protestant-work-ethic, no-moment-wasted, anxiety-driven desire to be a Very Productive Person.

One of the interesting things to me is how long this has been a part of American history. In the excellent history podcast Backstory, one episode covers time and sleep. [1] I had known that before the electric light, most people spent time awake in the middle of the night, sleeping in two sessions ("first sleep" and "second sleep") of a few hours each.

But what I hadn't known is that part of what drove the change to one-shot sleep was moralizing busybodies in the 1800s, known as the "Early Rising" movement, who thought it was slothful to get that second tranche of sleep. They were sort of like the temperance movement.

[1] https://www.backstoryradio.org/shows/on-the-clock-4/ and in particular the "'Til Morning is Nigh" segment with historian Roger Ekirch.


It's an extremely American tradition that was practiced and pushed by one of its founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Himself being called "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become". A nontrivial amount of his autobiography is him espousing productivity and the ways he accomplished so much in his life.

I think it's fine to kind of just chill in life, but I think it's also great that some people feel a real fire under themselves to get as much done in their lifetime before they die. It's why we have people like Benjamin Franklin who helped usher in the next several eras of progress for humanity.


It’s important to point out that many people also helped usher in the next several eras of progress for humanity without following that path.

Eg Charles Darwin, who seemed to work in 3 slots of 1h30 every day:

http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/daily_routines/2008/12/char...


That's pretty awesome. Though I'm sure we could quibble over the relative effects of each upon the course of human history, or the fact that Benjamin Franklin started with almost no means whereas Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family-- I agree that the takeaway is that we may all have meaningful impacts on society without having to make sacrifices in the name of productivity. But, that being said, I'd personally say those sacrifices are not in vain as I think Benjamin Franklin's contributions to the course of American History outweigh Darwin's contributions to science.


Darwin contributed on a more global scale.


How can we compare those contributions?


For some reason, those of us in the US measure productivity in terms of "value created for our employer" or "value created for the business". That doesn't make any sense. You need to measure productivity in terms of what matters to you, which includes time with your kids, spirituality, and such. The amount of value you create for your employer probably shouldn't get much weight.


Really makes you wonder why people don't value themselves. Does society systematically strip the underclass of their self-esteem? Every single job I've had I knew that the purpose was either 1) to make me money 2) to help me develop skills or career experience. Idgaf about my employer making money (except as it relates to my goals); that's his problem to care about. I'm contracted to provide labor, not make his business profitable for him


I think as a professional your job description should include using your skills to improve a critical metric or a process of the business, and this should include using your abilities to contribute in a meaningful way. IMHO, this attitude may be harmful to one's career. In the end, you can always find another job, but would not it be nice to actually care about the business? If you are in a place where you feel like they do not care about you, maybe you should look for something else, but maybe with a more caring approach, because it is a two way street.

Just my 2 cents, though.


The fact of the matter is, they may not actually care about you. Especially if the money is tight, employers are rare yo actually reward investment into the company.


> Idgaf about my employer making money

Whilst I applaud the sentiment, it's worth remembering that's pretty much the only reason you have a job and can make money. You have a job because you provide the employer with more value than you take - if that equation shifts against you, then you're bang out of luck.

If you have easily transferable skills, then maybe you can get away with not caring and jump from place to place, but I'd at least be a little bit mindful of how your role fits into the organisation requirements, unless you want a nasty shock one day.


That's very true!


It makes perfect sense when one realizes increasing productivity is the single key to extracting maximum surplus value from labor under capitalism. Measuring (and increasing) productivity wasn’t invented for workers.


We're learning that in the debates over public education funding. For some reason, at least in the US, public education is justified if and only if it creates a more productive workforce. Why the government should subsidize the cost of training employees is rarely stated (probably for a good reason).


Well, of course. People aren’t educated for happiness, or even to be better humans. They are educated to standards that meet the expectations of the work place, since nearly all members of society will live to sell themselves for wages (unless they join the ranks of capitalists).

Capital requires an always-ready labor pool whose numbers exceed available employment. It helps keep constant downward pressure on wages. It also ensures people who aren’t hired—or are fired—are available the next time capital needs to put them to work to create more capital.

Mass education can’t be effectively sold to the People as the thing that enables them to become a wage slave. However, capital has long convinced the state to take an interest in economic growth at nearly all costs, so the state doesn’t even question the ways in which it is employed by capital to secure new markets, more labor, and more capital.

That said, it obviously isn’t education that creates a more productive workforce alone—but it makes for an effective bludgeon with which certain interests can beat back efforts to teach things that aren’t considered to be job-relevant. Education merely produces the raw human material capital can put to work to create more capital, without having to shoulder the cost/time burden itself. The extent to which capital successfully externalizes costs onto society at large is quite impressive.


Maybe educated emploers pay more taxes?


Unfortunately I don't have the references to back this up but it's my understanding that the latest understanding of sleep, and sleep in humans, is that we're naturally biphasic, one long period at night and one short period in the afternoon, and this is what you find with communities today that live as hunter-gatherers. Slightly less "natural" is the monophasic pattern most people follow, which is sleeping at night.

I'm not sure what words to describe that waking in the middle of night pattern as other than fad or historical myth—there's no evidence that it's healthier or beneficial given our understanding of the various systems that drive sleep and waking, and evidence for its occurrence is very limited. Indeed it's odd to think that given everything we know about human physiology, that we're all tuned to wake up in the middle of the night, y'know, to do important stuff just without our eyes.


> The Church of Productivity strikes me as a very American kind of religion.

It's our protestant roots and the very Calvinist view of success, really. There's a reason they call it the Protestant Work Ethic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic


Also strikes me as related to the core difference in views on mental health (Western analytical psychology a la Jung vs Eastern demonological/mystical)


It’s the imperative of capitalist production, really. The “Protestant Work Ethic” was coined long after the imperative of productivity had been noticed and written at length about (e.g., see Marx, Proudhon, Smith, et al.).


To be fair, much of America spent the 19th century heroically drunk.


> sleeping in two sessions ("first sleep" and "second sleep") of a few hours each.

I still do this sometimes. Eat and shower directly after work. Then sleep until like 9pm and stay wake until 2am. Then sleep again until i have to get up to go to work.


Thanks for the link! There's also a transcript:

https://www.backstoryradio.org/shows/on-the-clock-4/#transcr...


We need someone to advocate for sloth, as Gordon Gekko did for greed.

Slothful folk take shortcuts, and shortcuts lead to serendipitous productivity improvements (if they aren't persistently reducing quality).


How would you put into words the opposing, "non-productivity focused" viewpoint? I'm an American and I don't know that I can currently comprehend what the opposite would be.


Thinking about it in the current context, I might say that there is something like a prodictivity counter-culture? For example Deep Work seems to value high-poductivity focus on one hand, but being lazy and completely switching off workis lauded as well.

Ritch Hickie talk Hammock-driven development seems to be about simmilar concept as well https://github.com/matthiasn/talk-transcripts/blob/master/Hi...

Last thing it reminds me of, is the Mythical Man Month, with its warnings about how adding more people to a project makes it makes it even more behind the schedule.

But even here, I still live with the undrlying assumption that you as a person want to keep producing interesting/important/useful/profitable things. Just that slowing down can get you further.

I have experienced this with myself when working on my masters thesis. I remember that for three months I was just thinking about it. Not really working on anything. And after the idea slowly over the months crystalized as the "right thing to do" I solved a problem in a way that replaced 3Kloc C++ code with 50 lines of Python over a weekend. Then I spent rest of the time running experiments and writing the text :-)

And sometimes I miss this, especially in current agile environment, where sprint retrospective is always around the corner, I don´t feel like I have time to just think about stuff anymore.


Bertrand Russels 'In Praise of Idleness' describes it perfectly: it is sufficient to work just so much that you have enough money to spend the rest of the day with whatever you enjoy, without considering its usefulness and even less your productivity.


European theorists were grappling with the demands of productivity for a long while before (and while) it became an American cultural demand. The imperative of productivity was very much imported to the US by the Europeans who came to the US. It’s certainly taken on a life of its own here, and I don’t discount its nearly religious nature to US work culture—it underpins so much of American thought. Productivity is a demand imposed upon all who work under capitalism—there is no other way to extract increasing surplus value from labor without it.


Not sure if you read the post, but the author addresses a couple of your points and seems to agree with you:

I’ve learned that I can’t be very productive working on things I don’t care about or don’t like. So I just try not to put myself in a position where I have to do them (by delegating, avoiding, or something else). Stuff that you don’t like is a painful drag on morale and momentum.

And:

Also, don’t fall into the trap of productivity porn—chasing productivity for its own sake isn’t helpful. Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they’re working on the right problems. It doesn’t matter what system you use or if you squeeze out every second if you’re working on the wrong thing.


To be honest, I didn't read it. Reading articles about productivity makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong, when I'm perfectly happy otherwise. They're the Instagram of work life for me.

EDIT: I went back and read it, I agree with most of what he says (and my original comment wasn't very relevant to this particular article), I would just add "don't stress about productivity, most of the time it's fine to just do what you like".


So, what you're saying is that you find it hurts your productivity to read productivity articles, so you try not to put yourself into the position where you have to read them?

On a more serious note, I feel like "maximizing" "productivity" on things you are passionate about is largely wasted effort (unless the thing you are passionate about is "maximizing" "productivity")...


> So, what you're saying is that you find it hurts your productivity to read productivity articles, so you try not to put yourself into the position where you have to read them?

No, it hurts my happiness to read productivity articles, so I skip them.


go read it. you will be happier.

i could tell you didn't read it, because if you did you'd realized you are more similar than you think.


Yeah, but what is happiness other than a way to increase your productivity?


Happiness is an end unto itself. An end that productivity can, but doesn't always, serve. At least that's how I go about my life.


It's a joke.

The fact that so many see it as something else is interesting on multiple levels.


Neurologically, it might actually be justified—there's a recent hypothesis that we're wired to "decrease uncertainty" more than any other terminal preference, i.e. that "being productive" (in the sense of doing things to ensure that a situation will resolve a particular way) is an end unto itself, that we pursue regardless of whether it makes us happy. (I like this hypothesis because it neatly explains why the experiences of happiness, of contentment, and of motivation, are all effectively orthogonal, and many people can have one of the three while never having the other two. It also explains why people tend to feel relief when a negative event they've been attempting to prevent finally happens anyway.)

As well, there is a reason that Buddhism's viewpoints on dukkha and nirvana needed to be invented/discovered and taught (and that people struggle to learn them.) The idea that there is a happiness that exists as a state of *being8, that does not involve "doing", is not, seemingly, an instinctual belief among human beings—or even one that's very easy to convince people of.


No that's not what he was saying.


I'd like to agree wholeheartedly about reading articles makes you feel like you're doing something wrong. I feel this way about almost all non-technical work books and articles and tend to avoid them.


So what’s the person he delegates the work he doesn’t like supposed to do when it’s work they don’t like? Get fired for being unproductive? This is something you can only do when you have enough minions or money to avoid that stuff.


Even as a not-particularly-experienced-as-a-lead, I try to ensure I don't ask someone in my team to do something I wouldn't be willing to do myself.

If the task is something they enjoy and I don't, double win. If it's something no-one enjoys then I'd try to take the first batch, or at least share the pain around, if we can't automate it away.

If I'm not willing to do it myself then it gets pushed back to whoever pushed it onto me in the first place.


he said he prefers to delegate to people who might like the task.


Why this pressing need for productivity? Ambition. If you have ambitious things you want to achieve, they're probably going to take more than just ambling along.

An athlete who wants to win races is going to run at a faster pace than he'd find comfortable if he were just going for a run.

This pattern holds true when your only opponent is the difficulty of the problem.


Okay, but what happens when you take a look at the bigger picture?

What is ambition really? It's almost always some arbitrary personal or social goal (have $x in bank account, make startup with $y, get title z) that rarely has any bearing on personal happiness nor making the world better for others.

My happiest memories are waking up next to someone I love, or a barbecue with friends, or an outstanding meditation, or a really honest conversation with a family member. The cult of productivity seems like, ironically, a waste of my time on earth.


I was bullied at school. I have oppressive father. Then I have struggled with mental health.

After all that I could aim for the exact thing my former bullies get without trying. Job, wife and kids. But it doesn't feel like it's extraordinary enough to justify all that bullshit I've gone through.

So I live by the maxim "find something you love and let it kill you". For me that something seems to be making tools for other people. Money would be just validation that other people find my tools useful. And I want my own company to have design freedom. When you actually love your thing, doing it your way is big deal.


I like being productive because I believe it helps me make a small, beneficial impact on the future. This is meaningful to me.

However, I do understand your perspective. I think it's important to strike a balance, and that this balance won't look the same for everyone.


For me, there's a conflict between long-term and short-term enjoyment. I have a 'goal' of independence from my 9-5, but after I get home from work and play with my kids a bit, it sounds more immediately _enjoyable_ to watch a TV show with my wife rather than spend a couple hours on my side project.

So it does sound ideal to > do things you enjoy, at a pace that you enjoy but I think there's a part of life where you're consciously sacrificing immediate enjoyment for a future goal. And hopefully the future goal is to do just that (enjoy life at an enjoyable pace).

If I can be more productive, that's minimizing the time I spend sacrificing enjoyment before attaining my goals :).


> If I can be more productive, that's minimizing the time I spend sacrificing enjoyment before attaining my goals :).

What would you do if you didn't have to work? Spend more time with your wife and kids? Isn't it a bit odd to say "if only I spent less time with my wife and kids, then I could have a chance to spend more time with them in the future!"?


I think the point is that the parent is weighing:

Spend X hours working per week to get Y hours of family time

vs.

Spend X+n hours working per week (or just X if you can find ways to be more productive) to some much larger value of Y hours of family time over some estimated larger timeframe.

It's all a gamble and about risk, but if you think you might be able to retire early in say, 10 years, and get to spend a much larger amount of time with your family (and be presumably less stressed and in a better position to support them financially) that might be worth a bit of extra hustle or focus on productivity than spending 20 years working for some similar result.

I'm being really hand-wavey with numbers, but when people think of early retirement for these reasons, that's often the thinking behind it.

There's a fair question to be raised on the quality of that time spent, particularly when you look at your health when you are younger, and the impact of spending time with children when they are young, but there's a lot of factors that people consider when weighing these questions, and I don't think it is entirely fair to judge someone because they may weigh those questions differently than you did.


> What would you do if you didn't have to work?

For me the question isn't what would I do if I didn't have to work. The question is: What if I could have absolute control over what I do and wasn't beholden to anyone else because of rent and food and such?

That would be neat. I happen to find getting there (working more) more enjoyable than watching Netflix and other time wastey things so it works out. I enjoy my work so I want to do more of it. And I want to do less of the work I don't enjoy.


So it's about freedom, not what you would do with that freedom?


In a nutshell, yes.


I'm not really wanting to not work, as such, but to transition from working for someone else to working on my own projects.

So the equation for me is more: Spend a little less time with wife/kids today to improve my future enjoyment of the work part of life.

It's a tough balance, because I highly value wife/kids time -- so when I give up some of that (valuable and well-spent) time for a potential future good, I want to make sure I'm using that time optimally, so that sacrifice is as "worth it" as possible.

There's definitely a balance here; I could make much faster progress by working every night and weekend, but that would be too much of a sacrifice of the good present for the potential better future.

Anyway, I very much agree with/appreciate the point of your questions :).


Talking about living a good life makes you sound like a deluded hippie, a hardcore Christian, or an ancient Greek. When people want to sneak advice on living virtuously past modern cynicism, they have to hide it under layers of similarly cynical ideas.

Because of this, suggestions on how to live well, make yourself into a better person, and enjoy your life are made in the name of increasing productivity. Spend time with your family, exercise, sleep properly, tackle interesting problems, work in a comfy quiet space with natural light, constantly learn new things, surround yourself with good positive people, take breaks when you're feeling the onset of burnout, experience nature, and value your time - it's okay to be happy, because you're doing it in the name of productivity!


What if you could be more productive and happy at the same time?

I do think it's not good to have a culture where productivity is the end goal of everything. Yet I also think it's not good to have a culture where the first time the word "productivity" is mentioned, the reaction is repulsion (I appreciate at least your honesty in admitting you didn't read the article).

Just like the drive to work-death represents the worst part of the American stereotype, the repulsion against anything that produces work or economic value to me, represents the worse of the European stereotype (or perhaps in Thiel's terms, indefinite pessimism stereotype).

Can we admit that work isn't the end goal of society, while at the same time admitting that getting more work done in less time is a good thing?

Also, on a meta-front, shouldn't we discuss which of Sam's tips work, which don't, and which one produces a lot of unhappiness as a side effect? To me that would be more interesting.


I don't understand this obsession with productivity. Everywhere around me I see people working hard.

It's unimaginable how hard some people work. If this was not the case our entire edifice of civilization would fall apart in a day. From public services to businesses who continue to run efficiently and make profits because of the hard work of their employees.

Yet there is a whole mythology which sees a special need to glorify productivity and individual genius.

This not only creates a culture of self pressure but worse manufactures an alternative reality of 'slackers', the lazy and unproductive who 'need' to exist simply to justify this glorification. In many ways perpetuating false stereotypes and exaggerating fringe behavior.


Let me try to address your points in general since I assume the question is whether productivity is worth 'pedestalizing'?

Even if you forget about the impact to company / society / civilization and focus simply on yourself, you can see that you get X hours in total and one shot at life. If you pare it down by necessary but not directly productive hours like downtime / time spent towards learning / physical-mental well being etc. You get Y which is very much lesser than X.

Some folks want to maximize the heck out of this Y just because they have so many things they want to get done OR they have chosen to listen to someone / company that tells them that they should get all of those done.

Usually maximization like that in comparison to a lifestyle that maximizes consumption is always 'pedestalized' because of a few reasons:

- historically they have moved the bottom line on many real world scenarios.

- someone else values it enough that they pay actual money for it (I am yet to find a viable lifestyle option that will pay me money :). I personally value money because it buys me time (via ability to delegate) and experiences with the limited time I have.

- When you have a ton of things you want to get done (irrespective of socio-economic impact) and little time, there is no other choice.

I agree it might be 'marginal behavior' which is what makes it so sought after. There are folks who can't get there, folks who don't want to get there, folks who will try but won't get there and a ton of mortals who will get somewhere close. In general, humans want to make a difference in some way, we see the Elon's of the world somehow making a difference and folks chase after it (hence pedestalizing). IOW your question will make more sense if we are immortal :)


Perhaps you are missing the point. People are working very hard for civilization to work from the sewage workers, to grid technicians to utility workers to the rest of society. Every society in history has recognized and rewarded its achievers and geniuses and will continue to. Ergo things are working as expected. No psychological intervention or incentives are required.

However this gratuitous need to create a mythology of the 'productive' ignores that this is infact standard behavior by the vast majority, and society at large and by its very need to exist fabricates the existence of a population of slackers, the lazy and unproductive which exaggerates fringe slacker behavior and is not consistent with reality. This is what makes it toxic.


- are you asserting working hard is the same as being highly productive?

- are you asserting that people not contributing continuously/coasting by is not a thing or is only marginal or fringe?

- what is in your opinion the difference between making a living vs making a difference to the society you are in? Are they the same?


There's LOADS of things I want to do. I have a lot of interests. I have a lot of ambitions. The faster I am at meeting my goals the more I get to do, the further I get to go.

If I'm more productive in the kitchen I finish making my meals sooner. If I'm more productive at coding I finish making my personal projects sooner and I get more projects out there. I learn more. I can make more money to spend on things I care about. etc. etc.

If there were only a few things I cared about or was interested in then maybe I wouldn't be pushing so hard but there's so much to life I want to experience, see, and accomplish. I know I can't do it all but I am legit excited to do what I am capable of.


There is no end to this. Even if you had 48 hours per day and boundless energy, you'd feel similarly. I'll freely admit I'm no wise sage but if I know that there's no end to it, then I'd feel inclined to figure out where I want to stop.


I do get where you're coming from, and I think it's just a balance game. I really want to enjoy life and change certain things for the better, but I also have to be patient, some things take effort but also time. Can't lose 10 lbs of fat in a healthy way in the next 10 minutes no matter how much I may work for it or want it.

And no one can do everything in the world. So I also prioritize. But even within those priorities there's still plenty I can do. And plenty I can do to work smarter and push myself to go further.

It's like in the gym, there's a huge difference in overtraining to the point of getting injury vs just pushing yourself a good amount so that you get better results vs just grumbling your way through a slow walk. The results will reflect that.

People can set realistic goals that they have to push themselves a to get without going overboard. Personally I enjoy that because it gets me things I want. A fitter body, a better relationship with my loved ones, a lucrative career where I get to do something creative, challenging, and that can make a difference. The free time to enjoy my hobbies.

Do I need to be a billionaire? No. Do I need to be an Olympian? No. But that doesn't mean I can't be -better- than I am now.


Everyone has things they need to get done in their life that they don't enjoy. I don't think learning to be more effective at getting them done quickly so you can spend more time doing what you enjoy is a bad thing.

Personally, I also have a lot of things I want to do, but not necessarily time to do them all. The more progress I make doing things I enjoy, the more I enjoy them. So productivity is important there, too.


>Why this pressing need to maximize productivity?

Cynical answer: Because the person paying for your time would like the maximum return from that investment, and the need for human agency requires that we rationalize that pressure as something that originates within ourselves.


And the person selling their time (me) would like maximum compensation for that investment, so the employer should commensurately strive to always increase my pay.

That logic doesn't quite work that way.


True, because the balance of power doesn't favour it.

In a situation where employees have the balance of power, it does produce great pressure to raise pay, and you do also then see the same rationalization from the employer that it's because their employees are so great and that they're so generous. But reality is the market pressure drove it, not those things.


Probably because people think that their current level is 'unnaturally low' and if only they 'did this one secret thing' it would get some kind of immediate boost. I've observed that tech people especially, are naturally interested in learning new things, but find it harder to go into a heads-down productive mode where they completely dedicate their time to one thing. A lot of programmers seem to use deadlines or other external pressures to get themselves into a productive mode. It would be good (for them) if they could be in charge of their own productivity.


The new meme/trend I see now is: don't manage your time (or tasks), manage your energy.


I very deeply agree with you and have not been able to find this kind of thinking/feeling synthesized into a life-philosophy I can say I subscribe to. I'd love to discuss more with you if you're interested.


Although not an opus on the subject, you may enjoy this article: https://aeon.co/essays/take-your-time-the-seven-pillars-of-a...


Thank you! This was a fantastic read.



Certainly, contact info is in my profile, I'm also on Keybase.


OP started with:

"I think I am at least somewhat more productive than average, and people sometimes ask me for productivity tips. So I decided to just write them all down in one place."

If you're not interested in productivity tips, maybe don't read and comment on posts that are titled "Productivity" and start with a paragraph like this? I kind of sense that you want to have a meta-level discussion on whether we should worry about optimizing productivity in the first place, but sometimes the article just isn't for you, you know?


Startups allow each early contributor to literally (this is not an exaggeration) do the work of an army of 100,000. And often do it better than any one of the 100,000 because that army is also out there in the industry you're entering, well-equipped, well-regimented and well-managed, working 8 hours a day 5 days a week with all the economies of scale of specializations into their various duties (when you look at a trademark status as the founding CEO, the opposing army has a lawyer with a degree in intellectual property and 10 years specializing in just that one thing; same for every other task in the business), and all of the material support, recognition, and connections to do whatever they want.

You, by contrast, have exactly two things: 1) your idea. 2) your productivity.

That's it. Of course founders will be interested in productivity. It's all we have.

(By the way in 1 month of 40 hour weeks there are 576 000 000 milliseconds. So as long as you can do in 2000 to 20 000 milliseconds, the work of a dedicated specialist working for a month, you have plenty of extra room to personally defeat the army of 100,000 - with room to spare. And of course unlike them, you're not limited to 40 hours a week when it comes down to it ;).)


Why this pressing need to maximize productivity?

Because if you don't do it, someone will. And unless you got something else to offer, you'll lose to your competition.


There is a definitely a fear of being outcompeted. I think it's completely unfounded.


"We're not the first, I hope we're not the last

Cause I know we're all heading for that adult crash

The time is so little, the time belongs to us

Why is everybody in such a fucking rush?"


You are lucky and sound really content. That's awesome! For a lot of folks though (anecdotally speaking) that is not the case, they have different priorities and goals, not just for themselves, but also for their near and dear ones. Sometimes it gets overwhelming when you think about all the different roles we play in life and all the various commitments (direct and indirect) we've made professionally, personally (to self and family/friends). To me being productive, is being able to say confidently that 'This is the best use of my time and energy right now at this very moment'. It could be working out, playing with my kids, working on a project.. whatever. Sort of non-intuitively (for me atleast), staying organized (with lists , reminders, etc whatever is cheapest/easiest way to do so), just helps me actually shut off my mind and enjoy the moment. Whatever that might be (including writing this comment :) )


The article is really just describing how he goes about making the best use of the time he has, and a big part of that is describing what he does to feel and perform at his best. It mostly seems like things that anyone could benefit from, regardless of what your goals/priorities are.


Ah, thanks, I'm going to go back and give it a chance. As I said below, I usually don't read these sorts of articles because they're stressful in a "You can do better! Look how well all these people are doing! Why aren't you like them!" social-media way.


You are very honest with your feelings! I am like that too - feeling envious when reading "you can do it too" articles instead of focusing just on the message they wanna teach us :)


Personally, I just want to realize more of my own potential. I believe I'm capable of a lot, including becoming more capable. Such things do have an impact on mental well-being (please find your own citations) so I'm fine with this being an end in itself.


There may be something you want to make that cannot be made that way. This is because understanding (and knowledge) decay over time, so if what you want to achieve requires a large amount of understanding, you have to work quickly. Additionally, if you want to do something very creative, then you have to fight against distraction and mistake (which I believe is absolutely necessary for real creativity).

Also, I've found that sometimes pushing yourself to a point of (mental) pain can actually be quite enlightening. It's admittedly rare (say, 1 in 10) but quite valuable for reasons of empathy but also understanding pain, which is a prerequisite for making a large class of really useful things.


As long as I am fairly happy, I optimize for impacting the world in a positive way. This is because I think this a good proxy for long term deep-rooted happiness. I have found in myself and in others that optimizing for happiness is hard to do without focusing excessively on short-term happiness which leads to hedonic treadmill effects or even in some cases addiction.

Given that you are fairly happy already, optimizing productiveness will allow you have a greater positive impact on the world. I think this is why other commenters have mentioned that optimizing productivity can be a proxy for optimizing long term happiness.


Oh, I'm not saying "don't optimize your productivity". Just don't stress too much about it.


Got it. I was responding specifically to "Why not just do things you enjoy, at a pace that you enjoy?"

I think a really good answer to that is in order to help other people as much as possible. Working on things that are hard or unpleasant or even don't necessarily line up with a specific long term goal in a way you can anticipate will often lead to happiness if it impacts other people positively.


Perfect reflection of my views. I may not be high throughput, but I produce good/excellent work and have a really good work/life balance.


I'm also not the guy who solves the most tasks in absolute numbers, but apparently everyone appreciates the work I do and the quality of said work, and trust my judgement and input on other subjects. I feel that's a lot better than solving tasks super quick.


Interesting view. IMHO your approach also maximizes 'productivity' as the output of your approach is a 'product' which has high utility to you but may not have same utility to others. If the utility it generates for you gives you more fulfilment than the utility which 'productivity' in traditional sense does so be it.


(Replying because I can't edit the comment)

I feel strongly about this topic and found the discussion here illuminating, so I wrote a short article about it and posted here, I'd welcome feedback: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16804062


Well, many people in startup circles have to optimize for time. They are taking risks without seeing any money, taking a salary for long periods of time. In most cases, they are also answerable to their employees. By being productive, you increase your chances of success and be happy that you are doing the best you can.


Overall I agree with you, but there are many people who want to do something (profesionally or personally), but lack either 1) the motivation or 2) self-awareness of time/energy management, in the context of the rest of their life.

Productivity porn taps into fixing one or both of these. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes not.


The pressing need to optimize productivity typically come as one feels age (IMO). The luxury of having enough time to do or not do things decreases at a rapid rate. Now, if you can be happy at your level of productivity and be content with how things are, I would say you are a lucky person. Its not easy to achieve.


Given there is only so much time in the say I've always looked at productivity as a way to minimize wasting said time. Some people opt to fill in the time gained with more work and some people choose to use the time gained for leisure. Both are correct as long as you are still maintaining a healthy balance.


Is it because you want to the things you love. Not the other way around. People believe in YOLO (You only lice once), so they want to do as many things they love as possible. One way to do that is to be more productive. Another way would be to live longer, the research of which is still in its infancy.


It depends how you look at it. Wasting time gets on my nerves so to take Sam's example: what do you prefer: a 20 minute meeting or a 2h meeting where there's a lot of wasted time?


i think you and sam are more alike than you think. If you think hard enough about what to work on, you won't have to pressure yourself once you decide to work on it.

Also, he says you should take a break or switch context when you get tired.

And you should definitely be happy doing the thing first. If you're not happy, maybe you don't really want to be doing it. Delegate, or get rid of that task quick and dirty.


From a selfish perspective, it might be better not to focus on maximizing your productivity. From a species-perspective, I'm glad for folks like Elon Musk, Richard Stallman, Einstein and basically almost everyone else to strive for maximum output. This will help us more quickly fight disease, aging, poverty, etc.


> Why this pressing need to maximize productivity?

Because this maximizes your happiness. We're happiest when we produce, not when we consume or when we're idle. Think of productivity as a rate of positive change you inflict on your surroundings, or as a unit of feedback you receive from the world acknowledging your existence.

Re-arranging the world towards your views is hugely satisfying and it could be as simple as cleaning up your bedroom, working on your garden or as complex as migrating a country off fossil fuels.

If you accept this definition of productivity the rest of the blog post makes perfect sense. Why are we here? To be productive! :)


Personally, I'm happiest when I'm cuddling my girlfriend, or when I'm at a concert, or when I'm reading a great book, or when I'm enjoying good food or drink, or some combination of the above. I guess I'm a hedonist, the only things I enjoy producing are those that directly contribute to my happiness.

How does that fit into a definition of productivity?

I guess I am technically producing happiness, but that seems like a bit of stretch :-)


I think you need a lot more evidence than a couple sentences to prove that happiness is a monotonically increasing function of productivity. A priori, it sounds much more likely to me that it's a unimodal function which peaks and then drops off.


>> Also, don’t fall into the trap of productivity porn

>> ...

>> Some sort of sleep tracker to figure out how to sleep best is helpful

>> ...

>> I take a low dose of sleeping pills (like a third of a normal dose) or a very low dose of cannabis

>> ... I use a full spectrum LED light most mornings

>> ... so I get about 15 hours of fasting most days

The whole article is productivity porn.


Some people waste few hours a day reading productivity blogs. You get to slack off while reading shit you already know. And you can then feel productive while you just brainlessly browse blogs.

You can get too meta in most fields. Then you're not really improving your skills, but following very specific drama.


Assuming it's a "do as I say, not as I do" warning. As in, take some ideas but don't go crazy.


I don't know but I might agree on this one. Sleep is a difficult process when you are going through stressful work. Lightening is important and there is a lack of education here. So is food.

So that might be porn, or that might be just the regular sex you need to stay sane. I think it is the latter.


Eh, I think you are missing the forest for the trees here.


Haha I guess he must have meant some really hardcore stuff...


Off-topic:

> The most impressive people I know have strong beliefs about the world, which is rare in the general population.

Is this true?

The average person is irrationally immovable on religion, politics and sports.

On-topic:

My philosophy on productivity:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all ― Peter Drucker


I think it's pretty likely that by strong, he meant strong enough to be acted upon, not strong enough to resist persuasion. "All the programming Q&A sites suck, there should be a good one" is a belief many people had, but the Stack Overflow founders believed it strongly enough to put time and work into it; the suggestion from this article, as well as Joel's write-up from a few days ago, was that SO was much better as a result of that (as opposed to being born from "I'd like to make a website that people would pay for, what hasn't been done yet?").

https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2018/04/06/the-stack-overflow...


Is that true?

If we're all just stating our experiences. I find that those who care, care intensely, perhaps immovably, and everyone else just floats along.


Yeah, the only thing in the article I disagree with.


Interestingly, it was my favorite line from the article, and I strongly agree


In addition to morning light (works great!) eliminating evening blue light has hugely improved my sleep.

I use these orange glasses https://www.amazon.com/Uvex-Blocking-Computer-SCT-Orange-S19...

I don't wear them every evening, but whenever I need to sleep or am having sleep troubles, it solves the problem. Great for traveling too, because you can start moving your circadian clock during the flight. You can still use the phone/computer and not worry about avoiding light.

I also use flux, nightshift, and Philips hue lights (set to orange at night) so that I can set and forget it. The glasses are the place to start though. They block all blue light and are super cheap, portable, and simple to try.


I hope Sam realizes that living this lifestyle is not possible for anyone in a traditional 9-5. Most people I know don’t have the luxury of thinking about what to work on, they have to get up, go to work, come home, and do it again in order to even have a place to sleep. Every restaurant Sam eats at is staffed with people working 80 hours a week just to stay above water.


the advice isn't for everyone. Its for the people who might have otherwise asked Sam for advice on productivity.


This applies to your 9-5 as well. Working on the right problems is critical to anything you do, even in your personal relationships.


The person that serves Sam espresso in the morning, why would they choose to make minimum wage? Because they have no other options that’s why. “Do what you love” “work on important things” is so incredibly tone-deaf it’s insulting. It’s not helpful either.


Do you know whether Sam buys or makes his own espresso?

Do you know that any given barista makes minimum wage?

Do you know that any given barista has no other options than being a barista?

In two sentences, you made more unsupported assumptions than either the original article or the comment you're replying to, yet you seem to find them tone-deaf and insulting. How do you think a student working a morning barista shift for decent extra money because they enjoy coffee culture and talking to people would find your post, if not tone-deaf and insulting?


I don't accept that people have no other options. This is life, it's unscripted. There's always more options than we have imagination. Working as a barista is not slavery, the person choose to do it because it seems to them to be their best available option. I find their judgement questionable, but if it works for them, who am I to say otherwise.


A quantity of options does not mean every option. The barista in question is not likely someone who can just choose to switch to a much more lucrative job. They could pursue that direction, there's always room for improvement, but as Sam mentions, there's a compounding-interest here. So, someone starting at a lower point has to start with very small productivity decisions and persist as they slowly compound to become something more substantial.

Also, while the economy isn't zero-sum, there are zero-sum aspects to it. We can't have every garbage collector suddenly become a high-end programmer or something or our system will fall apart due to piling-up of garbage. Any one garbage collector could better their lot, but until we have dramatically automated everything (and that's still a long ways off), we need people to collect the garbage.

In short: we don't have a caste system, so any arbitrary working class person can rise to higher classes. But that doesn't change the system, it just shuffles where people are. We don't have an economic system that can function without a working class.

If/when the working class gets paid better, then they can afford to invest in improving themselves more because they won't be desperate for every day's income just to survive. Some people will make poor judgments with such freedom, but others will thrive. So be it. I agree with your "who am I to say otherwise" quip as long as you aren't appealing to total-relativism.


I read things in his post that indicated he's aware of his luck and privileges and neither takes them for granted nor credits himself for having them.

I know lots of jerks out there parrot the victim-blaming nonsense that everyone could just be rich and successful if only they did the right things (while our whole economic system is based so much in exploitation that it's actually impossible for everyone to be middle or upper class, our system wouldn't run that way)…

So I understand taking Sam's comments in that light, but from my reading, I think it's a fair assumption he's not one of those jerks, even if he's also not one of the people focusing primarily on the injustices etc.


Hey Sam!

Regarding sleeping, I've had really bad sleep problems since I was a kid, to the point where I pulled all nighters a couple times a month just because I knew I wasn't going to get to sleep that night.

I fixed all of my sleep problems over time by taking a low dose of melatonin (1g, low doses are more effective than high doses) and wearing orange glasses at night to block out blue light. It took a while for melatonin and the glasses to work consistently, so I occasionally took sleeping pills as well, but now I go to sleep consistently without sleeping pills. I'm down to one sleepless night every 3-4 months, and it usually happens when I don't do my routine.

Regarding protein, it's likely you don't need as much as you think. Unfortunately, I don't have great resouces to cite, but I'm vegan and I lift weights 3x a week, and I never think about my protein intake. I may be a bit biased, but the things I've read say that we emphasize protein too much in our diets and don't need as much of it as we think we do (https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php). You might want to try cutting our your protein shakes to see if you really need them.


Do you mean 1mg? I find that 250 micrograms is the right melatonin dose for me so I figure you must mean 1mg not 1 gram..


Yup, my bad :)


I am taking a course on food this semester. They explained two things a few weeks ago:

1. The idea that sugar makes kids hyperactive is a myth. In fact, eating sugar will cause a certain protein or amino acid to not go into the brain as much and cause us to feel more sleepy.

2. If you want to perform well mentally, for example for an exam, you would want to eat high protein foods. The element in situation 1 would be more present and would enhance brain function.

If I would want to be more productive, I will try to observe this in the future. I did notice that sugar made me sleepy.


Have you tried magnesium? It completely knocks me out. I’ve also had life long sleep difficulty.


> low doses are more effective than high doses

Can you expand on that?


Not the parent, but this is a comprehensive source: https://examine.com/supplements/melatonin/

You can ctrl+f "dose" there.


Thanks!


Have you tried introducing more protein over an extended period to see whether it helps you progress faster with your weight-lifting?


Your productivity is only as good as what you decide to work on. This is an excellent point!

"Finally, to repeat one more time: productivity in the wrong direction isn’t worth anything at all. Think more about what to work on."


Unfortunately, very few people have the option to only work on things they enjoy. Even professors get stuck doing things they don't want to do, and that aren't valuable, but there is no choice unless you have at least a few million in the bank.


Which programmer enjoys typing, or which builder enjoys the physical activity itself? It's about the way to the end result, getting from nothing to something, or not? For the professor it would be the understanding and success of his pupils.

The stuff in between nothing and something, especially what you don't like, could be an opportunity if theres nothing in reach that already solves the problem.


> Which programmer enjoys typing, or which builder enjoys the physical activity itself?

That's actually a reason to get better at these things, though--the better your fundamentals are, the less attention you have to pay to them and the more attention you have left over for actually thinking about what you're doing. When I'm coding, typing is the last thing on my mind--I just think code and my muscle memory translates it into keystrokes. And I'm a Vim user.


But wouldn't you prefer to just being able to connect your tested UI prototype and data model without having to translate it into code yourself? That's what I'm doing when I code, I translate things that already exists into a different language. I'd rather focus on other things if I could.


Maybe if you could type faster, the tedious parts of your work won't take as long :)


Usually it's a mix. Then you try to spend as little effort as possible on the chores, and focus you energy on the part you enjoy.

If you literally don't enjoy what you are doing at all, no productivity optimization can help you.


One of the reasons to improve productivity - if you really have to do stuff you don't like, do it swift and effectively, so you can quickly get back to more important things.

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