23 min read

šŸ“š Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

šŸŽÆ Read This Book If

You want to spend more time doing what matters most to you. This is accomplished by:

  • Making what you need to do more enjoyable and productive.
  • Resulting in more time and freedom to do what you want to do.

šŸ”‘ Key Points

  • Discipline and motivation only take us so far. The real key to productivity is making the process: enjoyable, meaningful and sustainable.
  • We start by finding the fun and positivity throughout the processes of our day. This provides us with the energy we need to take on anything.
  • No matter what, sometimes we'll feel stuck. By understanding why we feel stuck, and having ways to overcome it, we can keep moving forward.
  • To turn short-term inspiration into long-term success, we have to take care of ourselves and align our daily actions with our values that matter most.

šŸ¤” Detailed Summary

We typically approach productivity with a sense of seriousness. An attitude that whatever our obstacle is, we have to push through in order to get it done. But how often does that actually work?

The secret to productivity isn't discipline. It's joy.

Studies show that our mood can drastically change the way we think, and lead to better results. The 'broaden and build' theory suggests that when we're in a positive mood, we broaden our perspective by opening up our mind to more possibilities around us, and over time this builds up our resources to better navigate future situations. It's a reinforcing cycle in a positive direction.

When we feel good, we generate energy, which boosts our productivity. And this productivity leads to feelings of achievement, which makes us feel good all over again.

We're often told that success leads to happiness. But a 2005 study that looked at over 275,000 individuals found the opposite is true. Individuals who experience more positive emotions actually accomplish more. They had more fulfilling relationships, higher salaries, less stress, higher regarded in their workplace, and better rounded thinkers.

Success doesn't lead to feeling good. Feeling good leads to success.
By understanding and applying what makes you feel good, you won't just transform your work. You'll transform your life.

āš”ļø Part 1 ā€” Energize

Energize explores the science behind positive emotions, and how we can easily integrate them into our daily life.


There's a science to why great ideas come to us at the strangest times. Eureka! Play provides us with psychological relief, which allows us to think in a fresh way, even if it only comes to us subconsciously.

Life is stressful. Play makes it fun.

One way that we can make things fun, is to create an adventure. When we were kids, all we did we pretend and imagine, turning even the simplest things into great adventures.

Life goes from being filled with adventure to a mundane, predictable existence. This is a mistake. Because adventure, it turns out, is the first major ingredient of play ā€“ and perhaps of happiness.

By resonating with a Play Personality, we can find a sense of adventure to approach our everyday tasks with.

Identifying and exploring our play personalities helps us reclaim some of the adventure that defined our childhoods ā€“ a time when feeling good was the norm, not the exception.

It also allows us to embrace our curiosity. If you assume the Explorer Play Personality, you could be more likely to take a side quest into something you stumble upon. Pressing pause on what you're doing, to take a deeper dive. It adds to the playfulness of our day, and you might discover something interesting along the way.

Even with our most mundane tasks, there's fun. It isn't obvious, so it's up to us to find the fun. Instead of looking at a task as just as task, what if we looked at it as a game? Let's see how much work I can get done in the next ten minutes. Can I clean my office in five minutes? Can I enter my next ten data points before the song I'm listening to ends? We often only focus on the outcome of what we are doing, instead of the process. By finding the fun, we can enjoy it all.

What would this look like if it were fun?

When we approach something with too much seriousness, it can increase stress, while decreasing our creativity and wellbeing. In order to find the success we're looking for, we might have to lower the stakes. Failure is not the end of the world, in fact, it's lead to a lot of good. Instead of having the mindset of I can't fail, we should have the mindset of what can I learn if I fail?

No one likes playing with someone who takes things too seriously. Someone who is a stickler for the rules, and has no flexibility. But it's also not fun to play with someone who doesn't take it seriously at all. Because what's the point? The trick, is to approach things with sincerity. To take something seriously enough to be engaged, but not too serious to be consumed with the goal of winning. You're able to meet the objective, while having a ton of fun along the way.

When you feel like your work is draining or overwhelming, try asking yourself, 'How can I approach this with a little less seriousness, and a little more sincerity?'


Power refers to personal empowerment: that we're much more in control of our lives, and our outcomes, than we think. No one experiences your life as much as you do. If there's something you want to change, it's up to you to make that change. The good news, is that you're more than capable.

After a stationary cycling workout and regardless of their ability, half of the participants were told they were amongst the best, while the other half were told they were amongst the worst (there was no difference between the groups). Weeks later they met again, and the performance of the half that were told they were good, was significantly better than the half that were told they weren't. If we believe we're good at something, it can actually make us better at that thing. All you need to do, is boost your confidence.

Believing you can is the first step to making sure you actually can.

We need to flip the confidence switch from I can't, to I can. You could ask yourself 'What would this look like if I were really confident at this?' By building confidence, we can feel more positive in our day to day.

Part of building confidence is to level up your skills. When we try something as a beginner, it can be a humbling experience. Some of what we try works, and some doesn't. But through that process, we discover, and get better. Shoshin, means 'beginner's mind' in Japanese. It suggests that instead of approaching something like we know everything, we should approach it as a beginner. This way, it can offer us a new perspective, and help us learn. Skills compound over time, skills in one area, might actually build upon skills in another area of our life. By being more open to learning new things in new ways, we can increase our connections between seemingly unrelated things.

Another great way to build confidence is to teach. Teaching something requires you to understand it in depth, and be able to look at it from multiple perspectives. We all learn in different ways. In order to be a good teacher, you don't need to know everything, you just need to know a little bit more than your student.

You don't need to be a guru. You can just be a guide.

Tying back into personal empowerment, is taking ownership of your work. Studies show that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Doing things for: self-fulfillment, curiosity, learning, and personal growth, motivates us more than doing things for: rewards, avoiding punishment, social approval, and performance goals.

We might not always have control over what we need to do, but we can control how we approach it. By focusing on the process to make it enjoyable, and having a kinder mindset towards things (instead of thinking 'I have to do this', rephrase it as 'I get to do this', or 'I chose to do this'), we can feel more control, power, and capable of what we can do.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ā€“ to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.


Do you ever feel a boost of energy after hanging out with someone? Maybe it's a sense of inspiration, or motivation. But whatever it is, you feel energy and positivity. On the other end, you can probably think of people who drain your energy, where you head home feeling exhausted. Rational energy is the energy we get (or don't get) from those around us. Since our energy can be influenced by those around us, so can our productivity.

In order to find a place where we can succeed, we need to find our scene. We want to avoid zero-sum games, where in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose. Instead we want to pursue situations where we can all win, a.k.a. The Comrade Mindset. A place where you go: from 'I win, you lose' to 'we win', from 'my success' to 'our success'. This can be any place or community of like minded people.

When the going gets tough, it's better to have friends to lean on than enemies to lord it over.

When we find that place, it can be rewarding to feel the helper's high. Offering to help someone can boost our endorphin levels, which can help us be more productive. It also works the other way. People are generally more willing to help us than we think. Asking someone for help, can show that we genuinely respect and admire their opinion. Not only can we help ourselves by getting help, the interaction can make our helper feel good, and in turn create more positivity in our day.

If we want to support those around us, and have them support us, we have to over communicate. It can feel difficult at first, but we typically overestimate our communication. We think we talk to someone all of the time, when in reality it might be pretty infrequent. When we communicate, it's important to keep in mind of how we do so.

Let's pretend your friend finally got a promotion they've been working hard for. Here are how these four different responses would look like:

  • Cheerleader Charlie: An active-constructive response would be something like 'Wow, that's great! You've been working so hard for this. I knew you'd get it!'
  • Easy-going Emma: A passive-constructive response would be some kind of understated response, like giving them a gentle nod and smiling, then saying, 'That's good news.'
  • Envious Ethan: An active-destructive response would be some kind of response that undermines your friend's success: 'Oh, does that mean you're going to be too busy to hang out in the evenings and on weekends then?'
  • Self-centred Sam: A passive-destructive response would basically ignore your friend's good news: 'Well, you won't believe what happened to me today?'

When we're excited, we want those around us to share in our excitement, and vice versa. We want to be apart of wins, whether it's our own, or someone else's. We also want to be a person someone can turn to when they have bad news. Our reaction to both good news and bad news will dictate how likely that communication is to occur again. Strive to be a Cheerleader Charlie.

A shared joy is a double joy, a shared sorrow is a half sorrow.

ā˜€ļø Part 2 ā€” Unblock

Unblock explains how we can feel better by removing blockers that make us feel bad and lead to procrastination.

Seek Clarity

When procrastination sets in, it can be helpful to understand why. We could try to motivate ourself to really want it. Or try a disciplined approach if motivation isn't enough. Both are inefficient because they are constantly reoccurring. But there's another method, to understand why we're feeling the way we are towards the task, and unblock it.

Uncertainty paralysis occurs when we have a fog of uncertainty around what we're trying to do. Uncertainty makes us feel bad, it can actually make us feel threatened and anxious, so it's no wonder why we choose to put uncertain things off. We tend to follow this pattern:

  • We overestimate negative consequences of our decision.
  • We become hyper vigilant on what could go wrong.
  • We stop recognizing what could make us successful.
  • We end up avoiding making a decision all together.

Ultimately feeling even worse than we did at the beginning of the process, so we do less. But there's a solution, and it starts with asking 'why?'. When we don't know why we need to do something, it's almost impossible to get started. We need to know the purpose behind what we need to do. By determining: the purpose behind the operation, the end state that we're aiming for, and the key tasks to be completed along the way, we can have a clear sense of its importance.

The 'why' was clear, and that made it possible to work out an alternative 'how'.

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, would ask 'why' five times to every problem he encountered to get to its source. By addressing the problem at its source, instead of where they identified it, he could ensure it wouldn't happen again.

Once we know why, we can then ask 'what?', turning our abstract purpose into a goal. There's a variety of acronyms you can use to track working towards a goal, but you might consider simplifying it down to NICE, a method that emphasizes the feel good journey, instead of the outcome alone.

Even with a properly laid out plan, the only thing we can be certain of, is it won't go entirely according to plan. Thinking about what could go wrong with the plan, can help us be prepared and stop us from getting completely discouraged when things get off track.

No battle was ever won according to plan, but no battle was ever won without one.

The final step, is to ask 'when?'. If you don't know when you're doing something, chances are you won't do it. One solution is implementation intentions, an idea of building on existing habits: 'if X happens, then I will Y'. When I walk into the kitchen, I will eat an apple. When I get home from work, I will call my mom. Tasks that we can pair with simple everyday habits we already have.

Another strategy is time blocking, treating the things you want to do like appointments and blocking off time in your calendar. When it's hard to find the time, make it by allocating time for only it. By creating structure in your day, you can give yourself more freedom, and design your life according to your priorities.

Time blocking isn't about creating a rigid schedule that stresses you out; it's about providing structure and ensuring there's dedicated time for what matters most to you.

Find Courage

The amygdala is a tiny part of our brain that acts as our 'threat detector'. It's responsible for detecting dangerous situations and creating an emotional response, which is usually fear. Sometimes it activates when it thinks there's danger, but there really isn't. When we hesitate or avoid doing things because of an irrational fear, it's our amygdala talking.

When fear places a lock on our abilities, courage holds the key.

When we're afraid of something but we don't know why, a good place to start is getting to know our fear. Our fear may take a variety of forms, but getting to know our fear is the first step in overcoming it. Affective labelling is the act of putting our feeling into words. It allows us to become more self aware and reduces our rumination by identifying and expressing our emotions. If we can trace our fear back to its source, we can better understand, and rationalize it.

Labelling theory refers to the labels we give ourselves. When we say we don't like something, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It gives us an excuse to not do anything about it, and accept it as it is. If we can change the labels we give ourself, we can change our behaviour. When you're experiencing self doubt, you could label yourself as a lifelong learner. It doesn't matter if you're unfamiliar with something at the time, a lifelong learners always experiences new things.

We can do things to help reduce our fear. A good way to do so is by putting things into perspective, you could use the 10/10/10 Rule. When something has triggered a fear response, ask yourself:

The 10/10/10 Rule can help us recognize the magnitude of what we're stressing out about, and can help us realize that it really isn't a big deal. In a very short period of time, it will pass.

We can also put into context what our ability needs to be, in order to do something. We can get caught up thinking 'I'm not good at this, why bother', but how good do you really need to be? No one is a pro from the get go. We all have to learn. If you're waiting to be perfect in order to start something, you'll never start. Start, learn, get better, keep going.

Make a start. You won't need to get perfect for a long time.

Did you know that Adele and Beyonce dealt with stage fright? They each found a way to overcome their fear. They developed alter egos. Versions of themselves that can do anything. Before going onto stage, they channel their alter ego to become unstoppable. To overcome your fears, you have to change the way that you are seen by the most important person in your life: you.

At times, we've all dealt with the spotlight effect. We think everyone is paying attention to us, judging us. We put so much weight into the thoughts and opinions of others. But the reality is, everyone is also thinking that same thing about everyone else. We're all too worried about what people are thinking about us, to think about anyone else. We emphasize something that isn't real. Instead, thinking 'no one cares' can allow us to reduce our anxiety and do the things we want. We are far more self-conscious than we are judgemental.

Get Started

Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion states that: an object at rest stays at rest, while an object in motion stays in motion, unless acted on by an external imbalanced force. This law of inertia applies just as much to productivity as it does to physics. But once you've overcome it, you'll be cycling downhill, the wind in your hair, feeling better than ever.

Something we can do to make starting a new project easier, is to reduce friction. By changing our set up, we can change our default decisions. If you want to learn guitar, have it right beside the place you spend the most time ā€“ that way it's easier to grab. If you want to reduce your phone usage, turning off notifications will limit you checking your phone. Make your priorities, easier to do.

When we're struggling to get going, something as simple as the five-minute rule can get us going. Commit to doing something for the next five minutes. What you'll realize, is more often than not, you keep going. That five minutes is enough time to get some inertia behind you so you begin to coast. And if you just stop after the five minutes is up, that's okay, five minutes is all you committed to anyways.

In order to effectively take action, we have to identify what the next steps are in every situation. When you feel stuck, ask yourself 'what's the next action step?' For instance, if you're procrastinating doing yoga, the next step is to roll out your yoga mat, then stand on it, then you're doing yoga. Thinking about an entire process can feel overwhelming, but going step by step feels more achievable.

Along the way towards a goal, it's important to track your progress. Even with big goals, monitoring your progress can help identify patterns, habits or obstacles that may be hindering your progress. If you can identify those things, you can make a solution for them in the future.

Tracking your progress provides you with tangible evidence that you're moving towards your goals.

In the long term, your success comes down to the ability to support yourself, which could take a few different forms. Starting something alone is infinitely more difficult than starting it together. Finding an accountability partner: a spouse, friend, or colleague, can be a great way to share what you plan to do, and stay accountable to it. Once you find your person, define your accountability culture and process, the ground rules for what you're looking for help with and what you can expect of each other.

Another way you can support yourself, is by forgiving yourself. Life happens, and things are going to come up that take your focus away from your priority. Instead of beating yourself up because you didn't do what you were supposed to, you can say 'I didn't do X, but I did do Y.' Procrastination isn't something we can always control. Forgiving ourselves is something we can.

You can focus on the small losses. Or you can celebrate the small wins.

ā™»ļø Part 3 ā€” Sustain

Sustain focuses on how we can maintain feeling good in the long term, by avoiding burnout to keep us moving forward.


According to the WHO definition, burnout is an 'occupational phenomenon', characterized by 'feelings or energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings or negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.'

Overexertion burnout comes from negative emotions that arise when we do too much, too fast. We accept more work than we can do, and fail to take the breaks in our working day that we require. We're constantly sprinting. One way to avoid overexertion burnout is to do less, so that you can unlock more.

Something that most of us are bad at, is saying no. Steve Jobs once said 'I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done'. Instead of overcommitting to things, especially things in the distance, we should look at our priorities and sort them into two columns: Dreams, Hopes, Ambitions, and Active Investments. We may have a lot of items in the first column, but we should only have a handful of items in our Active Investments. Our time should be prioritized to things on that short list.

If you're asked to commit to something weeks or months from now, don't just say yes because your calendar is empty. Instead, think: 'would I be excited about this commitment if it was happening tomorrow?' Between now and then, your calendar will fill, and you'll be in a position of limited time, just like you are now.

If it isn't a 'hell yeah', it's not worth doing.

Another way we can help avoid overexertion burnout is by resisting distraction. A study showed that people are least productive when they switch between tasks often (spend too much time reorienting to the task), or almost not at all (burn through cognitive resources).

To stay on track, we can add friction to things we want to avoid. By limiting apps on our phone, or putting a blocker between us and things we don't actually want to do, we can spend more time on the task at hand. When we do get distracted, we should be able to identify, and correct course. Spending five minutes on social media doesn't make it okay to spend the next three hours on social media. Skipping leg day once, doesn't mean you have to abandon all fitness goals. We have to give ourselves permission to get distracted (it will happen), but also permission to begin again.

Failing with abandon is a common reason we waste vast amounts of energy. The key thing is getting back on course.

It seems counterintuitive that taking breaks more, would lead to increased productivity, but it does. Studies show that when we have a chance to step away from a task, we come back to it with energy, a clear mind, and perform better than someone who doesn't get a break. It's easy to feel like skipping a break, so instead of winging it, schedule breaks into your day like you would anything else. Breaks aren't a special treat, they're an absolutely necessity.

Life isn't about maintaining focus all the time. It's about allowing space for little moments of serendipity and joy.


Depletion burnout refers to when we feel drained. When this happens, we actually often spend our time draining ourselves more. Doom-scrolling, binge-watching TV shows, mindlessly checking emails or WhatsApp notifications ā€“ these are all ways we sabotage our feel-good emotions during our downtime. It's important to differentiate between things that we default to when we feel drained, and things that actually reenergize us.

In order to feel better when we're drained, we need to recharge creatively. Emerging ourselves in a creative activity can do a ton of good. It can help us relax, lower stress, forget about our worries, and feel good. Writing a poem, learning a song, drawing, painting or even knitting can all be ways that we can disconnect from our busy lives and focus on recharging our energy levels. It can be whatever you enjoy doing. We can use the CALM acronym to help us find it.

  • Competence focuses on building a new skill, or building on a skill ā€“ we get a boost of energy from making progress and doing something we enjoy.
  • Autonomy is taking ownership and being in control of what we're doing to recharge.
  • Liberty is the disengage from our work life, a clear separation between what drains us and what recharges us.
  • Mellow puts how we recharge in a relaxed and low stake environment.

When you're thinking of activities to help you recharge, you should consider activities that let you recharge naturally. Whether outside in nature, by a window, or near pictures of the outdoors, being in nature helps us heal. Another effective way of recharging naturally is going for a walk ā€“ not only is it healthy for us to get up and move, it's a great way to take in our environment. Taking a break to appreciate nature can help us feel relaxed and recharged.

Nature replenishes our cognitive abilities and boosts our energy. Nature makes us feel good.

The final trick to recharging, is to recharge mindlessly. We can put together mindful activities to help us recharge, but they are mind-full. They require us to consciously direct our awareness towards something. Occasionally, a more effective strategy, is to do nothing and let our mind wander. Doing nothing can feel unproductive, but disconnecting and letting our thoughts think, our daydreams dream, our imagination imagine, can help us solve problems and provide perspectives you didn't realize you had.

You can also give yourself permission to use The Reitoff Principle. Permission to write-off a day and intentionally step away from achieving anything. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing, is the best thing to do. These days will happen, you'll just know when you need one. We don't have to be productive all of the time, occasionally we need to just hit pause.

By doing less today, you can do more of what matters to you tomorrow.


The final type of burnout to avoid, is misalignment burnout. This stems from the negative feelings that arise when our goals don't match up to our sense of self. We feel worse ā€“ and so achieve less ā€“ because we're not acting authentically. Internal motivation is much more powerful than external motivation. The trick is to work out what really matters to you, and align your behaviour with it.

When it comes to aligning your actions with your values, it can be helpful to think about the long term. The really long term.

Thinking about the long-term horizon of our goals can help identify what matters most. When faced with our own mortality, there's a clear shift away from extrinsic goals to intrinsic goals (from career advancement and wealth, to nurturing relationships with family and friends). When we think about death, we get a clearer view of life.

At the end of your life, what do you hope people will say about you? The Eulogy Method gets us to think about just that. By thinking about and writing down our own eulogy, what we hope it would say, we can identify what matters most to us. What we hope people will value most about us. People won't remember how much money we made, what clothes we wore, or if we always had the latest gadgets. They'll remember how we made them feel, our character, and our hobbies, the things that most make us who we are.

A more cheerful approach is The Odyssey Plan, a way to evaluate where we are going and where we could be going. In each case, think about how your life would look like in five years. For Your Current Path, write down how you expect things to look if you stay on your exact path right now. For Your Alternative Path, think about how your life would look if you took a completely different path that excites you. Finally, Your Radical Path, write down in detail what your life would look if money, social obligations and what people think, were all irrelevant.

The exercise here is to help figure out if you're headed in the direction of what matters most to you. Which path excites you the most, how different are the paths, if you're not on the right path what would it take to switch?

After identifying your long-term ideals, let's bring things closer by thinking about our medium-term goals. Long-term ideals can feel distant and abstract, by aligning what matters most to us, with our own values, we can keep them top of mind, and prioritize them easier.

Value affirmations make our most abstract ideals real. And they boost our confidence along the way.

A constructive way to identify our values and what matters most is The Wheel of Life. Within each area, ask yourself 'what extent do I feel like my current actions are aligned with my personal values?', and shade in the segment accordingly. Take your lowest shaded segment from each category (health, relationships, and work) and think about how you could improve them (workout more, have a routine date night, learn a new skill). This can quickly give you clarity on what you value most.

Next, you can look forward with The 12-Month Celebration. Imagine yourself 12-months from now, sitting at your favourite restaurant with your best friends, and you're all celebrating the best things that happened over the past year. Think about and write down specifically what you would like to be celebrating for each of the nine categories.

Ask yourself: 'If I was to make the 12-month celebration a reality; what would I need to do over the next year to get there? And what is the first action step?'

By understanding our ideals and values, and what matters most to us, we can align them to our actions over the short-term horizon. Our goal here is to make everyday decisions that align with our deepest sense of self. When people make decisions that align with their personal values and sense of self, they aren't just happier; they're more engaged with the tasks before them.

Short-term targets feel much easier to reach than long-term ones. It can help us close the gap between where we are today, and where we want to be in the future. Making it easier to feel progress, stay committed, and prioritize the actions that will benefit us the most. These little exercises help us recognize that the journey to alignment is not one with a clear end goal, it's a never ending process.

With the right tools, we can subtly shift ourselves back towards the things that matter most.

Think Like a Productivity Scientist

This book isn't a to-do list, it's a philosophy ā€“ a way of creating your own personalized productivity toolkit. It's about trying as much as you can to figure out what works best for you, and doubling down on it. Don't get discouraged if it takes time, or if an idea doesn't work. Assume the mindset of a scientist that's continuously experimenting. It's only by continually evaluating what works for you, that you'll work out how to feel your best in the long run.

If you can tap in to what makes you feel most energized and alive, you can get anywhere. And you can enjoy the journey too.

šŸ§  Final Thoughts

Feel Good Productivity is packed with lessons, stories, and tips on not only how to be more productive, but more importantly, how to live a more meaningful life.

By identifying what matters most to us, we can align our daily actions to reflect our long-term priorities. If we do it right, we should be able to have a ton of fun along the way. We can design a life where what we need to do is more enjoyable, which allows us to have more time and energy to do what we want to do the most.

I find a lot of similarities to the way we should approach our finances. Investing is a tool that we can use to close the gap between where we are today, and where we want to be in the future. What's equally important to the destination, is the process we take to get there. Life, and what we do, should always be enjoyable. We shouldn't design our lives to just be enjoyed on our next vacation or in retirement, we should enjoy every step of the process and beyond.

ā¤ļø Liked This? Check These Out

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson, a guide to wealth and happiness

Start With Why by Simon Sinek, how great leaders inspire everyone to take action

Your Future Self by Hal Hershfield, how to make tomorrow better today

All ideas, quotes, and illustrations are borrowed or based on Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal. To learn more, visit www.aliabdaal.com.