Feel-Good Productivity Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Feel-Good Productivity offers a well-structured toolkit for crafting your own, joy-based, sustainable philosophy for work and life, rooted in 3 pillars and up to 54 science-backed experiments.

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Feel-Good Productivity Summary


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When freshly minted doctor Ali Abdaal was put in charge of running a hospital ward by himself on Christmas Day 2018, things quickly spiraled out of control. Drunks in the hallway, shouting patients, and panicking nurses drove him to the edge. Worst of all, his usual approach of gritting his teeth and doing more no longer seemed to work.

Ali had been studying how to best learn and work since med school, even sharing his lessons on a Youtube channel, but now, he questioned everything. Was trading his health and happiness for success really the only way? Later, while getting a PhD in psychology, Ali discovered that a simple piece of candy could boost people’s performance on the candle problem — a creativity challenge. Who knew? Feeling good helps us work better!

After more research and exploration, this idea became Ali’s new philosophy, and it helped him do far more than just become a calmer doctor. Today, Abdaal is a world-renowned productivity expert. He has over 5 million subscribers on Youtube, and his business makes more than $5 million per year. In Feel-Good Productivity: How to Do More of What Matters to You, he explains his work philosophy in detail. The book is a toolkit for assembling your own approach that’s rooted in joy rather than discipline.

Here’s an overview of its 3 pillars in 3 lessons:

  1. Use the 3 Ps to increase your energy.
  2. At the root of procrastination usually lies either fear, uncertainty, or inertia.
  3. To maintain your productivity long-term, avoid 3 types of burnout.

Let’s discover a new, better way of living and working!

Feel-Good Productivity Summary

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Lesson 1: Everything starts with energy, and there are 3 Ps you can leverage to increase yours.

Behind the study Ali discovered lay a bigger idea: the broaden-and-build theory. It says that “positive emotions ‘broaden’ our awareness and ‘build’ our cognitive and social resources,” he writes. When you’re happy, you’ll consider more options — like using a thumbtack box to hold up a candle instead of nailing it directly to the wall. And over time, good feelings also provide a mental and emotional buffer for tough situations.

Good feelings aren’t a side effect — they’re the very thing that supplies us with energy, and it takes energy to do anything! Ali explains there are 3 ways to energize ourselves:

  1. Play. Seriousness makes us tense, and when we are tense, we rarely do our best work.
  2. Power. This is about confidence, not control. We need to feel empowered to shape our lives and work.
  3. People. Nothing motivates us like the right people who naturally lift us up through their mere presence.

To implement these ideas, Ali suggests multiple experiments in each chapter. With play, for example, you could turn your work into a video-game like adventure or lower the stakes so you’ll have more fun. Confidence is a matter of mastering hard skills and taking responsibility for your situation. Finally, many of us already have the right people in our lives — we just need to offer and ask for help more often.

When your batteries are empty, go back to the 3 Ps: Bring some play, power, and people back into your life, and watch your energy return!

Lesson 2: The most common productivity blockers are fear, uncertainty, and inertia, and they each have one specific remedy.

If you’ve ever had a day where you felt full of energy yet got nothing done, you know there’s more to work than vitality. Ali relates the story of someone who observed Leonardo Da Vinci while painting The Last Supper. “He would go for two, three or four days without touching his brush, but spending several hours a day in front of the work, his arms folded, examining and criticizing the figures to himself,” the contemporary noted.

Procrastination always has a deeper, root cause. Ali believes the 3 most common ones are uncertainty, fear, and inertia. Luckily, they each have a remedy, too:

  1. Clarity. Figuring out what exactly you have to do often only takes a few simple questions, like “Why? How? What?” and “When?”
  2. Courage. Everyone is afraid sometimes, but we’re also all living proof that fear can be overcome.
  3. Get started. The most important part when you’re stuck is to literally do anything. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

To crack a tough nut at work, one solution could be “NICE” goals. They are near-term, input-based, controllable, and energizing. Spend an hour optimizing your resume, for example, instead of just writing down “get promoted.”

Courage comes from understanding, reducing, and eventually moving past our fear, Ali says. You can do so by probing your fear with questions like “Why haven’t I started?” and “Will this fear even matter 10 years from now?”

Finally, make a small change, any change, to get started on the right path. Momentum begets momentum, and once you’re going, you’re already well on your way!

Lesson 3: Burnout isn’t just burnout. There are 3 types we must avoid for long-term, feel-good productivity.

Even after Ali left medicine to focus on his Youtube business — technically a dream job that he loved — he found himself yet again lying on the couch, telling his mom he couldn’t work anymore. “It sounds like you’re going through burnout,” she told him.

Ali began researching what “burnout” even means. As it turns out, it’s more complex than working too many hours. Eventually, he discovered 3 types:

  1. Overexertion. This is what we typically associate with the word: You simply try to do too much, and it just doesn’t work.
  2. Depletion. Your tanks always feel empty because you only top them up with little breaks, not the deep rest we all need from time to time.
  3. Misalignment. Over time, a gap has grown between you and your work. It no longer feels meaningful, and that’s why you’re tired.

If we want to sustain our feel-good productivity in the long run, we must approach burnout head on — by conserving, recharging, and realigning along the way. That requires committing to fewer tasks, spending time in nature, and regularly thinking about where our life is headed, among other things.

Ultimately, it’s about remembering that life is about the big picture, not how many boxes you can check on any given day. “If you can tap into what makes you feel most energized and alive, you can get anywhere,” Ali writes. And best of all, “you can enjoy the journey too.”

Feel-Good Productivity Review

Feel-Good Productivity is a clean, well-structured buffet of some of the best productivity advice science has to offer. The 3 pillars come with 3 strategies each, for each of which Ali offers 3 techniques, backed with 2 experiments per technique. That’s 54 experiments you can run to change how you approach work and life. If you pick and choose what works for you, you’ll get a lot out of this book!

Who would I recommend our Feel-Good Productivity summary to?

The 19-year-old college student first grappling with how to be more productive, the 35-year-old busy doctor who’s struggling to keep up, and anyone who feels burned out.

Last Updated on January 6, 2024

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!