zenhabits : breathe

The Dirty Little Secrets of Productivity Bloggers

“I trust so few that it is much easier to simply keep no secrets.” - Nathaniel Summers

Psst … hey, over here … I have a secret to tell you. Don’t tell anyone!

What I’m about to tell you is top secret. Please don’t let on that I told you, or I’ll be ostracized in the productivity blogging world. Promise?

I’ve been a productivity blogger for more than a year and a half now (related secret: I’m more of a simplicity blogger than productivity blogger, but don’t tell), and I’ve been keeping some secrets inside of me. But about six months ago, I began to realize that these secrets aren’t unique to me. In fact, every blogger I’ve talked to in this field seems to share them.

This is a generalization, of course, and there may be exceptions but: I think every blogger in my field has these secrets. Or at least some of these secrets.

I’ll tell you what they are. Don’t judge us too harshly. We’re humans, like everyone else, with secret desires and fears and hopes and flaws. The same as you, in fact. And again, don’t tell I told.

  1. We’re making it up. Yes, you heard that right. Some of what we write about we read other places, and tested it out, and found it worthy of passing on. Other stuff we just make up as we go along, and see if it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and we move on to something else. But here’s the thing: no one in the world has it all figured out. Not David Allen or Stephen Covey or Merlin Mann or Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani and Adam Pash, not anyone. Certainly not me.
  2. We’re deathly afraid people will find out. Yes, we’re afraid people will start pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes on, and we’ll be in the middle of a crowd, naked, with everyone laughing at us. Naked productivity bloggers — not an image you wanted to conjure up while eating breakfast, now was it? But because of this fear, we have to act like we know what we’re talking about. Truth is, we don’t know any more than anyone else. We might be more knowledgeable, only because we read about it more and write about it more and talk about it more than most, but we don’t know for sure what works best and we certainly don’t know what works best for each and every person.
  3. We don’t always follow our own advice. If you had a fly-on-the-wall camera and could spy on the best in the biz — I’m talking about giants like Gina Trapani and Adam Pash and Merlin Mann and David Allen — you’d see that even they let their email pile up sometimes, I would wager. Even they have days when they’re not motivated, when they don’t follow their systems or tips or general productivity advice. Maybe they’re better than most, but not always. I will admit that I often let my to-do list go, that sometimes I have a dozen unreplied and unacted-upon email messages in my inbox (not lately — my inbox is clean!). I sometime let my life get complicated, and sometimes check email too often during the day.
  4. We can be lazy and let things go. I’ll be the first to admit it. I take naps. I sometimes take a day or two off and feel unmotivated. I will let tasks pile up. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but sometimes. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone else in my field. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that we’re all human.
  5. We didn’t invent any of this. Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero, for example, is based almost entirely on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Allen’s GTD, in turn, is based on productivity advice that has been around for generations — each productivity guru improving on the previous one a little, but basically giving the same advice. GTD isn’t revolutionary — it’s a great system compiled from advice that’s been around for awhile. Allen didn’t invent inbox processing, the 2-minute rule, context lists, tickler files, or any of it. And I’m not picking on Inbox Zero or GTD — none of the stuff you read is original. However, we each give this solid advice our own little personal spin, based on what works for us, on our unique personalities, on the results of our personal experiments.
  6. We’re just regular people, figuring things out. Think of our productivity posts as the preliminary results of an ongoing experiment. We try things out, and if it seems to work, we pass it on. If it doesn’t, we’ll let you know. But these posts aren’t the final results — we’re still testing things out, still trying to figure out what works when and for whom. It’s an experiment that will probably last for as long as people do work.
  7. We really do love all this stuff. Despite all of the above, despite our flaws and secrets, this is a great job, and we love it. It shows in the enthusiasm and passion in our writing. All the bloggers I mentioned above, and the many more that I haven’t, are excellent writers. They throw themselves into this crazy, flawed, and wonderful experiment, and that’s a very cool thing. I personally love writing about these topics, and I hope I always will. I hope the day never comes when I have all the answers, when I no longer need to search for the truth, when I have perfected my productivity system to the point where it no longer needs tweaking and revamping. If that day comes, I’ll be looking for a new line of work.


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