Hello there, reader of miscellaneous productivity blogs, subscriber of myriad productivity substacks, watcher of a maelstrom of productivity YouTube videos, and perennial scroller of various productivity subreddits, twitter threads, and assorted life tips. Have you heard of the Good News of a consistent writing habit? Ever been proselytized on the holistic benefits of structuring your life around making a daily habit of writing a bit each day at a fixed time? Perhaps you are like this author and have decided to put all your thoughts into a blog that you know no one will ever read. Maybe you haven’t just told yourself you’d do this, maybe you actually gave it a try? Maybe you were walking through Target, saw the office supply section, and told yourself “No more excuses. Today, I’m buying this notebook, a nice pen, and I’m going to finally start writing every morning after coffee.” And maybe like me you have consistently failed to reach that goal. Maybe you only write on the margins of your life, the same way this article was largely written while on a plane ride. You might find that no matter what system you try, no matter how much it helps with other things, independent of how much they help in other areas of your life, that you just simply cannot stick to a writing habit. If dear reader this is you, then I have wonderful news for you: That writing habit? You don’t need it.

The Productivity Rabbit Habit Hole

There is an astounding amount of resources out there on productivity, with some very mixed quality. Across several online and physical media, influencers offer their best tips, systems, and habits to improve daily productivity. How to stay focused, how to get things done, how to handle large numbers of tasks hand how to divide and conquer a few gargantuan ones. In fact, there is so much out there that if you devoted yourself to consuming all of it, you wouldn’t have any time to actually be productive! With that irony in mind, I think it’s worth taking a look at why exactly this is.

In many ways, a focus on productivity is a distillation of overachiever millennial culture. Of a pressure to always need to improve; get the best grades, get into the best college, get a top tier job out of college, and build it into a powerhouse career. Productivity is the ethos that can get us there, and their systems and tips the tools we’ll use to build a path. But it’s also the miracle drug we believe will solve all our issues (to say nothing of the actual drugs many of my peers took off-label to help them focus and get more done). And it’s an addiction. The dopamine from planning and studying on how to improve is way stronger than what we actually feel from implementing these systems. It feels better and more rewarding to learn to be productive than it does to actually be productive.

With this in mind, it bears asking whether we actually need any of this stuff. Is there any point or value to these systems? Personally, I would argue that there is. I always struggled with remembering what tasks I needed to get done as well as motivating myself to continue working. Many years into my career, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD and before that I suffered greatly from imposter syndrome at work. I was convinced that I was unable to do my job and finding myself putting off UATing my latest feature for half a work day made the feeling stronger. I have definitely read up on way more systems than I will ever actually follow, have signed up for more Todo List and Habit Tracker apps than I have logins to those in the past week, and have written copied hundreds of lines of Emacs org-mode configs to setup at GTD system1. But much like how from the ashes of the dotcom bubble rose the phoenixes Google and Amazon, a few golden habits and ideas have lodged themselves into my brain and remain stuck there, keeping me on track better than before.

Productivity is a lot like therapy; there are dozens of radically different types out there and no one-size-fits-all solutions. Unlike therapy, though, trying out a bunch of these systems is incredibly cheap. Most Todo List apps have sufficient free versions to test out. Buying a copy of Get Things Done is quiet cheap, and reading a dozen blogs chaotically covering 80% of GTD is free. Most productivity stuff out there will not apply to you. A lot of my friends, also with ADHD, swear by Bullet Journaling (BuJo) as a way to keep themselves focused and productive. The very idea of it is frankly repulsive to me. I don’t think I could do it for even a week. Meanwhile my system–largely consisting of yelling at Google to remind me to do things at fixed times per day and refusing to clear the reminder until I do–is incredibly messy and the thought drives my friends nuts, yet it’s the one thing effort-free enough that I can keep with it. It takes a long time to find the system that works for you, and there are ample resources out there to find it.

So… Where Exactly Does Writing Come into Play?

Coming out of the productivity rabbit hole, it can feel like every single productive person is really into writing. As any reader of my blog knows2, I am decidedly not really into writing. Yet I would still proselytize productivity to anyone that I can. A lot of my software engineering peers have told me about similar systems and tools they use to stay focused and on top of their work. Especially on the Emacs side, most of the resources I’ve picked up have been from people working in academia. I would guess that most white collar careers are similar in this regard, being productive and focused is really important to career growth. But what productivity looks like can take on different forms. A productive programmer is going to express that through better performance at work or through publication and support of open source libraries. An artist or musician through publishing their works. A scientist through publishing more studies. And a writer through publishing more articles. In other words, productive writers write more than unproductive ones. And they write more than productive non-writers. And who writes productivity blogs, articles, and video scripts but writers themselves.

Selection Bias is the when a process selects for a particular subset of a larger group based on certain characteristics, then we assume that those characteristics are representative of the whole. For example, assume the Dodgers Twitter Account starts a poll on who’s the fan favorite team in the league: Dodgers fans are going to make up a larger proportion of baseball fans who see this poll and we would expect them to be over represented in the poll. In the productivity space, the people who we read advice from are going to over represent writers. As covered earlier, productivity tools and outcomes are both very personal. This means that writers writing about productivity are going to be defining productivity in terms of writing more, and are going to be using tools and implementing systems that cause them to.


In closing, if you don’t like writing, then you should feel obliged to stick with it. Forcing yourself to do an unpleasant habit is probably one of the best ways to ensure that you drop whatever system you are experimenting with. Focus on your goals–both what you want to do and what you know you must do–and only take advice that works for those. Don’t worry about finding an “optimal” system, the best system is the one that you are actually able to stick with. From there, you can grow it as needed or desired and best of all, personalize it. If I had to give a single recommendation, it would be to read or listen to James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It isn’t for everyone, but has a lot of different strategies for building better habits which you can then use to achieve your goals.

  1. Mind you, I never read the book or truly “got” the GTD system ↩︎

  2. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a double digit % of my monthly traffic ↩︎