The genius of the productivity bros

There’s a specific group of men who are ‘very online’—each is active on X/Twitter, hosts a podcast, and has a wildly successful email newsletter—whom I think of as ‘productivity bros.’ This is not meant to be pejorative; I like and admire these men and I subscribe to their newsletters. Mostly they talk and tweet about how to be more productive and successful. They do not all have engineering or coding backgrounds, but they seem to have the brain wiring and personality traits of engineers I know.

They are experts on how to develop better habits. They care about identifying best practices, implementing systems for greater efficiency, and using mental models for improved decision-making. 

All have bestselling books (business non-fiction) and are self-made multi-millionaires. (They did not inherit their wealth.) 

If you too are ‘very online’ you might know who I’m talking about. If not, good for you. Maybe you aren’t as obsessed with productivity as I am. Maybe you’re already productive, because you’re not spending all your time reading about how to be more productive. Which is the point of this story.

Recently I’ve been wondering why, after all this time, I keep opening these guys’ email newsletters. 

The answer: Because of their irresistible headlines, great insights, and brilliant tweetable quotes. These guys are constantly dropping diamonds and I don’t want to miss out. 

But what’s interesting is, you can’t possibly remember all of their brilliant quotes and wise words. You can’t hold all of the great insights in your head every day to act on them, to benefit from them.

All of the brilliant insights and wise words don’t make me smarter and better. They make me anxious. 

They make me feel like I’ve got to have an edge. Get ahead of the pack. FOCUS, OPTIMIZE, MAXIMIZE, LEVERAGE, STAND OUT, RISE. 

Rather than helping me be more productive or successful, they’ve been a grand distraction. 

Surely the reason so many other people subscribe to these email newsletters is because, like me, they are concerned if they don’t read them, they’ll miss out on the genius that could cause them to be wildly successful. 

But actually, the most ‘genius’ thing a person can do is shut out distractions and do the work that matters most to them.

Which the productivity guys would be the first to tell you. 

Reading several email newsletters a week/day to hear this advice framed in a thousand different ways is of course a form of resistance to doing the work. 

I’m embarrassed it has taken me so long to tap out. 

Why we have to be flogged into being productive


There are so many posts on the Internet exhorting us to be more productive, but the reason we’re not being productive is because of the stupid Internet. And we can’t stop to reflect on the irony because we have to get back to clicking on other stuff. Today, I clicked through a slideshow of famous couples who’ve stayed together “despite the scandals they’ve weathered.” Who deserves to be flogged? I do. Guess who I want to flog me? Celebrities Who Have Changed So Much You Won’t Recognize Them Now!

Before the Internet existed, there probably wasn’t nearly as much written about productivity. Probably the only people who really thought about productivity were CEOs and efficiency experts. When I think about what life was like before the Internet, I picture us sitting in our houses, staring into the middle distance, with nothing to do. No distractions, nothing stopping us from writing a novel or learning guitar or whatever. But probably we were mostly at the mall or playing tennis. Just doing ’80s activities. It seems like heaven compared to today, being tethered to our computers and phones.

Did I already tell you about how, in the early days of the Internet, I sat next to a 30-something guy on a plane who confessed he was in counseling for his addiction to being online? I remember looking at him and thinking, “That’s weird.” I couldn’t relate at all. I wonder where that guy is now. If he was already addicted back then, he must be a basket case now. Actually, no, he’s probably still way ahead of us–he is probably taking regular, self-imposed breaks from the Internet. Which I think we are all going to start doing, for real this time, any day now. Right after we check Facebook.