Flourishing / Writing

We Do Not Exist to Maximize Productivity

. 3 min read . Written by Russell Smith
We Do Not Exist to Maximize Productivity

My surprising reaction to Tim Ferriss’s interview with James Clear

On January 10, 2023, a friend sent me a link to Tim Ferriss’s interview with James Clear, habit transformation guru extraordinaire. She thought I’d learn a lot from hearing these two superlative mavens of productivity, writing and business. And I did – just not what she or I expected.

Here, you can see the show notes and flow of the conversation:

  • [06:52] Annual reviews.
  • [13:06] Habitual accountability.
  • [17:24] Systemic scaffolding.
  • [22:03] Capturing good ideas.
  • [29:15] Asana.
  • [32:02] Leveraging maximal results from minimal scale.
  • [41:50] Rolling with social platform inconsistencies.
  • [46:45] Don’t let the algorithm dictate your identity.
  • [50:55] The key to building lasting habits.
  • [55:07] How James would promote 5-Bullet Friday.
  • [1:00:59] What might an outside observer believe are your priorities?
  • [1:02:00] Success generates opportunities — and distractions.
  • [1:04:15] How to break a bad habit.
  • [1:10:51] How to build a good habit.
  • [1:20:23] Deconstructing the writing and marketing of Atomic Habits.
  • [1:59:07] Developing a pre-game ritual.
  • [2:04:19] How habits align with the expectations of our tribes.
  • [2:06:54] Optimizing environment for habit adherence.
  • [2:12:24] Parting thoughts.

There’s useful stuff in here - developing good habits, breaking bad ones, among others. About half an hour into the podcast, Tim starts digging into James’s use of Asana, a project management tool. And the thought came to me:

“Here we have two of the very best-selling authors of the early 21st century. They are extremely accomplished creators, businessmen and brand developers. They are experts in productivity and squeezing the most out of their time, networks and abilities. And they want to discuss Asana? Really? That’s what they want to learn from one another?”

These questions hit me like a quake. I felt discombobulated and disheartened.

Look – I enjoy these authors and learned a ton from them. I’ve read most of Tim’s books, I’ve read Atomic Habits and even have the pens. Also, I understand that they want to discuss topics of interest to their followers. A decent percentage of listeners probably do want to improve their Asana usage. But I could tell from the inflections in their voices that they both truly wanted to discuss that topic – they both find it fascinating.

Yet, again, I felt disheartened. I thought we might get some glimpse into what superlatively smart and accomplished people think about, investigate and ponder when they get together. I thought we might be able to peer into their souls and learn about the truly deep work of their lives.

Alas, I think we did.

I felt as I imagine Socrates felt when he questioned the artisans about their knowledge, in obedience to his inner daemon. Yes, the artisans do possess some knowledge. They know their craft, how to do it well and how to grow in skill in that craft. But he found they did not have knowledge of higher things – the true purpose of life, the gods, how men and women should order their lives and their cities.

Reading The Bhagavad Gita had begun to mine long hidden questions about life and my place in the world. Who am I? Why am I here? Why was I born with this heart defect and yet done really well with it? What meaning did that infuse into my life? What is my place in the universe? What is my sacred dharma – the sacred work that only I can do?

For so long, I thought people like Tim Ferriss and James Clear held the secrets to living life well. That they’d unlocked the confounding mystery of the universe to have it all – write great books, create thriving businesses, have adoring fans who viewed them as thought leaders and earn huge financial rewards all day long. The whole package.

Really, they are artisans. They know a craft extremely well. They prosper in pursuing that craft. Maybe that craft is even their dharma.

But for matters of the heart, for higher things, I have to seek answers elsewhere. The Gita provided a new start.

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t know what prompted me to start reading the Bible – the universe, the Holy Spirit, something inside me, or something else. This podcast, and my reaction to it, turned the first gears. Less than two weeks later, the idea of reading the Bible struck me like lightning. I began to obey the spark.


Image created by Midjourney.