The funny part of disability productivity advice is that, despite the fact that disability is rarely discussed, it forms the very foundation of what many of these thought leaders are staking their career ont. Tiago Forte talks about a chronic pain condition necessitating him to build systems to keep him feeling effective, As he wrote in 2019, “I had to be my own advocate. I had to take charge of my own treatment.” Or, James Clear, whose understandings of productivity began to sprout in earnest after a baseball injury forced him into a deep period of reflection. In his own words, “It was the first time I was forced to start small.” Rich Roll talks often about addiction, Ryan Holiday’s beloved stoic philosophy often stems from Epictetus, a roman disabled slave, Ali Abdaal honed his craft as an NHS doctor, and yet disability is rarely discussed all that publicly in the media these people create.
Well, because a lot of productivity advice assumes the non-disabled body and mind as the starting point. This is not a judgement, by the way, just a reality. I’m not sitting here wondering why Forte isn’t taking us through a quad’s bathroom routine or why Clear isn’t describing in detail on those with ADHD can find a rhythm, but I do find it darkly funny that disability is so integral to the experiences described in this mountain of evidence, of Andrew Huberman-style deep dives into all manner of life hacks, and yet we find ourselves with very few ways into this content equitably if we don’t want to fly too close to the sun.
Before my latest bout of fascination with productivity advice I had an on again, off again relationship with the genere. I would listen to some of these figures and then get radically annoyed by something they’d said. I think that’s where many of us start, we hear some absurd piece of advice that would never fit with our body, or our mind, or our life (whether we are disabled or not) and we automatically shun everything from that creator for a period of time.
But I think the beauty of deconstructing this advice is to see it for what it is: imperfect. There is this inherent danger, particularly if you’re dealing with a new symptom, or a new disability, or a new understanding of yourself, to look for the instant solution. The reality is that the pomodoro technique isn’t going to eradicate your brain, Cal Newport’s time blocking system isn’t going to magically whisk away your deadline avoidance, a Thomas Frank essay isn’t going to suddenly ease the anxiety you have about getting your work done and having a life as well.
So, how do we start? Well, it would be all too easy to say keep your ears open and be kind, but the ableism of this world can harden us to the thoughts of others when we think they’re not a good fit. Below are five videos, from five different creators. They are fairly short, all less than 20 minutes, and they will give you a sense of how these productivity leaders think. Try them out, we’ll leave the special interest-style deep dive for later. This newsletter isn’t about converting people to some kind of pseudo religion—as Holiday is often heard saying, the goal of productivity advice shouldn’t be warping your reality (I’ve paraphrased him slightly so we can unpack the words he uses a tad more carefully at a later date)—the goal is to give you a few resources. Please note that I don’t agree with everything in these videos, many of these concepts are ones I will unpack in future newsletters, but I think it’s helpful to give ourselves (to borrow from psychology) a grounding in the topic before we dive in further.
Those who know me personally understand that I have a tendency to info dump when I get excited about a topic (something, something, neurodivergence). Here’s hoping these are useful.
If you have any questions, concerns, or fan mail, feel free to email me at John@Jloeppky.com.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.