3 Minute Monday

3MM: Productivity Debt, Taboos & Anxiety

Published 22 days ago • 3 min read


Hi friend,

“I struggle to believe I’m worthy of moments of joy and peace without first putting myself through a brutal schedule, monitoring my productivity levels down to the minute.
Perhaps some people apply this “earn your cookie” mindset in ways that lead to healthy achievements.
Not me.
Mine is a mutation whereby joy and self-compassion are regularly outlawed by an internal tyrant who decides when I’ve been flogged enough for one day.
Just when I’m about to collapse, a voice inside says: “OK. Give him half an hour of peace before bed. But make sure he knows we’ll start again, bright and early in the morning.” — Matthew Hussey

This insight makes my soul hurt, largely because I see it in myself.

The writer Oliver Burkeman has a name for this bottomless pit of self-imposed expected efficiency - Productivity Debt.

“Many people (by which I meant me) seem to feel as if they start off each morning in a kind of "productivity debt", which they must struggle to pay off through the day, in hopes of reaching a zero balance by the time evening comes.
Few things feel more basic to my experience of adulthood than this vague sense that I'm falling behind, and need to claw my way back up to some minimum standard of output.
It's as if I need to justify my existence, by staying "on top of things", in order to stave off some ill-defined catastrophe that might otherwise come crashing down upon my head.
And make no mistake: paying off your imaginary productivity debt completely – in other words, working so hard and so efficiently that you no longer feel like you're falling behind – is literally impossible, not just gruelling and unpleasant.
In the modern world of work, there's no limit to the number of emails you might receive, the demands your boss might make, the ambitions you might have for your career, etcetera – so there’s no reason to believe you’ll ever get to the end of them.”

Here’s to overcoming the “vague sense of falling behind”.


I do a podcast which has had 550 million+ downloads. You should subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

This week’s upcoming episodes:

Neil Strauss - the world’s best known pickup artist gives his insights on modern dating advice, love and personal development 20 years later now he’s a father.

Vienna Pharaon - how do you overcome a difficult childhood? How can you make peace with your past without wallowing in it? What are the best methods to become balanced psychologically?

Dr Robert Glover - what don’t people understand about how to be confident? Why do men struggle to attract good women? How can you stop being such a people pleaser?


The 10 most taboo statements in all of psychology.

"Cory Clark and colleagues conducted a study into Taboos and Self-Censorship Among U.S. Psychology Professors.

The authors began by interviewing 41 researchers in psychology to get an idea of which topics are most taboo.

Using the researchers’ answers as a guide, they condensed the topics to a set of 10 statements:

1. The tendency to engage in sexually coercive behaviour likely evolved because it conferred some evolutionary advantages on men who engaged in such behaviour.

2. Gender biases are not the most important drivers of the under-representation of women in STEM fields.

3. Academia discriminates against Black people (e.g., in hiring, promotion, grants, invitations to participate in colloquia/symposia).

4. Biological sex is binary for the vast majority of people.

5. The social sciences (in the United States) discriminate against conservatives (e.g., in hiring, promotion, grants, invitations to participate in colloquia/symposia).

6. Racial biases are not the most important drivers of higher crime rates among Black Americans relative to White Americans.

7. Men and women have different psychological characteristics because of evolution.

8. Genetic differences explain non-trivial (10% or more) variance in race differences in intelligence test scores.

9. Transgender identity is sometimes the product of social influence.

10. Demographic diversity (race, gender) in the workplace often leads to worse performance." — h/t Aporia

*The authors are not claiming these statements are truthful or valid, simply that they are the most taboo.

Change the incentives, change the outcome.

“33% of British criminals were dying en route to Australia in the 1700s.

Britain switched from paying sea captains for every passenger who walked on the ship to paying them for every passenger who walked off.

Immediately, the survival rate shot up to 99%.” — George Mack

A counter to social anxiety.

“Nobody is thinking about you.

They're too busy thinking of themselves.” — Ryan Holiday


Have multiple locations you can work at.

Changing location when you change task is a great way to bring in a different state of mind.

If you’ve got emails to do, maybe that’s in an orderly part of your office.

If you’re doing creative work, perhaps you can sit outside.

I don’t know if your brain can associate different locations with different mindsets, but it’s definitely more energising and less boring.

Big love,
Chris x

Try my productivity drink Neutonic.
Share this article with your friends

I hope you have a good week :)

3 Minute Monday

by Chris Williamson

Podcaster with 400m+ plays. I write about the most important lessons I learn from the best thinkers on the planet. 160,000+ people read my free newsletter. Press subscribe to join.

Read more from 3 Minute Monday

3 MINUTE MONDAY Hi friend, How much should you try to optimise your life? How much should you be thinking about ways to improve? How much should you care about things? For many people, perhaps even most, the answer to all of these questions is “more”. Indeed the world largely belongs to the intense optimisers, not the laissez-faire guy chilling in a hammock who hit snooze 3 times this morning. Telling people to optimise more is a reliable way to improve the lives of most people because most...

about 23 hours ago • 4 min read

3 MINUTE MONDAY Hi friend, During my end of year review I asked myself two new questions: 1. What do I do that I think is productive but isn’t? 2. What do I do that I don’t think is productive but actually is? These were surprisingly easy to work out. 1. Sitting at my desk when I’m not working, being on calls with no actual objective, keeping Slack notifications at zero, sitting on email trying to get the Unread number down. 2. Saying yes to a random dinner when someone is coming through...

8 days ago • 3 min read

3 MINUTE MONDAY Hi friend, I’ve been thinking about overthinking recently. Probably overthinking about overthinking to be honest. And I came across a tweet: “This is your annual reminder that you don’t need to resolve your issues, you don’t need to deal with your emotional baggage, you don’t need to process your trauma, you don’t need to confront your past, you don’t need to figure yourself out, you can just go ahead and do the thing.” — Eliezer Yudkowsky We believe we need to prepare much...

15 days ago • 3 min read
Share this post