The most cringeworthy productivity advice

Ready for a silver bullet?

A playbook that will 10x your productivity and create more than 24 hours in a day?

I hope you’re sitting down. Here it goes.

First, set your alarm for 4:27 am.

(Bonus points if you create an Instagram story documenting this feat.)

Next, strip off all of your clothes and jump into a cold shower.

Count to 60.

As you get dressed, write down 11 things you’re grateful for.

Then during your commute, listen to Atomic Habits on 2x speed (while drinking a Soylent).

When you set down at your desk, open up Headspace for a 10-minute meditation.

Then immediately eat the frog.


With perfect execution, you’ll start your perfectly time-blocked day by 7:12 am.

(Yup, while the rest of the world is still brushing their teeth.)

We’ve all read a version of 8 Things You Should Do Before 8 a.m. to Perform at Your Peak Every Day. These articles are doused with cringeworthy productivity advice (and if you go travel deep into the Rad Archive, you’ll definitely find traces of this advice from my younger self).

I recently asked RadReaders which advice made them cringe. And let’s just say, y’all had opinions.

Yet we still read these posts and tweetstorms, as if they contain a hidden gem that can snap us out of our funk and make us feel more in control, happier and less stressed. But what unifies this cringeworthy advice?

And what do these failed hacks and shortcuts tell us about ourselves and our deepest desires?

Why listen on 1x, when you can go 2.5x?

The most divisive topic was listening speeds (and speed reading). In an age of infinite information, it’s tempting to believe that thou who consumes more, produces more. And for a large part of my adult life, I was guilty of the “chipmunk speed” setting for podcasts and audio books.

Our AirPods continued to dominate the conversation with the double-cringe advice of swapping out music for podcasts.

Maybe we need to admit to ourselves that with 720,000 hours of new YouTube content uploaded each day, we can’t “keep up” with the torrid pace of content creation. It’s a losing proposition.

No two minds are created alike

The next lightning rod of advice covered schedules, time-blocking and pomodoros.

This category of cringe included any advice related to waking up early and extreme planning. This also opened up an entirely new conversation around neurodiversity (and ADHD in particular.)

People with ADHD also felt very strongly that listening to podcasts at increased speeds was the only way to keep their brains engaged.

Spoiler alert: It turns out that what can be cringeworthy to one person’s brain might be lifesaving for another brain. It’s also a good reminder that energy management is much more effective than time management.

The levers of shame, force and struggle

The list of cringeworthy advice also included a lot of shaming.

Shaming for not doing enough.

Shaming for not sacrificing enough.

Shaming for not rallying enough brute force.

Shaming because things were “too easy” (and struggle-free).

A lot of this advice is rooted in the scarcity mindset that there’s not enough. Not enough time, money, opportunity, freedom… and love.

And when we’re constantly told that there’s not enough, the message gets internalized as “we’re not enough.”

Missing the big picture

A common theme amongst all these hacks is that they are disconnected from the true aspirations we have for our lives. A student in our course lamented:

I keep tackling the “small” things and putting off the “big” things.

This thread introduced me to the law of triviality (aka bike shedding), which argues that our simple minds typically give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. This is why we get such a high from low-value $10 work. And that’s why we need to reconnect our desire to be productive to our 5 Whys.

Stripping the joy from life itself

But whether you’re swapping out breakfast burritos for Soylent or music for podcasts, the resounding theme was that “productivity” can strip us of our zest for life. It take our most important relationships and make them transactional.

When left untethered, productivity advice can eat us alive and stamp out the beauty, creativity, nature, laughter and love that are the essence of life itself. If you ever get caught in a productivity spiral, the last stanza of Robert Hastings’ poem The Station offers the perfect antidote:

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

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