Pixel art animation of a blob fox with a box expression.

This post is one from my vault of old posts. It does not reflect who I am now, and I'll interject with Foxtrot with some thoughts on it as a retrospective. The quality of the main post is not up to my current standards, although I hope my interjections will help to keep you interested!

Productivity, Podcasts, and Survivorship Bias

These past 12 months I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity, and the systems other people use.

It started a year ago to the day I’m writing this. On June 1st 2016 I started a new job. My travel time tripled from 20 minutes to 60. To pass the time, I decided to start listening to podcasts, or rather, a single podcast, Hello Internet.

What I didn’t realise, is how much that podcast ended up changing my life.

Okay this may seem a little dramatic, but I can safely say 7 years on that it absolutely had a profound impact on my life. I was also going through a lot of gender at the time, so correlation causation etc etc.

Pixel art animation of a blob fox with a upsidedown expression.

Hello Internet describes itself as a “two dudes talking” podcast, and honestly I couldn’t think of a less interesting, but more fitting description. The “two dudes” are CGP Grey, and Brady Haran, both produce videos for Youtube and other platforms. I’d say the majority of their videos are educational in some way.

The discussion on the podcast is now almost entirely about the podcast itself, referencing old episodes, in-jokes, or following up on listener feedback. In the beginning though, it was a slightly different beast.

In the beginning of the podcast, there was a lot of discussion on how Grey and Brady work. Their differences and similarities. While Grey has no set upload schedule, his work is consistently solid and entertaining. Brady uploads much more frequently, and also maintains a good quality in his videos.

This work-discussion really interested me, Grey has a number of habits that seem odd, but work for him, and he presents good arguments for why he does what he does. His arguments really resonated with me, and so I really started thinking about how I work, and what I can do to improve that.

The logo for the Hello Internet podcast
The logo for the Hello Internet podcast
As I said above, I’d started a new job, it was in a similar field as before (web development), but in a vastly different environment. There were more layers to management, it was one big project instead of many smaller ones, and instead of working with 1 other person, I was working with about 20 other people.

We had a ticketing system at this new job, and tickets could remain open for a decent length of time, waiting on other tickets to complete, a staff member to come back off holiday, or any number of reasons. As a result, you could end up with a large number of tickets assigned to you, and no idea which is the next step to take.

So I developed a system, one where I knew exactly what tickets were available to work on, a system where as tickets were completed, I’d always know which is next, there was cascading, priorities, all that good stuff. I’d tried out a number of apps, and at that point, I was settled on Hitask.

I will go into this system in more detail in a future post. It's ever-changing, as all good systems should be. But it will be nice to explain how and why I work in more detail. I use todoist now, as well as some other apps and good ol' pen and paper.

I still have my hand written notes from this period.

Pixel art animation of a blob fox with a computer expression.

I’d never been so productive, my bottleneck has always been my productivity, this time it was my skill that was holding me back. And that can always improve. I realise that it might sound like a humble brag, but I feel like it’s something I’m allowed to be proud of.

So I kept listening to the podcast, and I kept working on my productivity system. I changed jobs again, this time something with an even longer commute and more stress (although in a field I really wanted to gain some experience in). I did manage to apply my newly found productivity skills and methods into managing a team, which went well, up until I quit for reasons I won’t go into.

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Life at the facepalm factory was absolutely tortuous, I still have flashbacks.

Now, I quit my job quite suddenly. I had some savings, but not much, I certainly wasn’t prepared, and this time, I decided to go back to full time freelance from home. I was confident I could do it, and I failed.

I mean, I failed for the first 2 months. I had nothing of significance lined up, I had bills piling up, and depression creeping its head around the corner.

Working from home presents a number of different challenges than working in an office. I had to change everything about how I work, I had to change my productivity system, I rewrote it from the ground up.

Work started to trickle in, then pile in. I wasn’t ready, and I crashed hard. I think I needed that crash in honesty, it really helped me focus on what my limits are.

I started listening to Cortex, a show specifically about productivity and how the 2 hosts work. That really gave me the kick I needed.

Of course, this podcast has also now become almost entirely about itself. I think it is a fate of all non-fiction podcasts.

Pixel art animation of a blob fox with a thinksmart expression.

Over the past 3 months, I’ve been building a new productivity system, I’ve moved to todoist, I’m using paper, I moved my office to a more dedicated room, lay out both long and short term goals, and many other things I plan on outlining in another blog post.

Now onto survivorship bias.

I listen to a lot of ‘successful’ people. People who have a job they really enjoy, and can support the life they want from it. Many business owners, creatives, and public figures.

A lot of these people talk about what they did to help them get there, and I see a lot of talk from people saying to ignore that advice.

The idea being, a lot of the information they provide might not have helped them at all, they just think it did because they’re successful. I can see where people think this, but I disagree. I disagree, at least, that you can’t glean any useful information from these people and their methods.

I’m not successful. I likely never will be, the chances are tiny. Success is a personal thing and my definition of success might not be yours, but for me to deem myself successful, there’s a long list of criteria.

Pixel art animation of a blob fox with a alert expression.

I've no idea what these criteria actually are for myself, but I do know I don't yet consider myself successful, despite my many successes in the years since I wrote this post.

None of this means I won’t try. The chances might be tiny, but I’ll do what I can, and I do think listening to those who have ‘made it’ can really help. As detailed above, I’m developing systems to help productivity and concentration, I’m keeping goals in mind. Heck, as of a recent video I’ve watched, I’m going to physically write them down and keep them somewhere.

I recently watched Burnie Burn’s Vlog on motivation, and that really sparked the whole idea behind this section of the post. There’s no denying Burnie has a successful business and personal life. If I can do half as much in my life as he does, I’ll be happy. If he tells me that he works on discipline, that he isn’t afraid to make mistakes, he learns how to work without motivation, I’ll take that advice. I can’t dismiss it just because he might have been in the right place at the right time.

Hopefully in the future, I’ll have more to say on the topic, maybe I’ll be closer to my goals, I hope so.

She did not have more to say on the topic. At least, not for a few years.

How am I doing now?

Hello! Future Luna here. I want to tell 2016 Luna that she's doing a great job, she should keep it up, because it really did work. As of October 2023, I got my driving license, I am in my final year of finally getting my degree, and my business managed to stay afloat during a global pandemic. That is a hell of an achievement. I don't know what my goals at the time exactly where (transitioning was certainly high on my mind back then), but I think I've achieved a few life goals in the time since that post was made.

My system has definitely changed since, and that deserves a post all on its own. I don't consider myself a success yet, and in fact I'm struggling with a number of things, but I'm definitely a lot more consistent and organised than I was pre-2016, and I'm incredibly grateful that it all stuck.

As for survivorship bias in productivity? It's absolutely a thing. You cannot look at the successful people in the tech space today and believe they got there through cold morning showers, or pure hard work. Heck, right now I can't believe people are successful due to skill even. I won't stop trying though, and like Burnie, I'll share how I found my personal success just in case it helps other people find theirs.