Visual for: From the Shelf: Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

From the Shelf: Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

March 18th, 2024
· 7 min read ·

From the Shelf is a series where I distill my favourite books in an enjoyable and quick to read format.

Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal (2023) is a book about how to live a healthy and productive life without all the stress. This is my personal book summary.

The one thing to remember

Living a healthy and productive life has three key components: Energise (gaining motivation to do something), unblock (getting started with that thing) & sustain (make sure to not burn out while being at it).

My three biggest takeaways

  1. Generally speaking, three things can energise and give us the motivation to do something: A playful attitude, power (aka autonomy and skills) over our actions and time, and people that can support us (and that we can also help in return).
  2. Getting started with something is usually the hardest part (see Newtons Law of Inertia, our psyche works kinda like this as well), since motivation follows action and not the other way around. To get started, you need to lower the barrier of doing something as much as possible. Time-block and start with small chunks.
  3. There are three types of burnouts: Doing too much, not having enough time to recharge, and doing things that don’t align with one’s values. The solutions are relatively simple: Commit to fewer obligations, do “unproductive” things to regain energy, and regularly check in with yourself and assess your values.

Digest in 9 paragraphs


Gamify your life! With enough creativity, even the boring tasks can be turned into a challenge that your brain wants to complete. Being too serious hinders your productivity – have fun and remember, that even if you “fail”, you’ll learn something.

Power in this context means having autonomy over oneself, not others. Self-confidence plays a big role. The good news: It can be faked until you actually feel confident. Working on your skills also helps. And even if you don’t have any control over what you do, you can almost certainly decide how you want to do it. Taking responsibility over a process makes you feel powerful!

You should see the people you work with as colleagues, not competition. Because helping others boosts your mood as well as the other person’s. Which also means, that asking others for help is encouraged as well! And, you should probably communicate more than you think.


Before we can get unstuck, we need to figure out, why we’re stuck in the first place. Find your “Why”, your “What” and your “When” (probably the most important one). Instead of defining SMART goals, you should switch to the NICE framework: Near-term, input-based, controllable and energising (see above). Then, plan your concrete steps and add them to your calendar.

Fear is a powerful productivity blocker. To combat it, recognise it and apply the 10/10/10 rule. Will this hypothetical worst-case scenario still hurt in 10 minutes/weeks/years? Probably not. Also remember the spotlight effect: Everyone is busier with their own life than with what embarrassing thing you did yesterday. If knowing this doesn’t help, having an Alter Ego that you can tap into might do the trick.

To get started, you have to remove as many barriers as possible. Design your environment so that you’re essentially “forced” to do the thing (e.g., put your running shoes in front of your door in the evening so you see them first thing in the morning). And, since getting started is the hardest part, use the 5-minute rule: Just commit to doing the activity for 5 minutes. Once the time is over, you have the freedom of doing something else. Most of the time, you’ll probably continue what you’ve started. When you’re at it, create systems that help you stay consistent.


To mitigate the risk of having too much on your plate, use an energy portfolio where you define where your current priorities lie. When a new thing lands on your table, decide if it’s a “Hell yeah!” or a “No” thing. And if it’s something that has to be completed far in the future, imagine if it were done tomorrow. Do you really have the time to do it? And remember: Taking breaks is important as well!

Activities that help you feel CALM (competent, autonomous, liberated and mellow) are a great way to recharge. Most CALM activities involve doing something creative, but without the pressure of creating something perfect. Spending time in nature is another way that will help you feel more relaxed. And finally: Allow yourself to do nothing or watch your favourite trash-tv show from time to time. If not done too often, these things can help you recharge your batteries as well.

Making sure you work on the right thing is a lifelong task. Hence, you must regularly decide what’s essential to you and your life in the three main categories health, work, and relationships. Make sure you work towards your longterm goals in these areas by asking yourself: “What can I do today that brings me a step closer to them?” But be careful not to live too firmly in the future. The present is the most important time.

Personal conclusion

I’ve been a subscriber to Ali Abdaal’s YouTube channel for quite some time now (I think I started to follow him way before the pandemic started, so that would make it 4+ years by now). I’ve always liked his videos (and still do to this day, at least most of them) since they revolve around topics that also matter to me. And just like me, I feel like Ali has made a transformation away from falling into the Hustle Culture™ trap and having a “you can always optimise more” type of attitude towards a more healthy relationship with productivity.

So when Ali announced that his first book would be about Feel Good Productivity, I knew that I wanted to read it myself. And to tell you the most important thing first: He delivers on the promise of teaching the reader how he or she can live a healthy and productive life.

Apart from the content, I liked the format of the book. Ali follows a 3×3×3 structure for practically the whole book: 3 main categories with 3 subtopics each, where most of them also feature around 3 ideas. Combined with the handy summaries at the end of each chapter, this leaves you with a very well-rounded and polished book that is easy to read.

My only issue with the book, at least from my perspective, is, that the individual ideas presented aren’t really new – if you’ve read other similar books (or watched Ali’s videos for some time), most things won’t really be eye-opening to you. While it overall feels more like a summary of other authors’ work, the combination of the ideas and the order and way in which they are presented, is still refreshing. Sprinkled with anecdotes from famous people and Ali himself, it’s a short and pleasant read.

For someone who is new to the whole world of productivity books, though, this one is an excellent introduction to some crucial concepts. If you’ve read Feel Good Productivity, you can save yourself some time and skip most of the other books on your TBR list. Work smarter, not harder – just like the book teaches you.


Finished: 14/03/2024

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