Nonfiction Book Review: Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

Published by The Connected Reader on


Friends! It’s time for conversation about our first ever Read Along book. I’m excited to share my thoughts in this nonfiction book review and hear what you have to say!

If you missed it, The Connected Reader community is doing a monthly Read Along in 2024.

One note about February’s Read Along Book: Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange doesn’t actually publish until the end of the month, so we are going to swap February and March’s picks. For February, we will read The Widely Unknown Myth of Apple and Dorothy by Corey Ann Haydu. I hope you will read along!

Nonfiction Book Review: Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal

In Feel Good Productivity: How To Do More of What Matters to You, Ali Abdaal offers an approach to increasing your productivity based in the science of positive emotions. Abdaal points out that we often view productivity as being disciplined, having work ethic, being able to slog through to get results – and that this is our first mistake. In order to be more productive we need to feel, well, good.

I was all about this book. The structure worked for me, the research anecdotes worked for me, and there were a few specific parts that made me feel so seen and valued that I could cry. I’m sure there are many things to be critical about – and I’m sure you will tell me – and, I cannot ignore the positive feelings I had reading this book.

What Worked For Me

Structure

Let’s talk structure. One of my joys in life is synthesizing information. I love a nonfiction guide book that allows me to easily draw a diagram or summary of the approach, and I think Abdaal and his team deliver on this.

We’ve got the working belief, supported with research, that we want to feel better in order to be more productive. From there, we go to three things that can give us more positive energy: play, power, and people. Then we address the obstacles to productivity, which Abdaal calls blockers: procrastination, fear, and inertia. Finally, we talk about how to sustain productivity and avoid the three types of burnout: overexertion, depletion, and misalignment. So much group of three energy. Love it.

Tone

I also appreciated Abdaal’s tone and how he positions the approach. He is clear that this book offers a philosophy, a way of re-thinking productivity –  not a step-by-step guide. He offers “experiments” to try within each category I mentioned above and he explicitly notes how some of it will work for you and some won’t. The writing is full of humor and lightness, which feels very much in alignment with the philosophy itself. I laughed out loud at Abdaal’s response to the poet Henry David Thoreau saying he needs at least four hours a day to wander around in nature: “Some of us have to work for a living, Henry.”

Gentle Approach

The last thing that stood out for me is the gentleness. I’ve read a lot of books about productivity that just make me feel bad about myself and some of my habits. I would feel called out and shamed, thinking “Why can’t I just do all these things like it seems everyone else does? Abdaal, on the other hand, offers multiple instances of validation and this made me feel invited in. The section on burnout types resonated with me deeply, and it did something good to my brain to see the definition of burnout from the World Health Organization use the words “occupational phenomenon.”

I also appreciated how Abdaal names, and provides research, on the need to do absolutely nothing in order to let the Default Mode Network of our brains do its magic by daydreaming and imagining the future. Sometimes, for short periods of time, we do actually need to recharge by doing something mindless.

What I’m Curious About

One wondering I have is about the lack of consideration for the larger systems that impact our lives. Abdaal’s work, like many books I’ve read based on positive psychology, seems to operate in an idyllic vacuum where racism and capitalism aren’t a factor. It’s striking to me that Abdaal talks about pivoting careers (from a doctor to a productivity researcher and content creator) as an example of the feel good productivity philosophy – he leaned into the work that gives him energy and makes him feel good – while at the same time, such a pivot is not available to so many people. I love this pivot for him, I believe in the philosophy –  and I think the whole premise is strengthened when you acknowledge the real systemic challenges to feeling good that are part of our daily lives. I’m curious how Abdaal would respond to this wondering.


Did you read along with The Connected Reader community? What did you think about the book?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Even if you don’t use the links, I highly recommend checking out Bookshop.org and Libro.fm for access to tons of titles while still supporting an indie bookstore.    

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