Best of Habits Mindset Productivity Tip of the Week

Productivity demons: Search and destroy

Reading Time: 10 minutes

I hate the vagina.

Never thought I’d say that.

970199D5-9506-4519-8D1C-A1E67645573AIt’s already mid-January and I don’t feel like a new me. It doesn’t even feel like a new year. I’ve basically only left this chair to use the bathroom. It’s exam season. And this medical degree is starting to take the pedal to the metal.

So I’ve been *attempting* to learn the path of the trigeminal nerve.
And the facial nerve.
And the olfactory nerve.
And the opthalmic nerve.
And which cranial fossae they arise from.
And their branches.
And which muscles/viscera/skin they innervate.
And associated pathologies.
Repeat for the rest of the brain, pelvis, penis, vagina and immune system. And cancers.

Kill me pls.

If you’re a medic, apologies for the flashbacks. If you’re not, say pterygopalatine ganglion three times.
If you’re a medic, apologies for the flashbacks. If you’re not, say pterygopalatine ganglion three times.

Times like these bring out the procrastination demons like nothing else. I’m noticing myself compulsively flicking off my notes and on to social media the closer I get to the exam.

Despite proving to myself again and again that that half-working is a fruitless task, here it comes, creeping back in. So I took a leaf out of the Paul Mort book and asked the uncomfortable questions.

This article is a 2-in-1:

1) A 6 pronged-attack on the procrastination demons.
2) How you can apply this framework to achieve any goal this year by knocking out the obstacles.

So this still applies to you if you’re not a student. Bear with me, I’ll tie it back to fitness.

I encourage you to follow along with me with a notebook. If you don’t, this will be nothing more than a semi-entertaining read. This is an exercise in honesty, where the beauty is in the probing.

Shining the light of consciousness on to the areas we hide from ourselves. Sorry if this is a bit intense for a Wednesday afternoon.

Time to dig up the darker reaches of your mind. Your demons can’t hide once you’re staring them in the face.
Time to dig up the darker reaches of your mind. Your demons can’t hide once you’re staring them in the face.

Let’s begin:

Write down a current goal that you’ve previously struggled to achieve.

There has to be a degree of pain and frustration here. The more comfortable you are with your current state, the more able you are to rationalise away the fact you haven’t hit the goal. You convince yourself it was never really that important anyway, and you’re just fine the way you are. Self-acceptance is great, but it’s not going to help me pass my exam. And it won’t help you hit single digit bodyfat.

Louis CK puts it very nicely: Self love vs self awareness:

I chose to write out the process on something non-fitness related, so that you can do it on a fitness goal, coming up with your own honest answers without being contaminated by mine. At least you don’t have to show anyone your page – meanwhile here I go publicly naming and shaming myself.

The process goes like this:

A) Ask the questions
B) Establish a plan of action
C) Get accountable, measure your progress.

Keeping score of your progress is paramount.

 “If you don’t have the courage to keep score, you open up the space to lie, rationalise and justify” – Paul Mort.”


Need accountability? Join the Protocol group to post your daily habits , training/nutrition logs, etc.

A) The uncomfortable questions

Write responses to the following questions, being as unfiltered as possible. Get the obvious answers out the way, then continue to sit with the question until the real nasties start coming out.

The questions aren’t gospel. Feel free to go off piste, whatever it takes to probe your sore bits. It’s like foam rolling.. you’ve got to get that hockey ball right up into your piriformis to release it.

1)What is the pain of failing?Why is it important to you? Medium term goal, specific 90 day checkpoints, measurable criteria?
2) What are the perceived obstacles? Why haven’t you achieved it already?
3) What would you be most afraid that people found out about you?
4) What is the biggest lie you’re telling yourself about this?
5) Are you making progress, and how do you know?
6) What are 4 things you can do this week to achieve that?
7) How are you keeping score?


A common response to these kinds of probes is to dismiss it as puerile.

This is bullshit, I don’t need your stupid little process.

I understand. u scared bro. But that’s none of my business


Worked example: Procrastination

1) Medium term goal, specific checkpoints, measurable criteria? Why is it important?

Checkpoints: 20 days, 115 units, 6 units per day allowing 5 days for review. Scheduled in iCal.
– How do I know if I’m on schedule? Daily checkpoints.
– Clear deadline: Exam day. 90 day goal not applicable.
– Goal: Be able to reproduce the key points and fiddly details from each unit.
– Why is it important to me? What is the pain of failing? I need to pass the course. There are only two outcomes to these exams: doctor or the bozo that blew 9k/year tuition fees for fun.

2) What are the obstacles? Why haven’t I achieved it already?

The festive season – it’s my kryptonite. I am basically the grinch incarnate. The world grinds to a halt to celebrate what isn’t even Jesus’s birthday. So frustrating. LINK.. #muslimproblems.

Relevant spidey.jpeg
Relevant spidey.jpeg

1) Gym is closed.
2) Library is closed. As you may know, I prefer to be uncomfortable when I work to minimise faff..
3) Miserable weather, poor sunlight and no appeal to go outside. A recipe for seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency
4) The illusion of more time spent = more work done.
5) The increased amount and density of data to learn this year – fatiguing earlier on in a study session. Then the procrastination monster strikes, preying on the moment of weakness. Before you know it, you’ve got 12 tabs open and you’re watching shoenice eat a ketchup-shampoo sandwich.
6) The “fluency illusion”. Mistaking familiarity with material with mastery of the content.

inb4 'ironic that you’re writing an article about revision when you should be revising'
inb4 ‘ironic that you’re writing an article about revision when you should be revising’

“Which would I be most afraid if people found out about me?”

That I’m being a hypocrite. I’ve recorded a podcast on productivity, yet I’m not following my own advice , on timeboxing, managing decision fatigue, etc.

And I didn’t exactly smash last years exam. There’s a pressure to be the bastion of effortless execution as a cover-babe of PropaneFitness.

What is the biggest lie you’re telling yourself about this?

– That I can just grind it out and it’ll be fine. That I don’t have to tell anyone – I could just lie to you guys that I’m a productivity jedi that never falls ill to temptation.

– That the convenient reason for my lack of work is keeping up to date with Propane commitments. The truth is, I’m allowing the commitments to take over, often cherrypicking the lowest priority tasks to avoid doing the hard stuff. Procrastination out of fear of failure (or not doing something perfectly), so giving myself an easy out. Slippery.

– That the obstacles are insurmountable and that I’m somehow special because I work full-time. That’s an excuse. I don’t have kids, and Propane work is flexible. There are people on the course who work in care or hospitals before 9am lectures, and have kids/family, and get higher grades.


Solutions: Foolproofing.

How many of the above obstacles can I knock out to foolproof the process as much as possible? Turns out the ‘insurmountable’ excuse is a lie.

1) Problem: Gym is closed:

Solution: I’m switching my training focus for the next 8 weeks to yoga, bodyweight movements and rehab (walking is a possible alternative). All of which can be done at home. No more feeling physically stagnant. I’ve not tracked macros or bodyweight, just eaten to satiety. I’m willing to accept some detraining effect for now – ebbs and flows. More on this in my next vlog

2) Problem: Library is closed.

Solution: Sacred space at home dedicated to work. Not lying in bed with a laptop. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only.

This is Baldric the sacred beanbag. I only use him for meditation and work. Common theme emerging here? Another pro-tip: only use the toilet for peeing and pooing


3) Problem: Seasonal Affective Disorder:

I noticed the classic winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms kicking in again, which is like a mini-depression. This is pretty common in the north. For the past year, I’ve been meditating for at least 30 minutes in the mornings. Among other benefits, I’m a lot more in tune with any changes to the quality (texture) of mind.

SAD comes with a distinctly palpable shift in your thought patterns, mood, sleep quality and sex drive. I caught it early on this time round and nipped it in the bud: 15 minute sunbed and high dose vitamin D.

That did the job: immediate, enduring shift in motivation and mood. There is also potential for cardiovascular benefits that could outweigh the melanoma risk on an epidemiological scale

A SAD-free, afro-photosynthesising Yusef in the sunlight.
A SAD-free, afro-photosynthesising Yusef in the sunlight.

4) Problem: Dragging out the time

Solution: Eliminating distractions – Wifi off, phone off, notifications off.
Don’t let anyone have access to you until the end of the day.

Back when I worked in finance, I had a wise boss called Kristina. She sat explaining some process to me on her computer when she received an email marked ‘****URGENT!!!*****’. She closed the notification and carried on, unphased. I said ‘er.. do you not want to get that? It’s urgent’.


She said:

I decide what’s urgent. Everything is urgent to the guy sending the email.

Mind blown.

My inbox is constantly under siege. What’s worse is that they’re spread across email, facebook, snapchat, whatsapp, twitter, instagram text, and homing pigeon.
One day recently I was out for the day, and returned to several hundred messages across the platforms.

I realised if I were to sit in and spend my entire day responding to everyone, I wouldn’t even be able to respond to the messages, let alone do anything else. It’s a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole, where the moles are all asking you whether a banana is a good breakfast choice. I slowly realised that the more you respond to these kind of questions, the more they come. One answer begets 3 more questions.

I like to consider myself a nice guy and don’t ignore messages, but it has turned into a compulsive need to reply straight away. And all it did was consume me.

I’ve now introduced following policy:
– I check emails and social media etc. once per day, at 8pm. (NOT immediately upon waking like I used to. The quickest way to be swept along in a whirlwind before you’ve had your coco pops).
– Personal diet/training related questions from non-clients sent via PM are directed to the free Protocol facebook group or the forum. It wouldn’t be fair on paying clients, who get responses within 24 hours, always.

The above 2 things have significantly reduced the flow of messages.

Your phone is an annoying, attention whore little shit that harasses you. But its bark is louder than its bite. Nothing is ever an emergency. Maybe in a few years when someone needs surgery at 2am, but not now.

Disabling all notifications on my phone has stopped me being a slave to it. Also, my inner grumpy-old-man is coming out here, but imagine a world where you could go out with friends and actually look at their faces over dinner.


I’ve also implemented Jonny’s tips on being an early riser, putting my alarm on the other side of the room.

5) Problem: The increased amount and density of data to learn this year – hitting a wall earlier.


– Enforced leisure time and pomodoro technique.
– Setting up the barricades for moments of weakness.

Managing concentration

This problem would normally be a solid argument to use shorter, concentrated bursts. Unfortunately there’s too much material to cover to do that. One useful compromise is the Pomodoro technique – I use Tomighty (free) for mac.

Guaranteed fun

– Forcing myself to leave the flat every evening, whether it’s for a social event or an errand. This creates a hard deadline on your work and induces Parkinson’s law – Work expands to fill the time available for completion”.

This also ‘makes time for guaranteed fun’ – Dr Neil Flore.

Discipline, willpower and motivation

You can’t expect to be on top form all the time . Motivation is transient, and discipline is a limited resource. Steve Pavlina refers to discipline as a backup system, working in tandem with motivation, where one compensates for the other.

Again, meditation has helped me catch the procrastination impulses earlier, but it’s not a complete solution. Running on pure willpower is all fine and well when you’re feeling strong but relying on it is realistic as there will be lapses. You need to set up your environment to minimize the risk of flaking during moments of weakness.

If procrastination is an autopilot behaviour, then it follows that you can entrain new, beneficial autopilot behaviours. I use Stayfocusd browser extension and ban timewasting websites. This is not my primary defence, but it does nudge you back into reality when you’ve unconsciously opened a facebook tab.

Stayfocusd plugin
Stayfocusd plugin


6) The “fluency illusion”. Mistaking familiarity with material with mastery of the content.

Ever read a paragraph thinking you were taking it all in. Then someone asks you ‘what was that about?’. Blankface. Shit. Or worse when somebody is telling you something important, and scumbag brain lies to you: ‘yeah yeah I got this one buddy’.

The solution:

Repeated self-testing and active recall. I’ve made 1500 flashcards this time, not leaving it to chance.

Am I progressing, and how do I know?


Daily checkpoints on iCal, and using Rescuetime, a useful time-tracking app that gives you a brutal breakdown of your productivity over a given day. It runs in the background and compiles daily reports.



I will be checking in with you guys in the Protocol group. If I’ve failed to meet targets, I’ll post in the group so you can berate me.


Try the process for any goal you’re seeking to achieve in 2016. Sit with questions, construct a plan, and get accountable. See you in the accountability group.

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