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Thanh: Hi. You’re listening to a podcast by My name is Thanh.

Aaron: And I’m Aaron.

Thanh: And today we are going to talk about the Inner Game of Productivity. Now what do we mean exactly with Inner Game of Productivity? Whenever it comes to skill set or success, there are two ways to go about it – you have the inner game and the outer game. When it comes to productivity, the inner game part of that is how you have your mindset set up, how you feel inside. The outer game is actually where you physically get things done, or you have certain techniques that you use to get things done. The inner game is really about your psychology behind the mindsets of getting work done.

Aaron: Another way to think about this is that you use a sports analogy which is where the term inner game actually comes from. If you take a game like tennis, your inner game is how you perceive yourself, the other players, and the sport itself. Whereas, your outer game is your backhand, your serves, your footwork on the tennis court.

Thanh: The first rule is “Anyone Can Be Productive”. You don’t need super powers to get work done. You don’t need super powers to be productive. Anyone can be productive, it’s just that you have to make sure you have the mindset and the desire to get things done. Sometimes you have to figure out what your dreams and goals are, because those are going to be very good for you, because they will give you that actual push, they will give you the drive to get work done. If you have no desires, no goals whatsoever, then most likely you will procrastinate and not do things you want to do.

Aaron: Yea. These dreams and goals are important because they change how you extend reality, how you look at certain things. We have all this new technology coming out, we’ve got augmented reality, and how technology would change the way that we look at everyday objects. But the fact is, your own dreams and your own goals change the way that you look at everyday things. Say for example, you live in a developing nation where your everyday problem is striving for survival, making enough to make ends meet. Your reality is really going to be centered around your ability to survive and you don’t really have time for things like procrastination or worrying whether something is going to be too hard to do. It is either you do it or you don’t. You can contrast that to someone who lives in say the western world or a developed society where things like procrastination, like debating philosophical issues, yet these are part of your everyday reality simply because your dreams, your goals, and your mindset have shifted and changed.

Thanh: So the second rule is “Have The End in Sight”. Some of you might not be familiar with visualization techniques. A visualization is where you try to visualize in your head those things that you want to achieve or obtain. The trickery part behind this is that your brain can sometimes not distinguish facts from reality. For example, when you are watching a horror movie, even though you know that it’s not real, sometimes you do get scared, because your brain cannot interpret what is fiction and what is fact. So what visualization does is, when you visualize doing things then, what your brain does is actually implanting all those things in real life. So, every time you do something, what your brain does is, it builds like freeways in your brain so you can access information a lot faster. So if you have a lot of activities where you do visualizations about the same things all the time, what your brain will do is it will actually build those pathways in your head so that it can access information a lot faster. So by doing visualizations, it is actually doing something in real life, but it is because your brain can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

Aaron: Yea. What you want to do is, you want to spend time visualizing yourself in a couple of different ways. The first is, once you have an idea of the kind of person that you want to be, say 5 to 10 years from now, you want to spend some time visualizing yourself acting as if you were that person. Go about your day to day routines, make decisions, as if you were this person you want to be in 5 to 10 years. And what you’ll find is that, over time, your behavior starts to shift and you start becoming that person. With relation to productivity, you want to visualize yourself as someone who just gets things done and doesn’t procrastinate, because the more productive you are, the closer and the faster you get toward your goals.

Thanh: Let’s say you work in an office. What you can do is imagine yourself sitting in that office, imagine that you have this long to do list that you have to go through, then just visualize that you are going to get through all of them and get all of them done. Then visualize that you see yourself at the end all happy because you got the work done that you needed to get done. If you do that consistently your self-image of someone who gets work done, becomes a part of you. It becomes weird if you don’t get things done because it is so much ingrained in your head. So the thing is, just like building habits, you have to do this consistently over a period of time, every single day so it becomes a part of you.

Aaron: The next point that we have is “Finding Your Leverage” and what you need to get work done. By leverage we mean things like motivational sources like dreams and goals, your passions, and your values, and a little bit of jealousy. Let’s talk about those for a bit. Your dreams and your goals, these are basically things that you want for yourself in your life, things that you decided at some point, ‘Yes, I want this to be a part of my life or my lifestyle and I am willing to put in time and energy and effort toward making these things reality.’ Your passions, these are different than your goals, though they don’t necessarily have to be. Your passion is what you love to do the most. It’s the thing that even if you weren’t being paid to do it, you would still wake up every morning and happily do it. Your values are how you live your life. So if you think of your dreams and goals as what you want, your values are how you go about getting those. They are things like honesty, integrity and health –they’re usually very big ideas. And what you’ll find is that everyone has a list of personal values that are hierarchy personal values and your day to day actions are usually guided by those particular values.

Thanh: So the next one is jealousy, or as one of our friends calls it – Defcon 1. What that means is everyone has an ego, right. The most painful thing that we can experience, or maybe not the most painful, but a painful experience that we can feel is when someone overrides our ego or attacks our ego. For example, the example my buddy uses, is that because he is such a successful business man right now, if he goes back to his old friends where they know him as being really successful, but when he goes back and he goes back as someone who is not successful, his ego will get cracked, because there’s a certain amount of expectations there where people expect for him to be successful. So if your ego is on the line, that sometimes can light a fire under you where you want to protect that ego at all costs. The same thing with jealousy. Like sometimes you might be in a position where your friends are more successful than you are and you might be envious and jealous of that. This can fire you in the right direction too. Maybe these are not like the best motivational sources to get work done, but jealousy and protecting the ego can be a huge source of power for you to get work done. Because sometimes when you walk down the street and you see that guy driving the really nice sports car, that million dollar Bugatti or whatever, then you might feel that jealousy, like ‘Hey, you know, he has that awesome sports car that I want too.’ Then, you might just get a lot of work done because you are so jealous and envious of that other person.

Aaron: Yea, I mean, greed can be good in certain context and if it helps you to get things done, why not use it. Whatever society says about jealousy being a good or bad thing, if it makes you more productive, there is no reason not to use it.

Thanh: Another thing is, “Don’t Beat Yourself if You Don’t Finish Your To Do List”. Now sometimes, we have a really long to do list in a day. Sometimes it might be just impossible to finish all of them. Now don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish it. You are not your to do list. Nobody is going to judge you or criticize you for not finishing your to do list. So, whatever your performance is, based on that to do list, it is not who you are. This is something they talk about a lot in this book called The Inner Game of Tennis where the author explains that a lot of times you will see tennis players blame themselves for their performance. These tennis players will think that they’re as good as how their performance was in their last match. So if their last performance was horrible, then a lot of tennis players would think that they are horrible people. But you are not who you are the last time you were on the court, because you have a certain set of values, you have already past reference experiences where you know what kind of person you are. It’s the same thing with the to do list. Sometimes you will go through a day and you get your to do list done in the shortest amount of time possible. Some days you will go through your to do list and you won’t finish anything at all. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish it because you know that in the past you had this good reference experience where you know that ‘You know, I actually got work done, you know. I should praise myself for getting all that work done today.” So don’t beat yourself up for it.

The next point is what we call “Sprints and Recovery”. This is something we got from the book called The Power of Full Engagement. One of the things they talk about is, there are basically four types of energy sources. One is physical, second one is emotional, third one is spiritual and the fourth one is mental. So these are all energy sources that can be replenished. But they all work kind of in harmony. You can kind of see them as muscles, like you can grow them, but they can also contract and weaken. So by building up those muscles, those physical muscles, the emotional muscle, the spiritual muscle, your mental muscles, you can achieve a lot more leverage that way. Let’s talk about, for example, the physical aspect of this. Let’s say you’re not in good shape right now and every time you get home from the office, you’re really, really tired and there’s not much that you can do around the house any more. You are tired of doing the dishes, you don’t do the laundry any more, you don’t want to put gas in your tank, and so on. But guess what? That is an energy source you have to replenish. You want to extend that energy source where it will give you more throughout the whole day. And so, one of the ways to do that is by going to the gym. Another way is by eating healthier. These are all aspects of managing your energy sources. Same thing for emotional, spiritual and mental. So what you want to do is, this is something they talk about in the book, is where you focus on certain things for a long period of time and then once you’ve finished it, you disengage from it. Because it is kind of like sprinting, where if you know what to do, all you want to do is focus on that task and do it. And once you finish it, you disengage totally from it. It is kind of like running a sprint. When you sprint you put all your energy into it, and once you cross the finish line you disengage, you stop running and then you recover. That’s the same thing that you want to do with your work. Do the things that you have to do, focus on them and then take a break. And that is why the Pomodoro technique that we really love works really well. Because for 25 minutes you focus on one task at hand, do it, and then after that you take a 5 minute break just to recover. So that’s how you manage your energy sources – your physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. Where you engage them for a period of time and then once you finish that, you disengage.

Aaron: The next point is, “You Want to Balance Your Work and Your Life”. What it really comes down to is, the only person who is responsible for managing your life is You. An often heard around phrase is that, “You are the CEO of your own life.” And the fact is that you really are. You are ultimately responsible for making sure that work doesn’t take over your life, or that your personal life doesn’t negatively impact your work. Now, what we were just talking about with energy sources, that’s a prime example of that. How physically fit you are, how much physical energy you have, obviously has an impact on your ability to perform in your work life. But at the same time, it’s your responsibility to manage that and not the company you work for. Now, with your balancing your work and life, what you want to do is you want to manage your stress levels. If you are constantly engaged in work and always doing things nonstop and you don’t’ take breaks, you’re going to burn out. That is just the simple reality of it. You know the Pomodoro technique which we just mentioned, has breaks built in which is great. But on a larger scale, you should be taking time off every week, taking vacations at least every quarter, if not every month. You need these periods of disengagement when you’re not doing work to recharge and replenish your energy and just to give yourself a rest from the everyday hustle of working or running a business. Now the way to go about doing this, is that you want to build in little rituals into your life, little sets of purposes or little routines that let you do this. So a very basic one is, for example, I have a rule where I don’t work on a Sunday at all, regardless. I will work late on Saturday if I have to, to get things done, to make sure that on a Sunday when I wake up the entire day is just one big day of resting and replenishing my energy sources and basically taking care of myself to get ready for the next week.

Another aspect of the inner game of productivity is the idea of short term benefits against long term benefits. Things that are usually pleasant in the short term end up not being beneficial in the long term. The example we like to use is with food. Eating fast food, like burgers and fries, in the short term may be extremely gratifying, they may satisfy your hunger. But we know from research and data that in the long term it’s usually not beneficial to your health. And with most things in life the short term and the long term effects are very different and usually opposite, as well. So, going back to food for example, eating a healthy meal consisting of fruit, granola, maybe some yogurt might not be as pleasant as eating that burger and fries, but in the long term it’s going to lead to a healthier existence and better energy levels. And that in turn increases your productivity and your ability to get things done. In the grand scheme of productivity this makes a lot of sense, because success and being productive is the result of small actions taken consistently over time

Thanh: The last point we want to bring up is “Procrastination“. Procrastination is when you have a task at hand and you don’t really want to complete it, or you set it aside or you just try and avoid it. Now the thing is there is nothing physical about it that is preventing you from getting work done most of the time. So most of the time procrastination is kind of an inner game issue. It is all in your head basically. A lot of times people procrastinate because they want to achieve perfectionism. When they do something it has to be perfect. But in the real world that doesn’t exist. Like when it comes to business, there’s only a certain amount of opportunities that you have and you want to go for those, not keep on planning, keep on redesigning things, and working things out. Perfectionism doesn’t really exist. Another thing is, like people refuse pressure from external authority. Sometimes like when a manager comes out and says, “Hey, you know what, hey Thanh, can you do this for me?” Sometimes you want to procrastinate on that because it’s not really what you want to do. It’s because someone else said it to you to do it. Another thing is sometimes people have a fear of success. Sometimes people, whether they admit it or not, they don’t want to complete something because they’re afraid of gaining something. And this is especially true when it comes to like dating. A lot of time when guys go out and they meet that girl, and they want to go for that kiss, and they know they should go for it, but then they’re so afraid of getting that kiss that they won’t do it, they pass up the opportunity. Same thing applies to business and life in general. Fear of success is holding a lot of guys back. The easy way to fix all these is sometimes it just takes you maybe 2 minutes to do something to build up momentum to get started and then get going. So if you have a task at hand, say to yourself, “Hey, you know what, maybe I should just do this for 5 minutes and that’s it.” What you’ll see is, when you work on it for about 5 minutes, you will see that, you know what, actually you want to complete this task now. Then once you have the momentum built up, you keep finishing it.

Another thing is you want to have positive self talk. The way you talk to yourself is real important. You can tell if someone is an unhappy person or a happy person by the way they talk to themselves. So when you see a lot of happy guys or happy people, they always exercise that energy, they’re always happy, they always talk about positive things, they always try to avoid the negative things. Same thing with this. If you are a procrastinator, you want to lose the words of Should and Must, and replace those with Want. I WANT to do this. I WANT to finish this article. I WANT to get the groceries. Also, don’t beat yourself down when you don’t do things because if you have a negative self image of yourself, of not getting work done, well guess what? You’re value, your brain is going to align with that self image. So you really want to be careful how you talk to yourself. So never say, “You know what John (you know, let’s say my name was John)… John, you’re an asshole, you can’t get work done, you’re a loser.” Don’t’ get into that spiral. Instead, say to yourself, “John, you know what, you are an awesome guy. You get work done, right now you’re not doing it, but I know we can do it. Let’s do this.”

Aaron: Now that might seem like overly positive. But, if you do that on a regular basis, it just becomes habitual, and you don’t have to think about it. It’s just something that happens and you just do It and move on with getting the task done that you’re supposed to get done anyway. I mean that’s a real– I suppose you call it inner game solution to some of my procrastination is something that you do over time has like transformed into a fact on the actual way that you think. It also has a neurological effect in that it changes certain pathways in your brain as well. I mean, we have an entire audio on procrastination which we highly recommend that you do listen to. Ultimately, what it comes down to is just start doing what it is that you have to do, and over time, that hesitancy to start the task that you don’t want to do starts to fade, because you’ve built the neural pathways, you’ve built the good habits and foundations for getting things done.

Alright, thanks for listening. This was the Inner Game of Productivity from And we’ll talk to you guys soon.

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Posted by James Meuwissen  | November 19, 2014 at 2:05PM | Reply

Generating wealth to me, gives me a sense of security.

Posted by Sue  | March 14, 2013 at 2:02AM | Reply

First of all, sorry for long comment (I started typing and couldn’t stop).

I like and agree with your audio post, I also enjoyed the disagreement between you and Nicole (not in a malicious way, but for thought-provoking reasons of course). I love when people are able to cordially disagree, because it makes you think.

I’ve skimmed a couple books and looked into the psychology behind procrastination since last summer (still haven’t succeeded in implementing it thanks to my cursed perfectionism & fear of failure, but I think Omnifocus will be my life-saver). It’s fascinating to see how with the increase of technology and efficient inventions in Western civilization, people seem to struggle even more than ever with procrastination and efficiency (if you guys did a post on this, I’d love to read it)!

I think (one of the reasons based on raw observation on my part) is an uneven distribution of fear. Either one might have too much unrealistic fear (which is paralyzing), or not enough of it (which is also unrealistic and a disconnection from the reality of the human experience, of which death for example is a natural part of). I think that if death is a natural part of life, then so is fear. I’m a 26-year-old American and from what I’ve seen in many of my peers in my age group is that, fear is misused and even seen as altogether bad. In my case I was taught to have unrealistic amounts of fear (my mother was poor and immigrated from Burma and I was born in the U.S.), but I also have peers who have compromised or “settled” on their dreams because they’ve seemed to assume that those who realize their dreams have some sort of inherent or lucky gene to make it happen. They were too comfortable to take risks and go for what they wanted, so either they were too afraid or didn’t have any fear to make it happen?

In my case, I’ve spent the last 5 years finishing picking up the broken pieces my parents left for me :(. Now that I’m done and there are no obstructions, it’s like, what now? I suppose the upside to this is that, having had to throw out everything incorrect you’ve ever learned makes it easier to conceive of entirely new and efficient ways of thinking (the graduation speech you referenced in one of your sites from Max Tucker made me think of this). And now, this is where Omnifocus comes in to help me balance the abstract with the concrete (I hope).

Oh and as for the discussion on whether money makes one happy or not, I think the idea is that money is a means to an end (rather than an end in itself). Maybe when anyone depends on a *thing* as an *end* goal to their happiness, they will be unhappy (this includes even using other people as *things*). I think money will make people happy if it’s used as a means to an end (so that they can have food to eat and share, water to drink, clothes to express themselves and who they are, gas for transportation to visit loved ones living far away from a beloved job or career, supporting a family, proving children with good education, having a properly heated living space to live so one can read books about philosophy and the greater meaning of things thus increasing one’s spirituality, etc).

People need resources to survive and thrive, and I think that greater productivity and efficiency helps to manage those resources so that you have choices, and so that those resources don’t instead manage you. Saint Augustine (a spiritual philosopher) I think would agree: “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” In other words if I were a genius and invented something that made the lives of people all over the world easier (and made hundreds of millions off of it every year), who’s to say a sports car isn’t an individual expression of my technological speed and genius, and don’t we *need* to be our individual selves in order to be well-rounded (especially on a spiritual level)?

Posted by Gerard  | May 19, 2012 at 11:07AM | Reply

Is there a difference between jealousy and modelling
In some way people/human being/ living creatures imitate
If the quality or attainment of one stimulate another i think this can be good
i have four of five times in my life make someone envious change and imitate me because he was jealous OR confused of my simplicity (though I could have dreams /called ambition)

Posted by Nicole  | April 10, 2012 at 11:47AM | Reply

> I think it’s fair to say that most people in the world have things that they want in life

What people want is happiness. Most people think that sports cars (money) will make them happy. Most of those people are wrong.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | April 17, 2012 at 10:09AM

“What people want is happiness. Most people think that sports cars (money) will make them happy. Most of those people are wrong.”
There’s that judgmentalism I was talking about =)

From personal experience and from having friends who both have money and don’t, I would say that having more money makes people happier. And by money I mean actual money and assets, not the exterior appearance of money e.g., sports cars bought on loans.

That being said, if it’s just happiness that people are after that’s easy (and a topic for an AE newsletter).

Posted by Nicole A Murray  | May 18, 2012 at 4:40AM

Just read your newsletter and saw your shoutout ;D

Yeah, being financially secure makes people happy. But I really don’t think I need to cite the dozens, maybe hundreds, of studies that point out that what TRULY makes people happy is not material goods. But since you’re a fan of TED talks:

You’ll notice a common theme. I’m going to say again the problem is that people just don’t know what they actually want and mistakenly think it’s sports cars and nice houses and hot girlfriends. I’m not saying it because I’m being judgmental—I’m saying it because it’s /true/. Again, look up the countless studies on happiness and researchers will do the talking for me. The western idea of happiness and goals are just. plain. wrong.

Anyway, while I realize this is blog is about “asian efficiency” and not “human happiness,” and having a goal in mind, material or otherwise, does in fact make people more efficient, the simple fact is that pointing people toward material goals is ultimately counter-productive to a fulfilled life. The road to happiness does not mean you cannot have goals or work to be better able to provide for yourself and your family. The road to happiness is just simpler and easier than people suppose. People can be more efficient when they make their goals simpler and more in-tune with the human experience. So while I don’t expect this site to turn into a “let’s all feel good about ourselves efficiently” enterprise, I do hope that you’ll (re)consider what it truly means to fulfill human goals and desires and reframe some of your advice. Otherwise it’s like a get-rich-quick advice column telling people to rob banks—yeah you’ll get rich quick, but is that really the best idea?

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | May 29, 2012 at 6:19AM

We’ll have to agree to disagree Nicole =)

Legal clarification for everyone who just skimmed down and saw the last comment:
Asian Efficiency never has and never will recommend, insinuate, or advise anyone to rob banks.

Posted by Nicole A Murray  | May 18, 2012 at 5:27AM

BTW—I never said and didn’t mean to suggest that just owning/wanting expensive things or having a lot of money or starting a Fortune 500 company, are bad. It’s using jealously and ego to get ahead and using and material wealth as goalposts that’s bad.

Posted by Nicole  | April 3, 2012 at 8:14AM | Reply

I completely and utterly disagree with ego/jealousy as being healthy motivators. Isn’t the point of setting goals to discover what is really important in life, such as family, health, and compassion? Jealousy and ego shift the focus from realizing self-actualization, to succumbing to greed, shame, and opportunism. The point of efficiency shouldn’t be to gain more of what society says you should have–it should be to move towards more mental and emotional well-being through the lens of accomplishing what is important to you. And how many people who have self-actualized have “drive a million-dollar sports car” at the top of their goal list?

There will always be someone who is richer or more famous or more successful. Why then stop at being jealous of the guy with the million-dollar sports car—why not be jealous of the guy with a yacht? Then the guy with the jet? The space ship? (Looking at you, Richard Branson.) You’ll never beat that guy, and even if you did get your own space ship–so what? Society will always demand something else of you that you cannot produce or buy. You will eventually fail.

And if you cannot damage your ego for fear or being shamed–how is that positively motivating? What if you, at your high school reunion, are not yet what you’d consider successful and your ego is crushed and you perceive everyone else around you is let down? That shame would be palpable and would further serve to make others perceive you negatively. Wouldn’t it be far more healthy (and attractive to your peers) for you to think that where you are (and where you’re going) is enough for you to be happy? That’s what everyone strives for. Not shame, but the feeling of being enough.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | April 5, 2012 at 1:19AM

I think it’s a paradox.

I totally agree that the concept of satiety (“enough being enough”) is overlooked by most people (and hardly ever discussed). But at the same time, I think it’s fair to say that most people in the world have things that they want in life. Now whether those things are self-actualisation or a million-dollar sports car isn’t really for us to judge – I know people who want nothing more than to work for non-profits in the developing world, and I also know people who want to found companies that will change the world (Spotify anyone?). Both are good people.

Motivation is a 2-way process – you either move towards things you want, or away from things you don’t want. If you happen to be one of the lucky few who can rely entirely on positive motivation (pulling you towards self-actualisation) – well, you’re lucky. And an exception. Most people that I’ve worked with usually need a kick from the other direction too – which is usually in the form of something like being jealous or envious of someone else.

I like to think of efficiency and productivity as being able to get more of what you want done in shorter and shorter amounts of time – whatever those things are.

– Aaron
p.s. most people (especially at a high school reunion) are more concerned about what you think of them, rather than perceiving you in any way at all.

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