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The AlchemistThe Alchemist (audiobook) is a short metaphoric tale about getting where you want to go in life.

It’s oft-quoted as one of Will Smith’s favorite books (who is a great example of true productivity – action, action, action), and I like to think of it as the allegorical version of The Power of Story (notes).

A lot of the book is open to interpretation as it is fictional in nature, but here’s what we think would be of interest to AE readers.

As usual, our grouping of ideas and notes is based on points taken from the story and does not constitute the story itself (you’ll have to read it for that!)

Personal Legends

The core theme of the book is the idea of Personal Legends. Our interpretation is that your personal legend is your story in life – your path, your mission, your purpose.

As a personal example, a large part of Thanh and myself’s personal legends is to make the world a more productive place – work and the mundane be damned. As we’ve mentioned a number of times before on AE, once you have a “personal legend” or path/purpose in place, productivity in all areas of your life becomes much easier to attain.

Much like Jim Loehr’s The Power of Story, The Alchemist expands on the idea though. One of the other important concepts is the idea of a Chain of Events, which is the idea of your actions leading you from one thing to another. One of our friends, Jeremy, calls this “connecting the dots”.

There is also much reference in The Alchemist to treasures and dreams – these are basically goals. The story makes a good case for getting “treasure” along your journey – this is the same as the idea of getting goals along the way, to help you 1) clarify your journey, and 2) to help you build momentum on your journey.


The book also contains a number of principles for living scattered throughout. Here are the ones we found useful:

  • When you want something the universe will conspire to help you achieve it. Yeah, it sounds a little woo-woo. Whether you’re more of a law of attraction kind of person or a reticular activation system kind of person, it makes sense.
  • Everything that happens once can never happen again, but everything that happens twice is going to happen a third time. This applies to both the positive and negative, and is essentially the idea that habits and mindsets tend to stick (which is why they’re so important!)
  • Play to your strengths. Self-explanatory.
  • You must be able to measure things in life. The story talks about this in terms of camels and horses (camels never tire but suddenly die, horses tire incrementally so you can measure them). This is the idea that everything in life can be improved if you can measure it – see more at time tracking.
  • Good things happen every day when the sun rises. This is the Agile Results concept of iterations, and being able to start every single day fresh. If you have a bad day, you can improve it tomorrow.
  • Stop overcomplicating things and just follow the simple, proven way. That pretty much sums up how to be productive.

The Great System

The story alludes to this idea of a “great system” that everyone is part of. I like to think of this as saying that you should have faith in yourself – this helps you get through the rough patches in life and let you do the things that you don’t want to do but that must be done. This in turn, is one of the core components of true productivity.


The Alchemist discusses fear of failure and the fear of others quite extensively – more than we can cover in simple summary notes. A lot of it is related to social energy and productivity.

Our KISS summary would be this: most people fear what they want, or fear what other people think of what they want. Learning to manage and handle your perception of other is crucial to getting things done.

Exploration, Learning and Cycles

Throughout the story the protagonist learns things from many sources – sheep, crystals, the desert, other people. This is the idea that you can learn things from anything and anyone, which is the ideal mindset for learning. This is also the reason why the AE team love talking to people who are experts in other disciplines. And why we’re now allowing guest posts on the blog.

The book also mentions the point that the only way to learn is through action (our March 2012 newsletter talked about this).

It also brings up the principle of favorability, which states that “beginner’s luck” is a phenomenon that actually occurs. I prefer to think of this as the principle of momentum – set achievable outcomes and achieve them, thus stacking your success and building momentum for the next and next outcome.

The last learning-related principle that The Alchemist mentions is the idea of cycles, and of everything occurring in cycles. The productivity application of this is Hero Mode.


The Alchemist brings up some interesting ideas about mindsets:

  • Are you a victim or adventurer? See our upcoming articles on boundaries.
  • Regularly cleanse your mind of negative thoughts.
  • Marvel at the world but never forget what’s in front of you in the moment. I like to think of this as the ability to focus – to do one thing at a time and get it done.


No book is complete without a mention of the mastermind concept, and The Alchemist’s version is this: when something evolves, everything around them also evolves. As you become more productive, people around you do so too… and vice versa.

In Summary

The Alchemist (audiobook) has sold a lot of copies and it’s to see why. It’s short enough to read over a lunch break or two, and imparts a lot of powerful lessons in the form of easy-to-digest stories and ideas. Grab it here on Amazon.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. This is, hands down, one of the best and most powerful books I’ve ever read in my life. I have recommended it to countless people. The fact that you’re seeking it out says volumes about your level of self-awareness as it is and this book builds on that.

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