Weekly I/O #8

Improvisational Productivity, Forget Goals, Why Question, Three Ways to Change, 15-min Chunk

Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維
4 min readJan 13, 2021

Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.

Sign up here and let me share a curated list of learning Input/Output with you 🎉

The below is extracted from the email sent on Jan 10, 2021.

Here’s a list of what I’m exploring and pondering this week.

1. The longer you think about a task without doing it, the less fun it becomes to do.

Article: Improvisational Productivity

This is from Daniel Gross’s article. Put things on todo list is effortless. Planning is fun. However, the longer you think about a task, the less fun left for actually doing it. Because you have already gone through all the interesting aspects of the problems, there’s only work left.

The way Daniel Gross deals with this is kind of counter-intuitive: not think about the task until he is ready to fully execute it. He saves the fun of thinking to pull himself into flow. Practically, he said:

  • I try and respond to emails the moment I open them. If it’s something that requires desktop work, I quickly close the email.
  • I don’t write down ideas for posts until I’m ready to write the entire post.

He stated that “Living in a state of improvisation is more conducive to flow. I try to make my actual work appear as interesting as a new idea by minimizing the cognitive state buildup I have until I am ready to fully accomplish the task at hand.”

To be honest, this Improvisational Productivity concept is unintuitive and sort of mind-blowing to me. But maybe we can try it out by applying it to part of our new year resolution plans. Not planning too much about the new year resolution until we’re fully ready to take the first actions.

2. Forget goals. Build system.

Book: Atomic Habits

Spending “too much” time on goal setting has some disadvantages:

First, achieving goals only changes your life for the moment. Accomplishing the goal to clean your messy room only needs a burst of motivation. But if you maintain the same sloppy habits that lead to the messy environment, you’ll have to pray for another burst of motivation soon. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.

Second, setting goals restricts happiness. The mindset of “Once I reach the goal, then I’ll be happy” just doesn’t work long term. Chasing goals is like being on a treadmill: wanting something, getting it, acclimatizing to the new normal, and starting to want more. If we only focus much on goals, we never get to have true satisfaction. It is the same as what I mentioned in the article This Is Water about what to worship.

Third, winners and losers have the same goals. Goal setting can suffer from a serious case of survivorship bias.

More about this topic can be found in the book. There’s also an excerpt on James Clear’s blog. It’s noteworthy that it is not that goal setting is useless, but focusing only on goals is dangerous.

For me, indeed building a system is important. But setting a better goal using methods like SMART criteria can be helpful too. Or just make more concrete goals such as “being able to have a five-minute conversation with a Spanish co-worker” instead of “being fluent in Spanish”.

3. Ask what/how questions instead of why.

Online Course: MasterClass | Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation

Why-questions tend to trigger defensive reactions in negotiation. Think about how you felt when some asked you “Why did you do that”. By changing why to what, you can remove the sting of accusation.

For example, instead of asking “Why do you need delivery in three weeks on the product”, you can ask “What makes it necessary to get the product delivered in three weeks”.

4. There are only three ways for humans to change: 1. change the time allocation; 2. change the place of residence; 3. change the people with whom they interact. Only under these three elements can human beings change. One of the most meaningless is: “Make new resolutions”.


I only found the quote in Chinese so I did the translation. The quote seems to be from Kenichi Ohmae, but I didn’t find any reliable evidence.

5. Thinking of time in 15-minute chunks


Thinking of time in 15-minute chunks instead of 1-hour chunks. It’s a cliché for everyone who wants to be a “productivity guru”. Google it and you will find tons of articles talking about this. For me, there are two advantages.

First, I divided tasks into tinier subtasks. Therefore, whenever I get unexpected free time, I have reasons to persuade myself into working on those subtasks instead of slacking off and do relatively unimportant stuff.

Second, I have less time to waste in the chunks. When I want to procrastinate, I will use up all the time left in the current chunks no matter what. Therefore, if I’m thinking of time in 15-minute chunks, I have less time left in each chunk for me to waste.

Unfortunately, these two advantages only exist in theory (or in my fantasy). For example, in practice, I just procrastinated for more chunks instead of the time left in the chunk. However, this may work for you. You can still look up some articles and decide whether to try it or not.

That’s it. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it. If you would like to receive the content every Sunday, sign up below 😎



Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維

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