Thoughts on improving productivity and creativity.

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“Why the f*ck do I feel so unproductive and uncreative?”

It was August 2017 as I wrote these words in my notebook. I was sitting in my quiet room in an old guesthouse in the small town of Zao Onsen, overlooking the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture.

I was on holiday, a slow trip on local trains through rural Japan. I thought it might be nice to get a break from fast-paced Tokyo for a few days, explore Japan a bit more, and get a fresh perspective. It wasn’t an attempt to escape, I didn’t feel like there was anything I wanted or needed to escape from. I thought everything was great. I love Tokyo. And I also love my job and my company! …

The results of two years of self-tracking with the Oura Ring and personal logging of caffeine and alcohol consumption, HRV, and other data

A smiley face mug placed on the sea shore.
A smiley face mug placed on the sea shore.
Image credit: Enes Evren.

I’ve been trying to quantify, understand, and improve my sleep for many years now, and in the following, I want to share with you my longest and most in-depth self-study yet.

So let’s take a look at what effects caffeine, alcohol, and exercise have had on my sleep.

I started this analysis in mid-2018 when I wrote about the results of tracking and modeling my blood caffeine concentration for a month.

Towards the end of 2018, I shared the results of a more detailed experiment, covering around three months of sleep and related data and attempting to find correlations.

While providing some interesting insights, the data was far from statistically significant. But since then, I have kept up the tracking, measuring my sleep data each night with my Oura ring, and logging every caffeinated beverage I consumed, my workouts, and my daily alcohol consumption. …

Noble Leisure

Journaling doesn’t have to be complicated; simply giving shape to your thoughts and feelings can have profound effects.

Two pages in the author’s notebook, written in August 2017.
Two pages in the author’s notebook, written in August 2017.
Two pages in my notebook, written in August 2017, that would lead me to reinvent my life and create an entirely new career path for myself. Photo by the author.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

— Socrates

Frequent reflection and a strong self-awareness are common amongst many of the world’s top performers. And few methods of introspection are simpler or more powerful than taking pen and paper and writing down your thoughts and feelings.

From morning pages to reflection prompts, the techniques for journaling are numerous and can help us gain much needed calm, clarity, and growth.

Rather than add another theoretical exercise to your arsenal of journaling techniques, I want to give you a concrete example of how a single journaling session brought me clarity in a time of doubt and completely changed the trajectory of my life. …

35 (plus one) books and quotes that shaped and inspired me in 2020

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Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” — Jhumpa Lahiri

With actual travel being a bit of an issue in 2020, books have become even more of a medium to journey into distant lands and enter the minds of brilliant thinkers past and present.

Personally, books have always been a central part of my life. But this year, this relationship got taken to another level.

How to use the ancient concept of Noble Leisure to find happiness, fulfillment, and yes, even productivity

A man surfs a wave.
A man surfs a wave.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

“That is the principal point: with what kind of activity is man to occupy his leisure?”

— Aristotle

Athens, Greece, around 330 BC. Aristotle is hard at work at the Lyceum, the location of the Peripatetic school of philosophy he founded. He is deep in thought and discussion about logic, metaphysics, mathematics, biology, botany, ethics, and politics.

But what we might today classify as knowledge work, was largely leisure to Aristotle.

And not just any form of leisure. It was noble leisure.

A kind of leisure that — very different from zoning out in front of Netflix or endlessly swiping on Instagram — put him in a state of effortless flow and filled his life with a deep sense of meaning. …

Noble Leisure

How to let your curiosity find its voice again

picture of a man walking on a dirt path by a river in autumn.
picture of a man walking on a dirt path by a river in autumn.
Image credit: vvvita.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of the most productive days you had in the recent past.

What did they look like? Where were you? What did you do? And why did it make you feel productive?

Personally, I had three of my most productive days in a long time last month, and my guess is that they didn’t look the way you just imagined yours.

Tuesday of that particular week was a public holiday here in Japan, and I took Monday and Wednesday off to give myself a nice three-day break in addition to the weekend.

On Monday morning, I set off on a 60km bike ride to an Airbnb I had rented near Lake Sagami, a beautiful lake in the mountains just outside of Tokyo. …

Noble Leisure

Startup culture took us out of balance by celebrating fast action—but quick, repeated failures aren’t a sure path to success.

An hourglass.
An hourglass.
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

“Nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes or figs need time to ripen. If you say that you want a fig now, I will tell you to be patient. First, you must allow the tree to flower, then put forth fruit; then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe. So if the fruit of a fig tree is not brought to maturity instantly or in an hour, how do you expect the human mind to come to fruition, so quickly and easily?”

— Epictetus

Being aggressive and scaling rapidly seem to be two of the unquestionable beliefs of the startup world, and “being busy” is worn as a badge of honor by many. …

Noble Leisure

Life is not a sprint. Life is an ultra-marathon. Here’s what I learned from running races of 60 miles and more.

Man jogging down a hill
Man jogging down a hill
Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

In a recent (not yet published) interview for the “School for Good Living” podcast, Brilliant Miller asked me to complete the sentence “Life is like…” with anything other than “a box of chocolates.”

My response: Life is like an ultra-marathon.

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that life is a marathon, not a sprint. A reminder to take things slow and steady.

And most people, including me, would agree: Life is indeed not a sprint. But in contrast to the proverb, I would argue that it also isn’t a marathon.

Let me elaborate.

An ultra-marathon is a running event longer than a marathon’s traditional 42.2 kilometers with common distances being 100 kilometers and 100 miles. …

Frank Partnoy on the value of reflection and incubation over reactivity and haste.

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Illustration of Frank Partnoy by Mariya Suzuki

“Life might be a race against time, but it is enriched when we rise above our instincts and stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why. A wise decision requires reflection, and reflection requires pause.”

Most of us have heard the saying “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. We associate discipline and productivity with not deferring decisions or leaving things until the last minute.

There is definitely a lot of wisdom and truth in this. But in some cases, delay and procrastination might actually be the better route to success. …

Aldous Huxley’s quest for range and balance, and why we need more silence in our lives.

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Illustration of Aldous Huxley by Mariya Suzuki

“In all psychophysical skills we have this curious fact of the law of reversed effort: the harder we try, the worse we do the thing.”

“No one who looks to leisure simply to restore his working powers will ever discover the fruit of leisure; he will never know the quickening that follows almost as though from some deep sleep.”

Most of us probably know Aldous Huxley best for his works of fiction, novels such as Brave New World and Island in which he presented his visions of dystopia and utopia. But recently, with the resurgence of interest and research in psychedelics, his classic work of nonfiction, The Doors of Perception, is also gaining more attention and popularity. In it, he describes his experience with mescaline and his hypothesis that the brain acts as a reducing valve that decides which sensory perceptions and layers of consciousness to let in and which to shut out, and that psychedelics can temporarily open that valve. …


Max Frenzel

AI Researcher, Writer, Digital Creative. Passionate about helping people build their rest ethic. Author of the #1 Amazon bestseller Time Off.

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