Was My 2018 Productivity Experiment a Failure?

January 28, 2019 ​- 10 Comments

A year ago, I announced a new productivity experiment and invited you to join in. I created a simple spreadsheet where I would track 3 areas of my life on a weekly basis:

  1. Challenges (like 30 day challenges to form new habits)
  2. Focus skills
  3. Books

A year has passed and so it's time to look back and asses: did this productivity experiment work? Should I have done things differently?

Let's find out!


Mixed Results

As you can tell from the video, my results from this experiment were mixed. And they were mixed in ways I didn't expect.

First, I didn't follow through - I didn't keep using the spreadsheet for the entire year.

That's in part just a lack of consistency on my part (told you I have this problem) and it's in part because I felt like it just wasn't working for me.

But looking back, I can tell that while it felt like the productivity tracking sheet wasn't doing anything for me, it did clearly yield some positive results.

The only thing that really didn't work in the experiment was tracking challenges on a weekly basis. I use other tools to track challenges and habits on a day-by-day basis and that's just far more effective.

But both the "focus skills" and the "books" parts of the tracking sheet had a clear, positive effect for me. My 2018 was better thanks to using this tracking sheet for a few months. I read far more books than usual and I learnt some new physical skills, despite a fairly lackluster training regimen.

My Favorite Books of 2018

Speaking of books: 2018 was one of my best years in terms of finding, reading and being inspired by books.

Here's a short list of some of my favorite reads from the past year:

The Real Treasure

The story cliché is that the treasure you sought was inside you all along. I have a similar conclusion to my 2018 experiment - which failed but still succeeded, somehow.

The real treasure isn't in the specific tracking sheet that I shared at the beginning of 2018. It's not in any of the tools I use to track my habits and keep myself productive. It's in a general attitude of experimentation. It's in a "mad scientist" approach to life: try things out, see what happens and keep making adjustments that steer you towards your goals.

That is, above all, what I encourage you to do. Create your own experiment for 2019. Give it a go, even if you're not sure whether it will be great or a total waste of time.

Leave a comment letting me know what you're experimenting with in 2019. And also: I'd love to hear about your favorite books from lately.

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Shane,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    This is a very timely post! I actually came across the spreadsheet template you mentioned while in my G Drive the other day…and I was feeling somewhat bad that I’d failed to follow through with trying out your “experiment!” ;-) LoL! Now I don’t feel so bad! :-)

    It’s also very informative to hear your own processes, and what worked & what didn’t… Hearing about someone else’s experience always adds a sense of perspective! :-)

    The biggest lesson for me from your transparency here is what you describe as “your greatest treasure” and your enthusiasm for experimenting and trying things out…especially in a relatively *public* forum! I know that making a public commitment is supposed to be a tactic to hold oneself accountable…but it’s always been scary for me!

    So, to help me get over that obstacle, here’s mine for 2019:

    I’m dedicated to using what I’ve learned in your productivity course every day! It’s already helped me see things differently & I feel less distracted and more focused! I actually accomplish things I set out to do! :-) Yay!


    • Thank you for your comment!

      I’m happy that the course has been so helpful for you already. :)


  • Way to stick to the follow up 1 year later Shane! I’m experimenting with paid advertising to build my email list. I teach on Udemy, but know that I need to step up my marketing game. Thanks for your book suggestions!


    • Thank you for your comment! I hope you’ll find the books useful. Although this year, my favorites mostly aren’t very marketing or business strategy related. Still very much worth reading. :)


  • I highly recommend Greg Mc Keown book “Essentialism”. He was recently on Tim Feriss podcast and gave a great introduction to the book by applying the way he teaches on Tim Feriss` personal situation.


  • Jeanne Corvellec says:

    So interesting!
    If I may, your comments about the weekly check-in made me think that it’s quite a personal preference, one that depends on what your life looks like. I, for one, have the opposite experience… I tried to use the 30-day challenge spreadsheet, as shown in the course, and gave up almost immediately. For the simple reason that there is no habit I wish to build, implement or track that I repeat every single day.
    I believe that has a lot to do with having a child; my week is very much divided into workdays and holidays/family days. Sometimes I will move week tasks into the weekend, but at the very least, I need that flexibility. if I’m supposed to do something *every* day, then I will fail at the first bump in the road.
    In fact, I think I do something quite like your “failsafe” idea (the minimal version of the morning routine): I give myself a minimum number of days to repeat something (like “yoga 4 times a week”), and if I can do more, then that’s great! But, more often than not, I can’t; plus I need the freedom to move things around within the week, in case of (frequent) unpredictable events.
    This has made me notice that all my challenges are set on a weekly basis, rather than a daily one: train jiu-jitsu once a week, sketch twice a week, go on a date with my husband once a week, read one book a week, post on social media twice a week, etc. There isn’t any of these things that I could realistically do every day (or break down into daily parts/steps).
    So, if I cross your results with mine, I’d say there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to “tracking periodicity”. It all depends how you define the challenges and habits you wish to take up. Now, the next question is whether redundancy is ever helpful.
    For example, I also track monthly goals, and that is equally important to me. But in a different way. I don’t think anything that can be tracked monthly qualifies as a “habit” in itself. It’s more of a way to measure my overall productivity, and plan for the future accordingly. Like, how did I come up with “yoga 4 times a week” (rather than 3, or 5)? Well, that comes from my monthly overview. That is how much I can expect to achieve consistently, week in, week out. 3 wouldn’t be challenging enough, and 5 would likely doom me to failure (however, who knows, if I reach this year’s goal, I may step it up next year!).
    Perhaps that could be the use of a weekly tracking spreadsheet for people who work with daily habits. Not just checking a box every seven days that you’ve checked a daily box, but measuring the weekly total of a quantity that tends to vary from one day to the next.


    • This is interesting, thank you for sharing!

      It’s definitely a general pattern for me that I find it much easier to do something every day or not at all. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, that way. But what you describe makes total sense. This is why I wanted to emphasize the benefit of being experimental in my video here. And why I also don’t always offer a one-size-fits-all solution in the course. Sometimes, we just need to try a few different approaches until we find one that sticks.


  • desafiandobrasil says:

    Hi Shane,

    I’m trying to purchase Focus + Action, but noticed you don’t have PayPal as a payment option.

    Could I possibly purchase it using PayPal?


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