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How to Do Things

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This summer I released the book I had always wanted someone else to write: a guide to getting things done that wasn’t written by a high-achiever, but by someone who has always struggled to reach “average” levels of productivity.

It would be short enough to read in one sitting and implement the same day. It would contain a single, focused method of getting stuff done, which you would know by heart by the end of day one.

I called this book How to Do Things: Productivity for the Productivity-Challenged. It was sort of a two-pronged experiment.

First, could I convey my own idiosyncratic method of getting stuff done to the general public, and would they find it helpful?

Second, and more importantly: could a 35-page book be better at teaching you something useful than a 235-page book?

I knew it was better for me and my ADHD-addled mind, but is it what normal people want? My suspicion, which I outlined in this post, was yes. People don’t want a ten-hour-long stream of how-to information they then have to organize in their heads. They want a hammer put into their hand.

So I wrote this thing, this trusty hammer for getting things done. I offered it for a brief two-week window in June, to get some people to try it and tell me what they thought. It sold like crazy, and the feedback made me feel like I kind of nailed it.

It was especially thrilling to hear what people were using this tool for. Aside from the usual office work, housework, and schoolwork, people told me about how they were studying a language consistently now, or tackling long-stalled home renovations. One reader used it to finally read a Shakespeare play to the end.

I still shut down sales after two weeks, because I had said I would, leaving a lot of people feeling left out (sorry). Anyway, I’m done the revised version and it’s available to everyone now.

(Those of you who already have the book should be receiving the new version today, if you haven’t already. Check your spam folder.)

If you didn’t read my post at the time, you’ll probably get a lot out of it, even if you don’t end up getting the guide:

How to Get Things Done When You Have Trouble Getting Things Done

The following graph, taken from that post, explains better than anything what I’m trying to accomplish here:

The success of How to Do Things made me want to make more hammers. I want to make a whole series of this kind of single-purpose tool — a tool people can pick up in a day, use immediately to do things they couldn’t do before, and keep it forever.

After all, I’ve been using dozens of tricks and techniques to get by in life, and I’ve only ever written about them in one-off blog posts. I have so many tools that deserve a more focused treatment, and I seem to have found a format that works.

If you need help getting things done, you can get the guide now:

Get How to Do Things

It’s $23 USD, so it could easily pay for itself by the end of the day. Anyone who buys the book by December 1st will also receive the upcoming How to Do Things Tips and Strategies Booklet, a collection of productivity wisdom I’m compiling, from both myself and other How to Do Things readers.

For more details on what How to Do Things is about, this post explains it completely.


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Citrus Simon November 18, 2021 at 2:56 pm

How to do things? Hm?

I think that we need to look at what we are putting inside of ourselves before we accept the label of any modern condition such as ADHD or similar, before considering how to do things.
Why is this important? Because a person has to be aware of the role that diet plays on the mind and consciousness. This can only be done with experiments, which requires a person to let go of their routines, habits and addictions. Which is, in reality, truly getting things done.

If a person does a fruit based raw vegan diet for 90 days, and discovers that their mental health issues have greatly improved, and that they are getting things done without fuss and strain, and are now actually enjoying getting things done, what does this mean?

It means that our mental health diagnosis is flawed, and our issues were caused by food that had been processed, and which has had the nutrients destroyed by the cooking process.

If your mind or ego thinks that cooking food is normal, part of your upbringing and culture, and something that you enjoy, try putting your hand in the water while the vegetables are boiling away, and then you can just drift off into a state of bliss, and imagine the positive benefits that boiling water will do for your produce.

I think it does not matter what we think or believe, its the results that give us real insight and meaning.

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Tracey Millar November 19, 2021 at 2:53 pm

Dear Citrus Simon,
No thank you, to the whole comment.

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David Cain November 20, 2021 at 11:30 am

All I will say is that from your comment it does not seem likely that you have found the cure to mental health issues

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Citrus Simon November 20, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Thank you.
I always get this answer from people who are not willing to do experiments on themselves.
But i do understand it is more comfortable to maintain what you are familiar with rather than take risks.

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Brady Faught November 19, 2021 at 4:03 pm

Great work David! Having been a fervent reader of self-help books for many years, it’s the case with 90% of these books.
MAIN IDEA: first 30 pages “wow so helpful! I can’t wait to implement this!”
FILLER TO SELL A FULL-SIZE BOOK: 200 pages “uhh what was the big idea again?”

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David Cain November 20, 2021 at 11:28 am

When I get to the end of these books I’ve always lost the initial idea that seemed to make so much sense. Even when I go back reread it, it no longer seems so simple because of the 190 pages of elaboration that followed.

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Kevin November 19, 2021 at 5:21 pm

I was lucky enough to grab this book when it first came out. I’m not overselling it when I say that it made a massive difference in my life. It changed my workflows, but also made them easier. I hope it delivers as much value for you as it did for me.

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David Cain November 20, 2021 at 11:31 am

Glad to hear it’s made such a difference Kevin.

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Jio November 20, 2021 at 5:33 am

Yes! Man the amount of money I could have spent on self- help books but eventually gave up on most of them after realising that they all contained that one huge flaw- they were aimed at neurotypical readers. And the other thing as well that stops me getting anything out of these books is that most seem to presume that the barriers stem from ‘personality issues’ such as laziness, or a lack of commitment due to kids or other distractions- whereas a lot of us have TRAUMA blocking the way. There’s no one way to solve these issues but we need more books and content in general aimed at helping neurodivergents achieve their goals in a world less adapted to our way of working.
Thankyou :)

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David Cain November 20, 2021 at 11:33 am

My strategy is just to make things that are more accessible to everyone by making them shorter. Neurodivergent or not, I don’t think putting 250 pages worth of information into practice is easy for anyone.

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larry November 20, 2021 at 8:57 am

Hi David,
Long-time listener first-time caller, er commenter, er well a couple of times guess.
Anyway I bought your book but I used the discount code “Yes I want a discount:-)” but it didn’t work. :-(
Looking forward to some life improvement after implementing your ideas. thank you

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David Cain November 20, 2021 at 11:33 am

Hi Larry. There is always a discount code field there, but in this case there’s no active discount codes. I may have sales in the future.

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Frank Kelvin November 20, 2021 at 3:40 pm

It would be nice to see some page samples. :)
Thank you for tour amazing work.

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Jessi November 21, 2021 at 2:28 pm

Just did my first block, and man its more powerful than I expected! I made my block about cleaning up and made a quick to do list. I made it purposely long just to see how far I could get. I didn’t think I’d finish in 25 minutes, but I actually did. What’s interesting is that I noticed myself starting to get distracted in a way I didn’t expect….I started wanting to organize or clean things not on my list, but I didn’t. I resisted that urge and thought, “I’ll make another block with that on it. This block is for the first list.”
This is interesting to me because I tend to be a very messy person with little to no motivation to organize or clean. And I imagine in the past, I’ve made the whole ordeal of cleaning into a much bigger thing than it needs to be by not focusing my attention on specific tasks. So when I DO clean, it takes well over an hour because I keep finding things to do and doing them. Then the next time I know I need to clean, I only see it as a monumental task and so delay starting. But I got a LOT done in 25 minutes. Such a small commitment. If I can do this regularly, I’ll be able to get my brain to believe the process of cleaning is just not a big deal and so does not have to warrant some big chunk of time.
I like the sense of urgency I felt. The 25 minutes flew by and I felt myself wishing for more time…like a game. How much can I get done! Oh no only five minutes! Brilliant.
Thanks, David. As always.

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David Cain November 22, 2021 at 9:31 am

That’s great Jessi. That’s what it does for me too. So many tasks seem too big and bulky to do without somehow getting myself psychologically prepared to tackle them. But a Block is always doable. It doesn’t take much willpower or mental prep. It is also surprising how much you really do get done in that short period.

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Mark November 27, 2021 at 9:06 am

So is this book just detailing and specific method you have found to work? I’m very interested as I love your articles and resonate with a lot you have to say and I struggle with being able to focus and my brain struggles to function in a lot of ways you describe with ADHD.

I know you deserve to be rewarded for your work, but I’m just concerned about buying ebooks and them being a waste of money for me, I find productivity techniques are fairly personal, what’s the gist of this method? Some form of time boxing? I love time-boxing but I’ve never really liked the Pomodoro technique. Stopping after 20-45 minutes seems to short and i lose my flow and a short 5-minute break is never long enough for anything.

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