Productivity Starts With Courage

I recently starting developing a new deep dive course, which I expect to launch later this calendar quarter. It’s called Engage, and my intentions for it are ambitious.

Engage is about optimizing personal productivity and creating a powerfully engaged life. It’s going to be unlike any productivity course or book you’ve ever seen before. This will be our 6th course, and I want it to be our very best one – helping a wide range of people experience major productivity breakthroughs. I’m framing this as our one course to rule them all. I want this to be our #1 flagship course.

These are the big rocks that will form the backbone of Engage. These function as a productivity alignment sequence, which we’ll work through in a mostly linear order.

  1. Courage – invite it
  2. Clarity – feel it
  3. Intensity – claim it
  4. Integration – own it
  5. Harmony – be it

I intend to make this a deeply honest course on productivity. In that regard it’s not going to be sterile or gentle. It’s going to delve deeply into the motivational and emotional side of productivity since that’s where real productivity is born.

I want to show you how to connect the productivity dots from top to bottom – all the way from creating a sense of life purpose down to deciding which specific tasks to do on a Tuesday afternoon.

As I’m exploring the Engage concepts, I’m really liking how simple and direct they can be for making sense of intentions, goals, and projects. There’s a level of honesty that makes engagement problems really clear when using the 5 principles as diagnostic tools.

What’s really interesting is seeing how people avoid the obvious by asking the wrong questions about productivity, such as which apps to use or how to organize everything in Notion. Yet they’re doing uninspired work that doesn’t engage the heart and most likely never will. They really have no chance at being consistently productive till they get their heart engaged. Without strong emotional engagement, they just won’t have access to their best thinking, creativity, and flow.

Instead of fussing over apps, these same people ought to be asking why their emotional and motivational standards have been so low for so long – and what they can do to raise those standards permanently and keep them high for life.

Heart Engagement

When I was going through college in 3 semesters and getting tons done every week, I didn’t have or use any productivity apps. I didn’t have a pocket computer or a phone except for a land line in my room. There was no web or social media. My main productivity tools were a small notebook to record assignments and a pen. I had a paper calendar on my desk, but it always stayed in my room, so I never took it to school with me. That was all I needed to be highly productive and to stay well organized, even with up to 13 classes to juggle each semester and extracurricular activities too.

I can see that I used these core productivity principles very well back then. My heart was fully engaged, and I kept my motivation high (by making high motivation a priority). My goals were crisp, clear, and personally meaningful, and I centered my life around them. I said no to misaligned people and invitations. A strong heartset supported a fully engaged mindset, which enabled me to sustain an intense period of productivity. I ended up exceeding my original goals by earning two degrees instead of one. And the process to get there was rewarding.

I had a similar experience with doing contract game programming work during my last summer and last semester of college. The room where I worked had no phone and no Internet. I had no productivity apps. I used a spiral notebook and a pen to track my to-dos. I mainly just used one piece of software on the computer, Borland C++, to do the actual coding work. Most days that was the only program I opened. I got so much done during that time.

I do use some productivity apps today which I like, especially Things and Bear, but I use them simply. My #1 productivity tools are still very tactile – spiral notebook, pens, index cards, and dry erase boards. The digital tools are nice to have, but I really don’t need them to be very productive because productivity is primarily emotional.

Always Be Exam-Ready

I don’t use Notion, Evernote, Dropbox or other apps that essentially serve as clutter bins. I’m fairly spartan when it comes to collecting and storing information. When I encounter interesting ideas, I do my best to apply and integrate them immediately, so they become a part of my thinking and doing. Otherwise I let them go if they don’t fit.

Note that “integration” is the #4 engagement principle on the list above. How well have you integrated the best ideas you’ve encountered, such that you’re applying them to good effect each day? When good ideas become your natural daily actions, you don’t need reference notes to keep reminding you about what you should be doing.

This mindset aligns with what I discovered in college. I was taking too many classes to have extra time for studying outside of class. So I had to learn and remember what was being taught when it was being taught – during class. I tried not to leave the classroom till I had internalized the lesson. Sometimes that learning extended through the homework as well. I told my mind to learn the material well enough the first time that I felt ready to be tested on it immediately afterwards. That was a powerful and effective intention that prevented me from falling behind.

I love this standard of always being exam-ready. I can’t be dumping ideas into a digital clutter bin for later processing and still feel like I’m exam-ready with those ideas.

I know the concept of building a “second brain” is popular these days. What a delightful sounding label for procrastination? It’s like calling a clogged toilet a second sink.

What’s the point of gathering and sorting info clutter if your first brain isn’t on fire with motivation and focused with intensity? If you optimize your first brain, you won’t need a second brain.

Apps can be nice, but only in service to a fully engaged heart and mind. The best apps won’t fix your underlying issues, and they might just make matters worse by obscuring real problems under extra layers of complexity.

Emotional Intensity vs. App Propensity

It ought to seem obvious that a person with strong heart engagement, sustainably high motivation, clear goals, and intense focus can be super productive without the benefit of any modern productivity apps. Pen and paper are sufficient. Contrast this with someone who gets really into apps but doesn’t have their heart and mind fully engaged, committed, and focused. Which person would you bet on?

In the Engage deep dive, the first principle that we’ll start with is Courage, which is really about heart engagement. Most people don’t even pass this phase successfully, which is the main reason they struggle with productivity and consistency. They tolerate partial matches and mismatches. They ignore and suppress the voice of their heart, which would scream at them if they gave it a real chance to speak.

That’s our starting point. We’re going to crack open this space and invite the heart to get really vocal and honest. For some people this won’t be pretty, but it will be deeply honest.

This will not be a gentle course. Our primary focus won’t be on creating a “safe space” like we did with the Guild course. For this kind of transformation, we need to co-create a powerful growth space. We’re going to cover a lot of rich and interesting mental concepts, but we’re not going to retreat into the mind like most productivity courses do. We’re going to delve into the realm of fear and doubt right from the beginning, and we’re going to invite the heart to reveal the path of courage.

So from the very first principle, this is a journey that invites you to leave your old comfort zone behind. That’s going to take courage. You’ll be invited to form different intentions and to set different goals than you’ve ever set before.

I have zero interest in watching people try to squeeze out more productivity from work they don’t even want to be doing. I want to help people discover what truly lights them up. Help them amplify the voice of their hearts, so they can’t stomach ignoring it any longer.

Engaging with Engage

One thing I love to do when developing courses is to use the principles of the course to help create the course. I’ve done that with all of the previous courses so far, and I’m doing that with Engage too.

I’m working to develop a course that feels courageous and edgy; that offers crisp, clear, and actionable ideas and processes, that’s intense to develop and experience, that integrates its ideas into a coherent and sensible structure, and that maintains a beautiful and elegant internal harmony.

Creating Engage is a big challenge, and I love working it. There’s so much productivity information already in existence, and now I see a path forward to create and share something truly unique, different, and personally meaningful.

Codifying these ideas is already helping me make some productivity upgrades in my own life. That’s what gets me especially excited about the development process – when I’m able to identify and immediately implement upgrades I didn’t recognize before. These upgrades stem from deepening and simplifying my understanding, especially in terms of how different ideas connect with each other. For instance, I’m gaining a much better understanding of how critical courage is and how it fuels clarity, focus, and intensity. Just setting the intention for Engage to be our #1 flagship course creates ripples of extra motivation. Sharing this intention publicly also raises the stakes. But internally this kind of intention really lights me up inside and makes me want to do the best creative work of my life. It makes working on Engage feel even more engaging.

I’m also boosting my understanding of the tail aspects of long-term productivity – integration and harmony. One reason I’ve been vegan for 26 years now (most of my life) is that I fully integrated veganism into my life and harmonized with it. Same goes for doing personal development work for 18+ years and still feeling highly engaged with it. These fit into my life harmoniously, so they aren’t vulnerable to being wedged out, and I don’t need to lean on discipline to maintain them.

Note that self-discipline isn’t one of our Engage principles. Self-discipline is for the people with clogged toilets. Let’s see how long they can hold it.


Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation may also recognize that Captain Picard loves to say “Engage” to get the ship moving towards its next destination after laying in a course. The name for the course actually popped into my head spontaneously while I was thinking about it one day, so I didn’t consciously choose it because of that. But I immediately thought of that association afterwards. That made me like it even more. When I think of Picard flicking his wrist and saying “Engage,” as the ship and crew boldly warp off to go explore some new alien world, I see it as a succinct way to grasp what a highly engaged life feels like. It feels like you’re warping off to a bold new adventure that’s sure to keep you on your toes.

Is that you feel about your work, life, relationships, and lifestyle most of the time?

If not, you haven’t even accepted the invitation of Stage 1 yet. Just imagine how much more is possible when you’re regularly flowing through and aligning with all 5 of these principles.

Moreover, when I looked up the dictionary definitions of Engage, I saw just how perfect it was because all of those meanings are relevant to this journey. An engagement can even refer to a battle or conflict, and that’s how many people experience their struggles with procrastination and distraction. They’re trying in vain to win battles with their mind that their heart could help them win with ease.

There’s still much to be worked out before we’re ready to begin the Engage journey together. I think this will be especially rewarding for people who really want to experience something fresh, new, bold, and intelligent. The first place we’ll explore together will be Planet Heartspace, which is sure to seem like an alien world to those who’ve been stranded on Headspace for most of their lives. 😉

Why Wait? Let’s Get Started Now!

How about a tip to get started with the Engage principles right now? I recommend setting and holding these kinds of intentions:

  • I invite courage into my life.
  • Show me the path with a heart in all areas of life.
  • I’m ready to walk the path with a heart.
  • Help me soundly reject and release that which is misaligned with my heart.
  • Show me where and how I can be much, much bolder.
  • Let me begin each day by asking what I can do that’s bold and courageous.
  • Show me how to stretch my courage today.
  • Show me what fear to face next.
  • Let me hear what my heart has to say about the misaligned areas of my life and what it wants me to do instead.
  • I’m ready to live each day in courage and heart-alignment.

So don’t focus on trying to be more productive. If you want to be more productive, start by intending to be more courageous. Courage is the first door to walk through on the path to creating and experiencing a highly engaged life.

Fear, hesitation, worry, anxiety, apathy, confusion, disappointment – this is what you experience when your heart isn’t fully engaged. These are the consequences of turning your back on courage for too long. So flip this around today by intending, inviting, and accepting courage into your life. You aren’t ready to experience real clarity and intensity until you’re willing to embrace the energy of courage.