10 Stoic principles for getting things done
Lifehacks from a life philosophy
Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.
Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.
Stoicism isn’t just a philosophy of productivity hacks. In fact, as a life philosophy, it holds that productivity is indifferent. It isn’t valuable in and of itself. It’s only good if it is used towards worthy ends.
That said – that doesn’t mean there are no important heuristics we can divine from the philosophy. To prove that, here’s a list of 10 Stoic productivity principles. When understood correctly, I think they’re about more than mere efficiency.
Focus on what you can control
This is the fundamental Stoic teaching. Take responsibility for what is your own. Don’t waste time on what is not up to you.
Reflection should be built into your schedule. It's useful for catching what's going well, what could be better, what you're learning, and whether you're working on the right things. The amount of time you spend reflecting should be proportional to the amount of time you're considering. Spend more time reflecting on larger chunks of time.
Productivity is autocatalytic
If you succeed at one task, you'll increase the expectation that you'll succeed at the next one. This makes it more likely that you will. Take advantage of success spirals and positive feedback loops. To do this, your goals need to be realistic.
Setting goals and reaching builds self-trust
Likewise, failing to do what you set out to do erodes the value of your word. Don't eat into self-trust. Do what you say you will.
Productivity is indifferent
Whether or not you are efficient, doesn’t fundamentally matter. What matters is who you are and what you’re doing. Most jobs should be done with excellence. Yet some are better not done at all.
If you want to achieve a goal, go directly to it. As Epictetus said:
This is one of those simple rules that many people get wrong.
Do not act like you will live ten thousand years
Default to moving quickly.
This is likely one of the largest mistakes I made earlier on. I tend to think things through slowly and overemphasize accuracy. Life is short. Feedback is valuable. If you have an error correction system, making more inaccurate decisions can be better than making fewer accurate ones.
“Everywhere means nowhere.”
Seek depth. Consider Seneca on reading:
Invert your attitudes
The most impressive people have an inversion of attitudes: what others see as unpleasant they see as fun. Successful athletes like getting up at 4am. I think of this as the edge of discomfort. If others don't do X because it makes them uncomfortable, you can do well by learning to like X.
Emulate successful people
But choose who you admire carefully.
Choose one rule above and consider how you can use it to cultivate a more focused, reflective, and intentional approach to life and work
🎺 Become More Stoic – The Course
I am looking into running a course on applying Stoicism with @calebmontiveros. This would include live discussions with a community of like-minded learners, and a detailed curriculum.
If this is something you'd be interested in, complete the link below: maven.com/forms/f3ef10
— Michael Tremblay (@_MikeTremblay)
Jul 19, 2023
As I announced last email, Michael Tremblay and I are creating a course on Stoic theory and practice.
Michael got his Ph.D. studying Epictetus and has a black belt in BJJ. I’ve taught meditation for almost five years through Stoa (and also have a background in philosophy and startups). So there are many things we could focus on. Let us know what would be most useful to you.
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⏲️ This is not a “Stoic” rule, per se, but one of the most useful productivity tips I’ve heard is the 2 minute rule: if something will take you 2 minutes do it right away.
🔬 There’s a law of equal and opposite advice. It should always be kept in mind when reading lists like the above. The fact of the matter is that for some advice (“Persevere!”), there are some people who need to hear the exact opposite (“Quit!”).
📖 The quote from Hecato comes from letter 6 of Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius. I appreciate his insight on how knowledge is shared by action and example:
What did you think about today's letter?