Ali Abdaal is one of the most popular YouTubers and the most-followed "productivity expert" online (at least, as per the book's cover). He's been making videos about productivity for several years and has a very large following online. Unsurprisingly, his debut book, Feel Good Productivity, has gotten high acclaim from all possible sources worldwide.

Does the book stand up to the hype and praise? Let's dive in.

about Feel Good Productivity

feel good productivity by ali abdaal book cover

We're told that to achieve more we need to work longer, focus harder, sacrifice more. But it's a lie. Because the secret to true productivity isn't graft. It's joy.

In this revolutionary book, Ali Abdaal, Cambridge-educated doctor and the world's most-followed productivity expert, offers a scientifically proven way to get more done - by finding radical pleasure in everything you do. He starts by introducing the three 'energisers' that make work invigorating rather than draining - Power, Play and People. Then he delves into cutting-edge science that reveals how to integrate these forces into your daily routine - so you end every day feeling uplifted rather than exhausted.The result is a revolutionary way to get more done without stressing out, freaking out or burning out. It is the first productivity book that is 100% guaranteed to not ruin your life.

my review

Although I'm not subscribed to Ali Abdaal's channel, I've known his content for years. I come across his videos once in a while and watch them. While I don't like all of his content, I won't deny that he shares useful and helpful information.

I like his videos and am subscribed to his newsletter. He doesn't shy away from creating in the public eye and sharing his struggles and the lessons that he learnt along the way. It's like we're learning with him throughout his journey. It's no small feat to consistently post helpful content that people like.

So, when he shared that he was releasing his first book, I pre-ordered it. I was a little wary because his content has been a hit-or-miss for me but I decided to give it a chance.

Does success, as we're often told, make us happier—or could it be the other way round?

The book is based on Abdaal's philosophy that having fun makes being productive easier. Early into the book, he speaks against the general "work hard so that you can be happy later" doctrine. Instead, he promotes a healthier approach that allows for fun while achieving goals.

He makes his case for "feel-good productivity" well. I liked that he addressed how some common productivity myths are not good like relying on discipline, not taking days off, and "being productive" every minute of the day.

The concept of the "feeling good -> energy -> productivity -> feeling good" cycle makes sense too. Unlike the idea that one needs to have discipline to be productive, this ideology promotes a more healthy approach to productivity.

What would this look like if it were fun?

The book contains 3 parts—Energise, Unblock, and Sustain—which have 3 sections each. The author explains the concepts with examples and suggests experiments so that we can try them out.

It is made very clear that the experiments are just experiments. They might not be a 100% fit for everyone reading the book. It is up to the reader to try out the experiments and find out which method works best for them.

There are about 6 experiments per section which adds up to more than 50 experiments throughout the book. There are a variety of experiments to try out.

Unfortunately, the experiments aren't easy to action on. The book is filled with theory and doesn't have a lot of easy actionable steps. You've got to read the book and come up with ways to experiment with the suggestions. You will not find direct suggestions for most of the experiments mentioned.

Sometimes, I had to read the paragraphs twice to understand what the suggested experiment was. And I could not come up with immediate action steps. I couldn't easily pick a suggestion and try it out for what I wanted to do. The book has a lot of theory and concepts but doesn't push the reader towards action.

The law of inertia applies just as much to productivity as to physics.

Some of the experiments are not for most people. Of course, all of the suggestions are based on the author's personal experience but I did not expect that I would find some that were completely unrelated to me.

For example, a bunch of the experiments are based on time-blocking. Ali Abdaal has not been silent about his favourite productivity method that allows him to plan his day and there are videos on it. I expected it to be one of the suggestions in the book but did not expect a significant number of them to be related to it.

Time-blocking is a privileged productivity method. It hinges on the pre-requisite that you have control over most of your time. As someone who works 11-8 and spends 1.5 hours travelling outside of it, time-blocking is useless to me. I tried it for a while and it was no use because I have maybe 5 hours a day in my control, I don't need to block a calendar to visualize it.

There were two experiments on overcommunicating because we tend to not communicate enough. Those sections felt like a management guide rather than a productivity guide. Useful if I manage a team of people and am directly affected by their work. Not useful if I want to be productive as an individual.

The suggestion of using the five whys questioning method to figure out where to put our energy did not make sense either (at least, to me).

You can focus on the small losses. Or you can celebrate the small wins.

Most of the experiments are on attitude instead of action. The author has a lot to say on how we can look at something differently or take a different route to do something.

For example, "The Batman Effect" where the suggestion is to pretend you're an alter ego when you need to get something hard done. "Embrace energizing distractions" which tells you to not avoid good kinds of distractions (it's up to us to figure out what those are). "Own the process", "own the mindset", and "embrace your curiosity" which are literally about mindset and attitude.

So many of the experiments are on changing you are to feel better and move towards productivity rather than what you can start doing immediately. This book is more of an attitude and life-outlook guide than a productivity guide. You will get a lot of suggestions on how you can have a better life which eventually will lead to feeling good and being productive.

Basically, the experiments can be a hit or miss. I felt like very few of the experiments were worth the buy.

By letting go of the idea that we know everything, or somehow should, we actually feel more powerful.

The author is a popular YouTuber because of his penchant for putting things in a concise easy-to-understand way. He doesn't use complicated words and prefers getting to the heart of the point. Some of that made it into the book and some didn't.

The book is easy to read and understand. Everything is explained well and it is structured well. The sections are short enough to read in 10 minutes. There are quotations and diagrams sprinkled all over the book so that you can find something easily on a flip-through.

Unfortunately, the author has used a common writing style in self-help books that I detest. It follows the format of—a problem statement, "you can fix it using a method that we can learn from this research/study/event", event explanation, and finally the method/suggestion.

Basically, the style/structure where one first gives an example (usually about a billionaire or someone highly unrelatable) and then comes to the point. Sometimes, the example is meant to convey the point and the point itself is not clearly mentioned.

I HATE this writing style. I'm not against examples—they can be very helpful—but they can also be overused and can give the illusion of valuable content.

The author has done a ton of research and it shows in the examples mentioned. We hear about so many scientific studies that prove multiple points. However, they're not useful to me as a reader. I prefer fewer examples and more actionable suggestions.

It would have been so easy to provide more ways that we could implement the experiments instead of adding studies on people meeting a tarantula. Also, we don't need to read about a study to understand that taking a walk helps!

A lot of the examples mention the top 1% of people or people who do extreme things. There are not enough examples from/about regular people with regular jobs. Hence, it's hard to visualize how we can try the experiment in our lives.

I've seen this writing done way too many times, most of the time badly. It's not as useful as writers think it is. Atomic Habits is a great example of a self-help book providing immediate actionable suggestions. Even The Art of Creative Thinking, which relies heavily on this style, was better because of its structure. Ali Abdaal had the chance to do something new and different here but followed the traditional route.

If you were to change one—just one—independent variable in your life, what would it be? And what effect do you think it would have on your situation?

Most of the book is theory. It will not energize or motivate you to be productive immediately. The book promotes a philosophy that will help you be more productive over time. You have to read, think about the suggestions, come up with ways to implement them, and then try them out.


For a book about feel-good productivity, it neither made me feel good nor did it get me off the sofa to be more productive. I honestly forgot about everything I read within a day because the book made such a small impression on me.

It was underwhelming. Filled with suggestions (many of which we already know) and too many examples, this book is a good enough read if you have zero expectations. It's a light read and a reminder of what we already know rather than being a life-changing book.

chat with me!

Have you read Feel Good Productivity or do you follow Ali Abdaal? Do you follow any productivity content creators?

Why does it feel like the self-help genre is filled with disappointments? There are hardly any books from the section that I genuinely like and have found help/inspiration/motivation from. Are there any gems that you have read?

photo of Sumedha

Sumedha spends her days reading books, bingeing Kdramas, drawing illustrations, and blogging while listening to Lo-Fi music. Read more ➔

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  • Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    I like that feel good concept and cycle. Too bad it didn't turn out feel good. This is reason I avoid self-help book as they often doesn't work or mostly are based on author's experience that definitely not include things for all kind of people. I also feel same about time blocking. Try have that with growing kid and it's out of window within a week.

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    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      i agree, most self-help are written by privileged people who have the time to write a book outside of their daily obligations which is a good indication that they have control over their time in a way most of us don’t. half of the advice don’t even work for someone like me—a single woman working in a corporate job. i’m not surprised that most won’t work for a parent.

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  • Lila @ Hardcover Haven says:

    I often find that self help as a genre is a bit of a wash because most self help authors aren't social scientists (i.e. psychologists, sociologists, and/or anthropologists) and so because of that, often the genre is very heavily bent towards the cultural and subcultural biases of the author, without the author even realizing it. For me, as a low income woman of color in the USA who's disabled and neurodivergent, I unfortunately rarely find advice from self help books and self help "gurus" that fit my life or needs and oftentimes it feels like the "guru" in question is belittling my realities by saying or implying that all that is necessary for change in my life is a change in my mindset (when that is factually not true for very concrete reasons). I find that because of this self help as a genre unfortunately tends to reinforce people's implicit biases towards the poor, the disabled, and people from different cultures. That said, I have found some YouTube video advice gems from people with backgrounds in social science who discuss both research and actionable steps on an individual and communal level, which I find very helpful. Anyhoo, I'm sorry this book didn't work out for you, but hopefully you'll find a different one that's at least a bit better!

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    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      i agree. a lot of advice are always towards a very specific class of people who are privileged enough to have the time to write a book. the advice often doesn’t work for the rest of us. do share the YouTube video gems sometime! i’d love to see some good advice.

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      • Lila @ Hardcover Haven says:

        One of my current favorites is a YouTube channel called Psychology with Dr. Ana. It's run by a young woman who has a PsyD in clinical psychology and she gives very down to earth explanations and tips for everything from relationships to productivity---highly recommend!! Plus she gets bonus points cause her second channel is actually a booktube channel, lol!

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