Why Quitting Things Helps You Achieve More

Modern life has us enmeshed in a web of unwanted and unnecessary commitments. Most of us spend the majority of our time doing things we don’t want to do. We join committees because we think they’ll look good on our resumes, go to birthday parties out of obligation, attend inane meetings, stay in bad relationships out of fear, take on unwanted work projects to gain favor with our bosses, stay in jobs we don’t like instead of quitting.

Unwanted commitments seem to beget more unwanted commitments
. They’re like lies: they multiply fast. If you take on an unwanted project to please your boss, then the next time a similar project comes by she’ll throw it in your lap. If you unhappily go to an acquaintances birthday party out of sense of obligation, they’re likely to invite you over for dinner, or call you more often. You get my drift.

What Does this Have to do with Productivity?

Well, it’s common knowledge that productivity naturally emerges from passion: when we love what we’re doing, productivity becomes irrelevant. The corollary is that being unproductive results from doing things you’d rather not do.

And while it’s a stretch to say that demand for productivity material is driven purely by job dissatisfaction and passionless living, I’m quite certain that the booming productivity industry would be far less lucrative without an overworked, overwhelmed, and continually stressed workforce. It’s not the fault of productivity experts, they’re just responding to market demand and they’ve done excellent jobs. It’s just that elaborate productivity systems have all too often become crutches for passionate living. These systems are largely geared towards helping people do things they’d rather not be doing. There are people living passionately who still need productivity systems, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

The problem isn’t that people don’t have passions. Half of the bored-out-their-mind workforce knows what they’d do if they weren’t so damn busy, and the other half would find their calling if they only had enough time to come up for air and breathe. The problem isn’t lack of passion, it’s lack of energy. It’s lack of time. Perhaps a better time management system, or any number of hacks, would help. But these things are often temporary fixes for an un-ideal situation.

Passion and Productivity

Like many others, I’ve been quick to point out that the direct route to productivity is being passionate about what you do. This observation, however, is largely an academic point that doesn’t do much to help the problem. Very few people hear that passion will make them productive and then-out of a dedication to productivity-immediately proceed to follow their dreams and become more productive. So, instead of talking about how passion will make you more productive, I’d like to re-frame the conversation by saying this…

Unwanted Tasks are the #1 Cause of your Productivity Problems

If you only did things you wanted to do, you’d probably be the most productive person in the world.

Q: What’s the solution?
A: Stop doing things you don’t want to do.

Of course it’s not that simple, and I’ll be spending the rest of this blog post trying to make sure that this solution isn’t an oversimplification.


OK, we all know that there are some things we have to do to avoid imprisonment and being horrible human beings. We have to pay taxes, we have to take care of our children (hopefully this is a joy), etc. The problem is that most people are very bad at differentiating between these very real non-negotiables and fictional non-negotiables.

What I’m saying is that if you want ultimate productivity you might want to think about aggressively removing everything you don’t want to do from your life. Declutter your headspace.

Some Lists of Things you Don’t Have to Do

You simply don’t have to…

  • Return all phone calls
  • Respond to all email (I have 258 unread messages in my inbox right now)
  • Stay on that committee you joined to pad your resume
  • Take opportunities that “you’d be stupid to pass up”
  • Stay in college
  • Stay in grad school

It’s not necessary to…

  • Hang out with friends you only kind-of sort-of like
  • Stick with everything you start
  • Live up to others’ expectations of you
  • Have a respectable career, own a home, and be married by the time you’re 35, 45, or 55

In order to make time for renewal, you might have to…

  • Not buy great/cool/expensive birthday and Christmas gifts for everyone
  • Make your husband file his own papers
  • Let those who have become unhealthily dependent upon you take responsibility for their own lives

In order to jump-start passionate living again you might have to…

  • Stop being an (unnecessarily) “responsible” person
  • Quit projects that are no longer relevant
  • Be happy with a less than permanently clean home

In order to come alive, you might have to…

  • Pursue an occupation that doesn’t put your insanely expensive degree to use
  • Move back in with your parents
  • Work a low-status, low-paying job in order to make time for your new endeavor
  • Come to terms with your messy home
  • Completely and utterly ignore your parent’s and friend’s expectations of you

If you really want to live passionately, you’ll need to consider leaving nearly everything you’re not passionate about. To live passionately you may have to quit your job, sell your home, rent a small apartment, and live simply for a while.

To get off the treadmill you’ll have to realize that your high IQ does not obligate you to work 80-hour weeks in high-status professional career. Your high IQ also doesn’t obligate you to get a Ph.D., or to put on any other golden handcuffs.

In order to de-clutter all the crap in your life, you might have to quit a lot of things. You might have to say no hundreds of times. You might have to back out of several commitments. And you’ll very definitely run an incredibly high risk of looking like a flake, coming across as arrogant and ungrateful, and disappointing people who love you. But it will be the best thing you can do to truly live a passionate life.

[Ed. Note. To be honest, Clay doesn’t have many talents (it’s a miracle he even gets out of bed in the morning). BUT he’s the recognized #1 expert on getting your market to tell you the EXACT book, online course, or coaching program they’re desperate to buy from you… and THEN getting them to “pre-buy” it from you *before* you create it (making you profitable LONG before you’ve spent one cent producing it). Find out how Clay can help you live a passionate life without working so much.]