The Attack of the Online "Productivity" "Experts"

I first heard this from Oliver Burkeman in one of his courses. He said something like

The problem with most productivity advice is it seems to be written by people in their 20s with no family committment.

What did he mean? This phenomena I've seen a lot. According to the experts on YouTube, I should be:

  • Meditating for 30–60 minutes daily
  • Exercising 30–60 minutes daily
  • Working on my "side hustle" – another 30 minutes?
  • Catch up on my reading, preferably "smart" "productivity" books – yet another 30 minutes?
  • Have a morning "ritual"
  • Spend 2 hours daily cooking "organic food"

And so, I should give up eating and pooping. As the father of 2 kids including a toddler, I barely get 30 minutes to myself each day. I don't know where I would get 4–5 hours daily to live the ideal life. (I know what the answer I would get if I asked these experts– Cut down on sleep! Yeah, fuck you, but no).

Why are most of these online experts are so sure I won't see any benefits unless I meditate for 30 minutes every day? (I wrote a post on my other site on this myth that you have to meditate daily to see any benefits)

Why is this? I see a few reasons.

Everyone's an expert now

Thanks to the Internet, anyone who can start a blog or a YouTube channel is an expert now (and yes, this includes me! 😜)

And there's nothing wrong with sharing as you are learning– that's how I started this site, documenting as I was learning Python.


There is a difference between telling people how to read posts from Reddit, vs telling them how to live their lives and getting them to make changes that might affect their health.

And another disturbing phenomena is people who have been only been doing something for a small time mark themselves as "experts" and start giving advice.  Maggie and Michelle of the excellent podcast Duped (and I recommend you listen to all episodes) had an episode on fake experts:

And here's the big problem I see is that pseudo experts tend to be great at marketing. They're the ones showing up consistently online. Most marketing and business programs are designed for this group of people. Those programs play to their strengths of telling a great story, and not to the experts strengths. Once again, the fake experts are the top of mind experts, whereas real experts are hard to find.

They make the great point that real experts don't really do much online marketing (seeing as they are busy doing real work):

And part of the reason is the kind of people who sit there thinking about
how to market themselves aren't the kind of people who are developing
these exquisite expertise, is the kind of person who develops the expertise is
essentially kind of a local thing. It's a narrow, specialized thing. And they're not thinking about how to broadcast it, and how to make themselves famous and all of that.

And talking of marketing...

Social Media has changed how we view experts

Experts are now people who tell good entertaining stories.

By golly, I was sleeping rough and eating from the tash cans, until I found this 3 step formula. Now I am a multi-billinaire and even my butler drives a Lambo. And you can buy my formula for only $999.99!

The way monetisation works on YouTube, the videos that get the most clicks are the "Rah rah positive thinking I made a million dollars and you can too!" type hustle advice.

Other than that, good looking people will get more clicks. And I'm sure there's a Kate Upton lookalike who's also an expert in Vipassana meditation and saving for retirement, but I doubt it.

The harm that's being done by the "experts"

When I turned 40 I was called for a routine checkup by my clinic. The nurse asked me if I did any exercise and I said "Only walk a little. 30 minutes 4–5 times a week"

She put me down under "High/good levels of exercise" which surprised me. Because the online experts had told me I needed to be doing 45 minutes of callisthenics daily. I made this point to her. But the nurse just smiled and said "Most people don't even do this. We are trying to get people to just walk for 5–10 minutes a day but most even won't do that."

It's the same with meditation: Most people would greatly benefit to sit quietly for just 2–5 minutes a day– yes 2–5 minutes a day meditation is enough.

Again, because most people don't even do that. They have no awareness of their thoughts and confuse their thoughts with themselves.

The problem with the macho "You should exercise/meditate for 30 minutes daily" is that most people think "I will do it when I have 30 minutes free."

Which let's be honest, will be never. That's why the nurse was trying to get people to go for short 10 minute walks daily, as that would be the only exercise they would get.

It's better to do a little imperfectly than nothing. But by constantly shaming people, we end up in a situation where they end up doing nothing.

The solution??

I don't know if there is one. I am now more sceptical of online "experts" giving advice, especially if I cannot see what their background is; and in some cases, not even then as people have a propensity to exaggerate, and in some cases, make shit up.

I'm okay with learners sharing their journey, provided they have humility and are willing to accept their limitations.

Other than that? Be careful who you take advice from (and yes, that includes me!)