JK Rowling and the Practice of Slow Productivity

Going From Near-Poverty to an Estimated $1.1 Billion in Net Worth

Hi friend!

This week I want to talk about how JK Rowling (author of the Harry Potter children’s book series) practiced Slow Productivity, and went from a new single mother living on welfare to an estimated $1.1 billion in net worth.

Today at a glance

  • The story of JK Rowling from near-poverty to an estimated $1.1billion in net worth

  • Why it feels hard to practice Slow Productivity

  • Breaking down how I think JK Rowling practiced Slow Productivity when creating the Harry Potter book series.

JK Rowling was no over night success. Instead I think she really embodies the idea and practice of Slow Productivity.

Here’s her story in a quick nut shell:

JK Rowling started thinking about Harry Potter and his adventures in the wizarding world in 1990 on a train back to London after hunting for a flat.

The 4 hour train ride gave her the time & space to cook up ideas for the book.

However Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone would not be completed until 1995. Five years of slowly ideating, planning and writing. Building the deep, intricate and magnificent wizarding world.

A world that captured the imagination of fans like myself who loved the books growing up.

It was in fact this very book series that got me hooked on reading as a kid.

So I owe a lot to JK Rowling.

It took JK Rowling another 2 years before she found a publisher who was willing to take a bet on a no-body to publish her book. Some sources say she was rejected 12 times before she found Bloomsbury publishers!

In 1997, the first Harry Potter book was finally released in UK and USA and became a massive hit.

The 7th and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released 17 years later.

The Wizarding World has also been brought to life through theme parks, book-to-movie adaptations, spin-off movies, live theatre, board games, video games, toys… the list goes on.

If you can’t already tell… I’m a bit of a Harry Potter fan!

Why is this story important?

It’s a reminder that life, impact and success is a long road. We often fall into the trap of wanting to achieve our goals and our version of success quickly.

Cal Newport defines Slow Productivity as doing fewer but important things, to a high quality and at a natural human pace.

Practicing slow productivity helps you stay the course when things are tough (or get tough, because it will), because we have intentionally decided that this is important to us.

It reminds us that this will take time, focus and deliberate decisions about how we spend our time.

So why not aim to work at a natural pace without burnout and procrastination. And enjoy the journey.

It’s feels hard to practice Slow Productivity

Unfortunately, there is so much ot there that prevent us from practicing Slow Productivity. Here are a few reaons why it can be hard:

  1. Social media portrays success all around us. We’re constantly seeing the highlight reels of friends, acquaintances and strangers. And we consciously or subconsciously compare ourselves to that, and feel we’re “not there yet”. So we work more and more.

  2. The chase of instant gratification. It’s human nature to want quick results. And the media makes it look like there is a way of getting quick results. So we pursue that instead of what might be hard and lead to the real results and success that means more to us.

  3. Goal before journey. We can get caught up in “reaching success” and our goals. Forgetting that we spend 1% of our time at the “goal” and 99% of our time on the journey. So why not spend time making sure the journey and goal is truly important to us.

You’re not alone in feeling this way.

I have experienced this at various points in my life (and still do). That’s why I think Slow Productivity is an intentional and mindful practice. You will slip and fall out of practice at times.

But you’ll be able to pick yourself up again by getting back into practice.

Lets break down how I think JK Rowling put Slow Productivity into practice

1. Do Fewer Things

JK Rowling focused all her spare time and energy into 1 massive project. Her life’s work.

She had decided that it was one of her most important projects and she chipped away at it consistently until it was done.

Her persistence and focus paid off handsomely.

2. Do things at a natural pace

The idea of Harry Potter came to her on a train ride. She spent 4 hours just ideating and constructing this magical world in her head (she didn’t have pen and paper on the train!)

She then spent the next 17 years writing 7 books.

Her first book actually took 5 years. During this time she experienced the death of her mother, relocated countries, married, divorced, became a single mother and lived in near-poverty.

She focused on working on her books at a pace that fit her current life situation and didn’t give up.

The subsequent 6 books took around 1 to 3 years each to write.

3. Obsess over quality (without procrastination)

I’m no literary expert or critic to know if JK Rowling is a literary genius or whether Harry Potter is a literary masterpiece.

But what I’ll says is that the quality of her writing, her world & character creation and her story telling was top-notch (from an every-day reader’s perspective).

She spent a huge amount of time building her intricate wizarding world up from scratch. This transported readers into her wizarding world. Readers became totally absorbed with the characters, stories and universe.

She made me enjoy reading and helped me create a reading habit to lives on to this day.

That’s the long lasting impact she has had made on me (and probably many millions of kids around the world).

JK Rowling has undoubtedly created a legacy and children’s classic. She has created a piece of work that she will be forever known for. One that will likely live on for many generations to come.

When you practice Slow Productivity, you might just create you own life’s work.

It may not be the next Harry Potter, Amazon or Tesla.

Find your version of what you think is important to you, then do it to a high quality, but at a feel-good pace that won’t burn you out.

🛠️ Building in Public

This month, I joined 50+ creators for Kevon Cheung’s Build In Public Sprint!

I’ve been having so much fun answering Notion questions on X/Twitter.

Based on the questions I’ve been answering, I’m planning to create a free handbook containing the Top 10 Tips and Mindset Shifts to help Notion beginners get started on Notion journey.

If you’re interested, join the waitlist below.

You’ll be the first to hear when it drops in December.

Thank you to all the X’ers who gave me so much helpful feedback on what I should create!

Drop me a message on X or hit reply to this email if you have a Notion question you want answered.

I would love to hear from you!

That’s it!

Thanks for reading.

Hit reply and let me know if you resonate with Slow Productivity as a mindfulness practice for getting things done without burnout — I’d love to hear from you!

See you next week,


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