Rethinking Productivity with AI and ChatGPT

Well-organised suits hanging in a closet

Photo by Tara Winstead

Last week I co-authored my first blog post with ChatGPT.

It was mind-blowing.

ChatGPT created an outline of the post from only a short description. It suggested articles to reference and told me where to place them. It also generated a variety of attention-grabbing titles.

When I asked ChatGPT to critique my writing, it highlighted grammar mistakes, wordiness, and gave me stylistic tweaks. Almost every suggestion improved the piece.

With the additional help, I published my blog in record time.

This experiment was not merely laziness. Instead, it was motivated by my realisation that tools like ChatGPT are going to change the world. I want to understand how to use them sooner rather than later.

If you’ve heard of ChatGPT but never used it, this article is for you. My goal is to motivate you to try it today. Tools like this are going to change everything, and the sooner you get onboard, the better.

Why Should You Care About ChatGPT?

In time, machines will automate most non-creative work. ChatGPT is a small step in that direction.

Even today, you can save hours of work a week. Few productivity techniques offer such a payback (except email batching).

Over time, AI tools are going to get more powerful. Soon they’ll become a second brain we can’t live without. We will spend our working hours on the difficult things only humans can do, diverting the rest to special-purpose chatbots.

Earlier this year, ChatGPT attracted more than 100 million users. An impressive figure, yet less than 10% of the developed world’s population. We have a tool that will rewrite the rules of productivity and most people are not taking advantage.

The timing is perfect for you to be exploring this deeply. It takes a while to learn how to ask the right questions, known as “prompts”. Small tweaks can improve the output considerably, and this is best learned through practice.

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.

3 Examples You Can Try Today

Before we begin, some notes of caution.

The data you send to ChatGPT is not private. Don’t share any sensitive data, like internal reports or private emails. You don’t want to leak secrets like these unfortunate workers at Samsung.

Also, note that ChatGPT has an outdated worldview. It won’t know about recent events and may share links to websites that no longer exist.

Finally, be aware that it sometimes gives the wrong answer. In fact, it may make things up completely. As a result, use it for tasks where you know what the right answer looks like.

OK, sermon over. Let’s get started.

1. Summarising Long Documents

ChatGPT is fantastic at condensing text. This general skill can be applied to tasks like:

Here is an example prompt you could use:

Create a summary of the following text, using no more than 100 words. Additionally, create a list of no more than five bullets that describe the key ideas raised in the text.


Notice how the prompt is quite specific. There is a word count constraint and a formatting hint.

To learn more about how to write prompts, look online (or ask ChatGPT itself). This article is a good summary of several different approaches to prompt writing.

2. Creating Excel Functions

I recently added a commenting feature to this website. I’m an experienced programmer, so I could have written this from scratch. But instead, I asked ChatGPT to do it for me.

The resulting code wasn’t perfect. Yet I saved several hours by having ChatGPT create a strawman I could improve.

Similarly, ChatGPT can save you time by writing Excel functions for you. Just describe your problem in words.

As an example, I gave this prompt recently to ChatGPT:

In my Excel worksheet, I have a cell containing my salary. Create a formula that calculates my net pay, based on UK tax rules.

ChatGPT responded with some general tax advice and a formula I could copy to my Excel worksheet. Neat!

3. Improving Your Writing

As mentioned at the start of the article, ChatGPT shines when it comes to critiquing writing. This example suggests potential grammar improvements:

List every example of passive voice in the following text and suggest a rewording to use the active voice: “[your text]”

In this example, we ask ChatGPT to act like a famous author and provide specific feedback:

The author [your favourite author] reviewed the following text:

“[Your text]”

They gave the following advice, specific to this text, with examples, in bullet point form, for improving the text:

Here is a more advanced prompt. It uses background context (taken from this article on business writing) to tell ChatGPT precisely what improvements to suggest:

Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting).

In the text below, find every example where the action is before the object in the sentence. For each example, show a snippet of the text, and suggest how to rephrase the sentence so that the object is before the action.

If you cannot find any examples, say “not found”.

“[Your text]”

Step Into the Future of Work

Tools like ChatGPT are going to change what productivity means. Today they can save you hours of work on repetitive and routine tasks. Who knows what they will achieve in the next five years?

By embracing these new tools, you can focus on the uniquely human things you do. Deeply creative work. Leaps of intuition. Out-of-the-box thinking that no AI will ever match.

Start experimenting with ChatGPT today. It will take a while to get your head around prompt writing. But it’s like that skill will pay off handsomely for years to come.

Let me know in the comments if you discover something amazing.