12 Productivity Lessons from The Princess Bride

12 Productivity Lessons from The Princess Bride

Productivity advice can be found pretty much wherever you look. I was watching the Princess Bride a few days ago and realized how much of the movie can be applied to make my life more productive.

I work on a team of men that constantly quotes movies. Apparently it is catching, because there are a few that I toss in myself. But the Princess Bride is one that has so many quoteable lines that when I decided to write an article on finding productivity in odd places, it was the first one I thought of.

So let’s have fun storming the castle!


“Inconceivable!” –Vizzini The criminal mastermind keeps telling Inigo that someone following them would be inconceivable. It is also inconceivable that the man in black could climb the cliff.

Denial is one of the strongest forces in the world. “Inconceivable” is the battle cry of a person in denial.

True productivity requires that we get past any denial and take responsibility for where we are. Look at your outstanding commitments and tasks, and bring them back to a do-able level, or you will be constantly losing the battle.

The Same Wind

“I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using.” –Inigo Inigo has looked back and sees the “inconceivable” ship gaining on them.

Some people have spectacular success using the same tools that bring us only marginal gains. It’s not necessarily because we are doing something wrong; it is rather that the tool or
method is better suited to the other person’s circumstances.

Instead of accepting that this is inevitable, we can look at why someone has better results and see if it can be applied to our situation. For instance, a person who succeeds with Mark Forster’s Autofocus isn’t paralyzed by a task list that spans several pages.

You Keep Using That Word

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” –Inigo After many rounds of “inconceivable”, Inigo begins to doubt that Vizzini knows what his favorite word means.

Even in productivity, the same word can have different meanings, with different results. “Inbox zero” was coined as the amount of time to clear the inbox, not zero emails left (it’s a subtle difference…one applies to methodology, the other to a result)

Do You Want Me To Send You Back?

“Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Greenland?” –Vizzini Fezzik is climbing the rope on the Cliffs of Insanity. The man in black is gaining on him. Vezzig is frustrated, and threatens to send him back.

It can be tempting to give up when we fail to make progress as fast as we think we should. But no matter how small our gains are, we can make progress toward our goals.

I Do Not Accept Excuses

“I do not accept excuses. I’m just going to have to find myself a new giant.” –Vizzini Fezzik is carrying three people as he climbs the Cliffs of Insanity. He offers this as a reason why the man in balck is gaining. Vizzini makes it clear that this isn’t acceptable.

When we are in denial about the true causes of our lack of productivity, it’s easy to make excuses. But excuses don’t get things done. Learn to recognize your excuses – to yourself and others – and work through them.

So It Is Down To You

“So it is down to you, and it is down to me.” –Vizzini The man in black has climbed the cliffs, beaten Inigo at swordplay and Fezzik at hand-to-hand combat. Now he must face his third test: a contest of brains with Vizzini.

Productivity is always about getting things done. We can’t control how well other people do their assigned tasks, but we can control the amount of effort and the use of our skills.

No One Ever Has

“You’re just saying that because no one ever has.” –Westley Westley and Buttercup are attempting to evade capture by making for the Fire Swamp. No one has every survived the Fire Swamp.

Every major leap in history has been made in spite of the fact that no one ever had done that thing before. No one had sustained flight before the Wrights; no one had mechanical printing before Gutenberg. Just because someone hasn’t done it before doesn’t automatically mean that what you’re trying to do is impossible. It simple means it hasn’t be been done before.

I’m Swamped

“I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Gilder to frame for it. I’m simply swamped.” –Humperdink Humperdink is speaking to Count Rugen as he is about to enter the torture chamber, offering this as an excuse why he can’t watch Rugen torture Westley.

Ah, talking about everything you have to do. This is a favorite technique of many people to avoid doing the work. The thought is that if you tell people how much you have to do, you have an excuse for not getting everything done.

If You Haven’t Got Your Health…

“If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” –Count Rugen Rugen’s instruction to Humperdink on hearing his workload was for Humperdink to get enough rest.

This is the truth – rest and health is the foundation for extraordinary productivity. Make sure you get enough rest when you need it, regardless of how much you think you have to do.

Go Back To The Beginning

“When the job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning.” –Inigo Inigo, without Vizzini’s brains, doesn’t know how to proceed on his quest for revenge. So he follows Vizzini’s instructions to the letter, and ends up drunk in the Thieve’s Forest, which is where Vizzini found him the first time.

Things don’t always go right. In fact, they can go spectacularly wrong. What happens next depends on how you approach it. Vizzini’s advice is sound: go back to the beginning. Look at what happened, where it went wrong, and what can be done to move on.

Let Me Sum Up

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” –Inigo Inigo is trying to catch Westly up on all the things that have happened since he became mostly dead.

The art of being concise is one that few people seem to have. However, being concise makes it less likely that you will mis-communicate. Instead of a swirling cloud of words and meaning you direct at someone else, you can give them the arrows of straight talk. Summing up is also a great exercise to make sure you have gotten the points of someone else’s communication. If you can boil down what they said without missing the major points, you’ve got it. (I use this method to make sure I am grasping what I am reading).

He’s Had A Hard Day

“Don’t pester him. He’s had a hard day.” –Fezzik Inigo is impatient to get to Count Rugen to complete his revenge. He’s trying to spur Westley into action, after Westley has been revived by Miracle Max.

There are easy days, and there are hard days. When you’re having a hard day, take it easy on yourself. Pushing yourself harder isn’t going to get more things done or get things done faster.


The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. And what a surprise to find all the productivity gems hidden in it!

Photo by Rory Hennessey on Unsplash