Why You Should Stop Being “Productive”

Disclaimer: I don’t like “productivity”. I think that people misunderstand what it means to be “productive” so much that chasing the holy grail of “productivity” ends up being destructive rather than beneficial. That’s because we, in our over-reliance on measurement and logic as human beings, have decided to deliberately change the meaning of what it means to be “productive”. What we know as “productivity” is actually faux-productivity. It’s fake productivity. It’s no good. It’s just about useless as a concept. And, yet, when we try and determine how “productive” we are, we almost always resort to using faux-productivity as a way to gauge how efficiently we get our work done. At this point, you’re probably wondering what in Zeus’s name I’m talking about. So I’ll give you a handy-dandy definition for faux-productivity as a way to soothe your souls. Faux-productivity is, essentially, how much work or how many things you get done in a certain amount of time. That is, you are more efficient if you get some amount of work done in a shorter amount of time. If you’d like a mathematical model of faux-productivity, it’s this – things done / time. That’s it. Faux-productivity is, basically, the rate at which you cross things off of your to-do list. Notice that, whenever anyone talks about “productivity”, what they really mean is faux-productivity. They’re just concerned with how fast they get their work done. And that, my friends, is bad news. Why? Because, of course, it values quantity over quality. You get a bigger Efficiency Ego (EE, for short) if you complete things really really really outrageously fast. Your EE doesn’t care how well you do them – it just cares how rapidly they get done. Your EE just looks at a poor job and says, “Hey, I got that and like 40,000 other things done in 2 minutes, so it doesn’t matter if I made a couple little mistakes,” even if those ‘little mistakes’ involve inputting things drastically wrong on your tax forms, which could result in problems with the authorities. No matter how poorly you do (unless you fail spectacularly), your EE will always look the other way if you do things poorly, as long as you are being very, very “productive”. The faster you are, the better. Needless to say, that kind of attitude is awful, unless you are doing very repetitive tasks that require zero – and I mean zero – thought or skill to do. In which case, yeah, your productivity is determined by how quickly you do things. But you’re no assembly-line worker! Most things you do require some skill and effort to do. And working fast all the time just makes you burnt out because you’re not taking the time to enjoy your work.

Real Productivity

Enter real productivity. The best way I can define it is this: it is doing things with complete focus on the task at hand until completion. The more focused on performing the task that you are during that time, the more “efficient” you are, since your efforts aren’t being broken up by distractions. However – you can’t rush while you’re focusing, as that destroys the quality of your work. By doing this, you will always complete tasks in the lowest amount of time that it takes to complete it with your best effort and quality. More to the point, you’ll also start enjoying your work more. If you’re always rushing, you’re treating the work in front of you as a means to an end when you can pat yourself on the back for getting things done in a super short period of time. If you focus, you’ll get your work done fast, do it well, and enjoy it! Let that sink in for a little. By doing things with complete focus until you’re done, you will always, always, always complete that task in the minimum amount of time needed to complete that task at 100% quality. As in, if you’re looking to do your best every time you do something – by maintaining a laser-like, constant focus, you’ll get things done in the shortest possible amount of time, and enjoy it, to boot! Doesn’t that sound like true productivity to you? Doesn’t that sound better than rushing all the time? By doing this, you will give yourself the time you need to complete the task – without rushing. You won’t care about any of the other things on your to-do list – only the one that you’re doing right NOW. By doing so, you’ll do your best – and do so in the fastest way possible. Worry about quality first, then worry about how many things you get done. It’s much better to make a single masterpiece than a thousand doodles. Both are attempts at art. Which one is better?

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