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What’s the point of productivity?

opinion  Paul Jarvis · Mar 3, 2018

This post was originally published on my now-defunct personal site. It’s been republished here on Fathom as the ideas found within it have informed and inspired our approach to business, privacy and philosophy.

We read about productivity tricks so we have more time to read about productivity tricks. We optimize our morning routines so we can have 30 minutes longer each morning to work more. It seems like we collectively want more time simply because we want to cram more into the time we’ve got.

What’s the point of productivity?

Some days, after I’ve automated and optimized everything I can, I’m left bored. (Boredom is a crappy first-place prize.)

If there’s no reason to cram more into each day, then productivity, as a goal in and of itself, is worthless. In my early 20s, I wanted to make a million dollars a year, so productivity simply meant getting work done faster so I could do more work. This pursuit only lasted a few months because I realized I didn’t need more money than I was already making, so why kill myself with 16-hour days? I was much happier working 6 hour days and being less productive.

If you’re an office worker, the more productive you are, the more your boss will expect from you. And it won’t stop there either, because if you’re able to slash hours off your work and become some percentage more efficient with your time, those increases will be expected to compound (that’s how corporations work — good results will require even better results next quarter).

If you succeed at maximum productivity, where will your own time and energy go?

Unless all this productivity is making us all exponentially happier or more fulfilled, it just feels like we’re working our asses off to work our asses off more. Without some bigger purpose or grander goal, like getting work done faster to spend more time not working, it feels like a hamster wheel of working more to work more to spend more so we need to work more.

Some days I want to be less productive. I want to take four hours to write one article, instead of 20 minutes. Or I want to have 3 days to solve a programming problem that should maybe only take an hour. Or have a day where I lay on the couch, or go hiking, or make kombucha instead of working. Because if I’m just being productive for productivity’s sake, I’m left with more time than I even need to fill my day with. Unless I have a better, more fulfilling use for that time, it’s an empty goal (which, to be honest, would probably be filled with watching cute rat videos on YouTube).

So unless I have a reason to squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of my day, I don’t care about being more productive. I don’t need 15 tips that will break my schedule into 15-minute increments for the next 4 hours. Some days I’d rather just enjoy my work slowly than get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A lot of the time, I’m happier when I’m less productive.

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Paul Jarvis

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