Article written in frustration. Read with caution.
There is this one word that has been stalking me for a while. Seemingly innocent, became a staple in the corporate lingo, and created a lot of faithful followers. It was there, no matter if I opened my Facebook or LinkedIn feed, and it seems to have crept into all the daily micro-conversations.
“I haven’t been very productive today.” “My boss thinks I need to improve my productivity” “I went jogging in the morning, I feel so productive!”
And with every other mention of the ‘you-know-what’ word, I felt a giant, judgemental ‘hmpf!’ climbing under my mustache (not that I have one, but sometimes I wish I did so that words were able to climb there). Anyways, back to productivity - IT STINKS. And let me tell you why.
With the word ‘productivity’, there comes another ‘p’-word, that for me automatically climbs to the surface. Pressure.
We’re getting bombarded with articles about how to make more out of our day. How to sleep less and achieve more. How to combine sports, beatboxing, and become a freelance entrepreneur living in Bali and living their best life (whatever that means). How to be more productive. Even though the goal is noble (Bali - yes, please!), the execution might cause more harm than good.
For starters, focusing on being productive might make us forget about why we actually need to do so. No matter how productive we are, this is secondary to what we bring our productivity to. If you continue reading up articles about self-improvement and best usage of your time, you might end up succeeding with the 10 things you started. But actually reflecting over why these things are important to you, prioritizing which ones matter to you right now, and which ones are the ones that will bring you closer to your bigger goal, can help you avoid a lot of frustration. Especially to prevent you from falling into the trap of doing something just for the sake of doing instead of taking the time to reflect on the direction you want to undertake. There have been multiple periods in my life when I jumped into being productive without thinking about where my efforts are going. While I did feel accomplished for a while - I was achieving something - later I realized that I was nowhere to getting closer to being who I wanted to be.
Moreover, the current pressure on productivity makes an ever-greater impact on social comparisons. Humans are wired to compare themselves with others. We thrive when we see that we stack up well next to the people who we see as similar to ourselves; we suffer when we feel like we’re waiting at the foothills of the Social Mountain. Flashy articles about how others are achieving gold medals in productivity only fuel the lust to be continuously unsatisfied with where we are. And of course, there is a silver lining, when positive motivation kicks in, but frequently people get frustrated over failing at meeting sky-high expectations they set for themselves.
What also tickles my throat is the effect that productivity pressure has on enjoyment and free-time. Doing nothing starts carrying a sense of guilt, as this is the time when our productivity is low. I’ve had coaching clients who realized that it becomes more difficult to relax than to do stuff and be productive. Who needs relaxing though, you might think. Glad you asked! It seems obvious but taking time to recharge has a positive impact on your body and mind. As humans, we are not designed to go through life by running through it - longest-living societies actually have a more relaxed lifestyle with limited outside pressures.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m in no way saying that being efficient or doing a lot of things that make your eyes shine is wrong. The opposite. What I mean though, is that productivity on its own shouldn’t be the main focus, and the way it is currently presented leads it up to be so. And - once in a while - it’s good to just lie on the grass, look at the sky, and do nothing.