Productivity is increasingly becoming an end in itself due to the world of work and the self-help industry. This development is negative and damaging to morale and quality of work. Most viral routines are actually unproductive.
Of course, efficiency and discipline are necessary to do a good job. However, productivity should not be the goal of all your efforts. Also, only one productivity trick really works.
In this article, I will present three principles that the productivity industry is hiding and then write about three better goals.
The Three Principles the Productivity Industry Wants to Keep Hidden
You Don't Need the Techniques of Business People to Be Productive
If you search YouTube for the keyword productivity, you will find hundreds of videos. Most of the techniques presented in the videos go by catchy acronyms as their names and promise to increase efficiency if you apply them.
I have nothing against mental models that can be application-oriented and helpful, such as the Pareto Principle. But I do object to overcomplicating fundamentals.
Self-help books and productivity videos have an appeal to some people (myself included). You feel like you're being more productive by consuming this content – but that perception is deceptive. In truth, you're wasting your time.
In my opinion, it's perfectly enough to learn the basics about efficiency and productivity and leave it at that. The rest is just a kind of remix of that basic research.
If I could only recommend three books on productivity to you, they would be “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport.
Procrastination Is Not as Diabolical as It Is Made Out to Be
If all productivity books have one thing in common, it's the demonization of procrastination. As you can imagine, there is a large grain of truth in these statements. However, “wasted” time is important too!
First, there is the question of how to define wasted time in the first place. For me, I've been under the impression that the time I'm not working or doing something “productive” is wasted. As a result, I felt guilty watching YouTube videos or movies.
However, this time is not wasted because you are giving your subconscious mind a chance to think about a problem and work on a solution.
Breaks and distractions make you creative!
I argue that complex systems for increasing productivity are not useful. A Notion home page with 300 subpages, a coordinated color scheme, and thirteen fonts may seem aesthetically pleasing and productive on YouTube. But it's actually completely unnecessary.
Aesthetics do matter if you want to feel comfortable in your work environment, but ease of use and resource-saving are just as much a factor. In most cases, it is not worth the many hours you would have to invest in creating and maintaining such a system.
Make it easy on yourself and allow yourself to establish a streamlined system for yourself. There is no such thing as a system that fits everyone that you could learn from a YouTube video anyway.
Gather inspiration and bits and pieces from sources and assemble them into a customized system just for you.
Three Better Goals than Productivity
A life where you are present and in the here and now is more desirable, in my opinion, than a life that is planned out and fixated on the future. Pay attention to where you direct your attention.
Enjoy the moment instead of worrying about whether what you're doing right now is productive or how best to plan for next week.
I'm not immune to this pitfall myself and often catch myself worrying about the future. Then I try to bring myself back to the present and focus on my breath.
As you can tell, this is also a balancing act: If you don't think enough about how you spend your time, you won't get any work done. But if you think too much, you will disappear into the black hole of productivity.
What is the point of having spent your life meeting every deadline, reaching every goal, and completing every project if you still die dissatisfied? You'll still have the feeling of needing to keep working.
This question may seem a bit strange because in our society we don't talk about (our own) death. However, the realization that life has an end puts many things in perspective. Memento mori.
In the end, productivity doesn't count, or at least not as much as you might think. Contentment, happiness and a sense of meaning are much more important to most people, myself included.
Of course, efficiency is also part of life and deserves its place. But you have to be careful that it doesn't take up too much space. Bronnie Ware wrote a very popular book on this subject called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”
A Fulfilled Life
Ultimately, the goal of every person is to live a fulfilled, happy and meaningful life. This goal cannot be broken down into numbers, measurements or techniques like productivity, and is therefore more difficult to achieve.
And it certainly can't be bought with money or fame.
But it is worth it. I firmly believe that there's more to life than efficiency. And I think you believe it, too.
Productivity is part of life, but only up to a point. Beyond that, it's a waste of time and makes you forget aspects like relationships with the people you love.
How many times have you neglected someone important to you because you were stressed out and had work to do?
Be productive – but don't lose sight of why you are on this earth. Live a full life without questioning every “unproductive” second.