Personal Growth

Our Obsession with Productivity

By July 31, 2013 2 Comments
Reading time: 4 minutes

On days I’m not productive I feel guilty, like my time on Earth is being wasted. Do you ever get that feeling where you should be doing something productive every second? Or whatever you are doing is a waste of time if it’s not making progress on anything important or urgent?

Craving for Novelty

Sometimes we are great at getting things done. Other times we are burnt out and lazy. I think a lot of it has to do with novelty. If something is new and exciting for us, this can cause periods of extreme productivity. But once it gets routine, it loses that appeal and then our minds secretly crave something else in the background; looking for a distraction or a way out. Perhaps being lazy and uninspired are symptoms of our craving for novelty. It’s our body’s way of telling us that we need to change or adapt.

Our Attachment to Productivity

Why am I so obsessed with being productive? You know, when I think about it, most of the negative emotion that I felt this week was a result of feeling unproductive. My sense of self has a strong attachment to being productive and efficient. If I’m not, I get annoyed, angry, stressed. Then I feel uninspired, sad, guilty which can lead to depression.

I feel bad when:

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  • I’m trying to focus and I get interrupted
  • I’m trying to finish a task and I have to stop before I’m done, leaving something incomplete even just for a moment
  • Something prohibits me from taking the most efficient route (driving especially)
  • I feel that my actions must be producing revenue in some way
  • I lose my work due to a power outage or computer crash
  • Other people around me seem to be more productive than me
  • I have several incomplete tasks going simultaneously
  • I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be working on
  • I don’t know what my purpose is
  • I am no longer inspired by what I used to be
  • I know the task in front of me is not moving the needle on anything important
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The list could go on. But those are things that make me feel bad about productivity.

I feel good when:

  • Checking something off a list
  • Inbox Zero
  • Happy customers/fans as a result of my work
  • An influx of cash as a result of my work
  • A boost in traffic as a result of work
  • When I delegate a task and it gets done better than I expected

Productivity Porn

We are so obsessed with this concept of productivity. It’s like our self worth is being judged by how much shit we can get done in a day. Have you ever heard of productivity porn? That’s because it’s alluring to try out the next new app that’s going to change the way you work for the better. A slick new interface or approach to the same problems you haven’t ever figured out a permanent solution for. You have maximalist apps that you run your entire life out of and you have minimalist apps that try not to get in your way.

You have a cult following behind Getting Things Done. You have people mad at you for not cranking out that extra widget before your shift is up.  You try to trick yourself into being more productive by setting timers and creating “not to do” lists.  

Does it Even Matter?

When I don’t answer that new email that pops in right after I hit inbox zero, the world is not going to end!  We have a desire to be ultimately productive and yet we wonder why we’re not happy all the time. If we keep basing our self worth on how productive we are that day then we’re surely going to be riding a roller coaster of emotion.

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Why can’t we just be happy with all levels of productivity? How do we find joy in those days when we just don’t feel like doing anything?  Recently I hurt my back at breakdance class and I had to miss a day of work. Physically I could barely move. But mentally I was still alert and I felt the need to be productive while I was at home. But all I could do was lay there. It felt good to just lay there, but then I felt bad about it!

The very definition of productivity is about how much you can get done. Bonus points for getting it done in a short amount of time. This is a human problem that most mammals are not wasting their life feeling guilty about.

Worrying about being productive is focusing too much on the future. Feeling guilty about lack of productivity is focusing too much on the past. Just do the work and be present. Find enjoyment in the actual work, not the results. Stop judging yourself. You are as productive as you are and that’s just fine. Do not attach your emotions to your results because you’ll be riding the roller coaster up and down. The point is to focus on the process itself. The doing. Find joy there and the productivity will take care of itself.

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Aimee
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Love this post – found it when I realized that I was freaking out on my days off if I didn’t check at least one thing off my list. Not a work thing, but a personal thing on my to-do list at home! It really all hit me when my husband and I were in Paris a few weeks ago and we realized our favorite days were when we did practically nothing – afternoon naps in the Airbnb room we were staying in, general lollygagging. Yet every morning I wake up and look at my little notebook as my lists… Read more »

Jeff Finley
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Thanks Aimee, glad you can relate! I still suffer from productivity guilt but thankfully not as much. Good luck on your journey!