The traps of productivity

While preparing for this blogpost I found many titles like "Do more in less time", "How to work better, longer, faster", psychological tricks and methods to improve or boost productivity. Productivity seems to be a new "God" we don't want to upset but seeing something like "There's no such thing as "productivity during a pandemic" and "Stop trying to be productive" can really bring a much-needed relief. 

Productivity is not inherently bad

Just like almost everything in life, productivity is not all bad or 100% good. Let's say it has its advantages and flaws. Striving for productivity plays an important role in our society today. It is a tool that helps measure efficiency of a person (in this post we are talking about human productivity): output (the result) divided by input (time and energy we put into completing a certain task). 

Definition of productivity in goods manufacturing for instance is all clear and simple, however the problems arise when we are trying to measure our own productivity: what is considered to be "the result"? how much time do I need to spend on each task in order for me to be productive? if I take more time completing what I am doing than someone else, am I still productive? And so on. Of course, at work we might have already established productivity levels (or someone did it for us), so we know what is productive and what isn't. But with our personal lives it's a little bit more complicated. 

What is problematic about productivity

So, what do I find problematic about productivity? Well, there are a few basic things:

I come up with numbers, and I am my own "jury" and "judge".

Everyone's perception of being productive is different, and sometimes we may end up setting unrealistic goals, therefore the judgement following afterwards will be incorrect. Of course, there is always a room for modifying these goals and changing numbers, but many of us are trapped in the wrong expectation of how our "ideal" day should be like.

My self-worth depends on my productivity levels.

Again, it doesn't have to be this way, but it often is. In fact, it seems to me it is something the overall concept of productivity stands on. The production fails if the amount of manufactured goods happens to be less than it was planned. I “fail” if I didn't do what I planned for today. And I may "fail" every day if I am not that good of a "manager" of my own life (see the previous paragraph). 

I may lose my core values in numbers.

In order to set the "right" goals for ourselves we should know ourselves very well. And oftentimes it is something that people struggle with. Problems may arise when quantity becomes more important than quality. A good example is to-do lists. Those lists very often contain many things to be done in a day, in fact the more - the better. But does your to-do list fully reflect your values? Are you striving to do more or it's important for you to focus on 2-3 things that bring value in your life? 

Of course, there are things that just have to be done, they are called "must-do's", but a lot of times our goals reflect someone's else values, meaning we set them based on comparisons and envy instead of what is important to us. I am sure I am not the only one who often doesn’t know what is important for me and what I want in life, which makes it hard to set goals.

Constant strive for productivity leads me to restlessness and inability to relax. 

It most likely to happen when we are obsessed with numbers and things that don't necessarily matter to us. When we fail at achieving a certain goal for the day it impacts our self-esteem. If our self-worth is endangered, we experience fear and anxiety.

That’s what I read in one article: "For me, making lists and “always being productive” worked until it didn’t. While from the outside, I seemed like an overachiever, inside I was perpetually anxious and unable to be present. Initially, this was frustrating and confusing, and I couldn’t see a way out."

Sounds familiar? I think it does to many of us. When your to-do list becomes something that controls you, instead of helping you navigate through life, it's time to get rid of it.

Inability to be productive may lead me to questioning my existence. 

While on quarantine (due to COVID-19 pandemic) it's becoming clear that it is often hard to just do nothing. It's showing where we fall short when it comes down to being productive outside our office. I am not saying it is hard for everyone, as many people these days have business online and learnt to self-organize, but many of us are still learning. 

Not being able to check those marks can perpetuate questions like: "What's the point?", "What else is there?", etc. And even though it might sound overly dramatic, many people don't know how to live life and work without their normal schedule and other people supervising them.

What is good about being productive 

Like I said, main problems with productivity may arise when our standards are very high or our goals and daily tasks do not reflect our values, which makes them way too hard to accomplish.

However, in our today's society people tend to thrive when they get stuff done. Having purpose is extremely important for human beings. Being productive means that I have accomplished something that brought me at least 1 step closer to my goal, that reflects my life purpose. It doesn't need to be a list of things, if I keep doing what is important for me. Lists can help with being more organized and focused though, so they are only a tool, not something that should stress us out. 

Sometimes lists and tasks we try to accomplish do not carry any deep meaning but merely distraction, and it's ok as well. You can always see things you have accomplished as important steps towards learning or simply staying active for your mental and physical health. In times of quarantine for instance not everything we do may have a purpose and learning to be ok with it is an accomplishment itself.

Staying productive distracts us from self-loathing and helps us see that we can still work on something, despite the crisis. If it is a self-care act, it's still getting things done, things that are important for our well-being, aka our biggest "project". It is interesting how we can take care of some things (for instance wash our cars) and call it being productive, but call taking a bath a waste of time. Aren't you more important than your car?

No judgement

Like I said in the beginning of this post, we are the ones who set standards for our productivity. We pick and choose what we call productive, whether the measure of our productivity is quantity or quality. It means, that there is no place for judgement, even if you don't get things done on a certain day. But there is always a room for improvement.

The main goal is to see productivity as a tool to help us achieve our goals, it should not (ideally) create stress. It should not define our self-worth either, because we only must use it to help ourselves, not to judge ourselves.

At the end of the day, most likely you already do whatever it takes to stay alive and be happy. Making lists and setting goals help you structure your thoughts better, motivate you to learn more and to grow, which ultimately can lead you to feeling more content and fulfilled.

For those who need motivation for this uneasy times I wrote a blogpost "My 6 tips for being productive during quarantine".