TIL How to Be Shamelessly Productive
Today I learnt the term ‘productivity shame’ (and we have a winner for the title of my imaginary biopic). It refers to the act of setting utterly unrealistic goals or schedules for yourself and then beating yourself up when you fail to meet them. This almost feels like a personal attack. Another disclosure: I’m addicted to ‘productivity porn’ — the hardcore kind (I’m talking Eisenhower, GTD, Pomodoro, and more). I get excited about hacks and tricks to get things done efficiently. There’s no harm in that intention, but some of the proposed solutions or systems are just too complicated and unsustainable. I‘ve come to realize that simple ideas work best (eg. the 2-minute rule; the good old to-do list, or simply making your bed). Much like how the beauty industry perpetuates and thrives on our insecurities, the self-help industry sets unrealistic expectations about “the ideal” and cashes in on our guilt for not meeting the same.
The idea of productivity dates back to before the 1800s, where it aimed to understand the production and consumption of agricultural output, to avoid any surplus. Following that, the many advances of the Industrial Revolution redefined productivity by working towards a common goal — To produce more in less time. This has been revolutionary, leading to economic advancement, technological innovation, and creation of jobs and wealth. Productivity is defined as, the efficiency of production of goods or services. It’s a simple definition, but things get complicated in today’s knowledge economy, where instead of goods and services, we are often creating intellectual capital. What does being productive even mean in this context?
Real productivity involves efforts that create new value, improve our skill, and are hard to replicate. Such efforts have been famously termed as ‘deep work’ by Cal Newport, and are a contrast to ‘shallow work’ that refers to non-cognitively demanding tasks that don’t create much new value and are easy to replicate. We need to figure out ways to handle (and get over with) shallow work, so that we can make more time for deep work.. To create something new. To innovate. To make an impact. To put a dent in the universe.
Here’s the problem.. We’ve been made to believe that being busy and doing more makes us productive. We take on too much, treating deep and shallow work alike (rookie mistake). Our psychological naivety, in the form of completion bias (“I must finish what I’ve started”) and planning fallacy (“This will be done in n minutes” > n minutes later > argh!), inevitably sets us up for failure. This triggers an endless loop of self-inflicted guilt. This is worse for the ones cursed with perfectionism and the need for constant validation, or those who deal with issues like chronic anxiety, ADHD, and such.
Being productive doesn’t mean doing many things aimlessly; it means doing a few right things, mindfully. The pursuit of productivity should be centered around a sense of fulfilment, and not guilt. We should stop glorifying a culture of busyness, and divert our energy to being inventive and creative instead.
Here are a few ways to put ‘productivity shame’ to shame—
- The first step is to be aware of the problem (which is not you!)— if you’ve reached this stage, you’ve already made great progress 👏
- Instead of getting many things done, focus on a few important and meaningful things (read: deep work) 📝
- Break big goals into smaller, manageable chunks, and feel good about getting them out of the way 🍕
- Just get started with whatever it is that you’ve been putting off (We expect motivation to lead to action, but it’s the other way around) 🏁
- Forgive yourself for not finishing everything that you had planned to do; cutting yourself some slack is an act of self-love 💜
I know it’s easier said than done, but I won’t elaborate on these points to give you any productivity-porny self-help advice — because you don’t need help. You do you! :)