Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Productive

by Scott Jeffrey

Why do you want to be more productive?

This is a big question we often never ask. And how you answer it will determine how likely you are to make better use of your time.

If your answer is just to be able to “get more done,” you have a problem.

Let me explain…

What is Productivity, Really?

Productivity comes from the Middle English word produce, which means to cause to happen or bring forward into existence.

Initially, produce was a reference to crops. (That’s why we still call fruits and vegetables “produce” in supermarkets.)

But when we apply “production” to ourselves, things get out of balance. We begin to perceive ourselves as machines, and poorly operating ones at that.

And as poorly operating machines,  we (or our employers) seek to “increase our production value.” We want to squeeze higher output from our fertile minds.

The Unspoken Consequences of Productivity

To yield a bounty, we must cultivate crops. Humans are no different.

We’re not wired to work throughout our waking hours. Attempting to do so may increase our output in the short term, but after a while, our internal soil gets depleted of mental, emotional, spiritual,  and physical nutrients.

We begin to feel flat, listless. Life becomes increasingly meaningless. And our “yield” suffers.

Some people become aware of this listlessness. Most of us repress it. And this repression influences our behavior. This denial leads us to seek entertainment, stimulation, distraction, or more work.

We will do anything to avoid feeling our level of energetic and emotional depletion.

A Cultural Obsession With Productivity

In Abraham Maslow’s study of self-actualizing individuals, he didn’t comment on their level of productivity. He observed their naturalness, their curiosity, and their drive to grow into their unique potential.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking greater productivity. We all subconsciously pick up many poor habits that stand in our way of getting things done.

There are hundreds of blogs providing advice on how to increase productivity. And many smartphone apps claiming to help us overcome our time deficiencies.

But productivity can and often does become another obsession for its practitioners. As a high-performance business coach, I’ve fallen into this trap many times before.

How to Approach Meaningful Productivity

So if we’re going to seek higher productivity, it’s best to proceed from a more expansive perspective—one that honors our humanity, our total being.

To do this, we need clarity:

Then, we combine this clarity with self-acceptance.

We acknowledge who we are right now—including our lazy part that has no interest in being more productive. And we accept this part of us unconditionally. (If we skip this step, we make all of our efforts to do and become more a violent attack upon ourselves.)

Only then can we find a sense of balance, a naturalness that allows us to make the most of our work time so we can live more. And what “living more” means to each of us will, of course, vary.

Again, Why Do You Want To Be More Productive?

So let’s ask this questions once again.

As the former editor-in-chief of Life Hacker Alan Henry wrote,

“Remember, the goal of being productive is to leave time for yourself and the things you want to do, not just giving you ways to free up time to take on more work. That may be the side-effect, especially at the office, but being able to draw a strong line between projects, between tasks, and between your work and your life will give you the freedom to enjoy more of your personal time when you don’t have to do anything at all.”

When your drive to be productive is based on a desire to experience more life (as opposed to more work), you have a mindset that enables you to create work that will surprise you.

So, learn how to make the most of your time when you work. But then leave that alone and live your life.

Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s productivity most of us are seeking; it’s the expression of higher creativity.

Now, create work that lights you up. And enjoy your week!

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