Why Trying to be Productive is a Huge Waste of Time

Most of the time, trying to be productive is pointless. In fact, it’s a big, fat waste of time. It’s kind of lame when time management (productivity techniques & hacks) ends up killing your time, huh? Here’s why this happens…

For a long time I’ve thought about why people are so crazy about productivity. I’ve wondered why I am so concerned with accomplishing and completing. I mean, when you get to the point of looking for more time-efficient ways to fold underwear, you might have a problem.

So why does productivity matter, anyway? What’s so important about achieving?

The answer… not much.

The feeling of needing to accomplish something stems from dissatisfaction with the present. With this mindset, the whole idea of achieving is to become something. On the surface, it may seem like you’re doing something positive, but there’s a subtle undercurrent of rejection of what is. Rejection of yourself.

Here are just a few of the things wrong with our definition of productivity:

  • Getting things done is associated with doing things you must do, out of a sense of drudgery.
  • Productivity is often related to filling quotas. It’s about how much you can do, not necessarily what you’re doing, or whether it really matters.
  • The whole notion of being more productive is doing more things in an equal amount of time.  Being too preoccupied with this makes it easy to lose sense of what’s important. It’s easy to have a productivity meltdown.
  • It’s completely time-based. It’s about measuring, quantifying and analyzing data. Productivity does a very poor job of taking into account things that can’t be boxed into time bubbles, such as relationships, quality time alone, relaxation, doing nothing (intentionally), and many creative-based pursuits.
  • Goals and being productive is strongly related to goals that are quantifiable. If you want to become a better write, you might make a goal to write 1500 words a day. This might help you become a better writer. But with goals like this, it’s so easy to get caught up in reaching the number and let obsession with completing your goal kill your initial passion.
  • Checking things off a To-Do list is rarely meaningful. Would you qualify volunteering your time to a worthy cause, giving food to a homeless person, or doing a good deed as “getting things done”?
  • Aiming to be productive usually doesn’t involve an inside out approach.
  • It’s associated with tolerating life, instead of living passionately. Getting by, rather than really living.

I know what you’re thinking… Does this mean productivity is bad? Does that mean following your dreams and seeking to accomplish is wrong. Of course not. It’s just that some things are really hard to schedule. And when you try to, it’s completely ruined.

  • Can you really schedule a time limit of quality time with your spouse?
  • Can you schedule following an unexpected route to solving a creative problem?
  • Can you set a timer for how much time you allow yourself to explore possibilities?
  • Can you program daydreaming and spacing out in your day planner? And if you do program it, doesn’t that completely kill it?

Aiming to be productive is the wrong way of going about it. If you follow your heart and align yourself with what you hold most dear, productivity becomes irrelevant. You’ll achieve, but you’re not wrapped up in it. Your identity isn’t caught up in whether or not you cross everything off your To-Do list.

Your happiness is based on how much you enjoy what you’re doing, rather than completing X number of tasks.

Where we got off track

Think about it for a second: Has checking a bunch of things off a list ever given you a feeling of intense, lasting joy? Or does it make you feel good for a little while until you feel guilty for all of those other things you have yet accomplish? Where we really get off track is by trying to use productivity as a tool for too big of a job.

Imagine building a house, simply aiming to get it built really fast. That would be pretty stupid. You’d neglect the reason for building it, the design of the home, location, and the purpose the structure serves. Aiming to be productive is fine, but you probably won’t have to worry much about that if you really love the blueprint and really love building homes in the first place. If you’ve got that part sorted out, you’ll naturally be highly motivated and productivity becomes irrelevant.

De-conditioning

So what does this all mean? It means productivity is secondary. It’s the end result of doing what you love and living authentically. Trying to be productive becomes pointless when you live authentically. Things just flow naturally. Sure, you may have to eliminate distractions, develop focus, organize, etc. Those things at first glance seem like tools of productivity. But they’re really not. They’re just the static you need to remove to live authentically.

All these obstacles aren’t getting in the way of being productive. I saw life that way for a long time and kept getting mediocre results. It’s a broken model. What these obstacles are really getting in the way of is you doing what you feel matters; what you feel will make this planet a little better than when you got here.

When you really get down to it, the noise and distractions aren’t really obstacles at all. They’re actually there to help you see what’s true for you and what’s not. They are a means to contrast, something to show you what doesn’t matter, so that you might know what is truly important. Obstacles are there to help your spirit grow.

Being productive can be nice. It’s great to have something to aim for and a goal you want to achieve. But the achievement is always secondary. What matters most is that you are following the call of your heart.

In this way, you find that being productive doesn’t really matter at all. You don’t even think about it, because that’s just what happens when you you live authentically. You’re not preoccupied with how much you achieve, because you’ve stopped caring about that. You stop caring about always being intent on arriving. You don’t just bite two ends of a banana. You savor the whole thing.

You’re actually there when things are happening, instead of thinking about what you’ll achieve next.

Then something awesome happens: Actually being where you are, completely transforms your entire experience of everything. You realize that your dissatisfaction wasn’t caused by things being the way you wanted externally. It wasn’t the pounds you hadn’t yet dropped, the career you hadn’t yet landed. It was your resistance to what exists, right now.

If you’re fighting the universe, who do you think is going to win?

No more wasted time

So, what you do instead is follow your natural rhythms. You live in alignment with what you love doing. You’re there, completely.

Maybe being more productive isn’t the answer. Maybe what matters most is transforming not our resume but our consciousness. Deriving our joy not from arriving, but from moving in the direction of our heart. Finding satisfaction in each step, and beauty in the messy business of living. Bliss in the movement toward our dreams.

It’s kind of funny actually, like a cosmic joke. The very thing that’s supposed to save you time — being more productive and doing things faster — ends up being the biggest waste of time.

But it’s more than that…

In reality, the only reason we squeeze and strain ourselves to be productive, is because we’re afraid of being honest with ourselves. Living authentically is scary as hell. More often than not our hurry to get busy is a cover up for our inability to get real and stop living a lie.

It’s time to stop putting off liberating yourself.

Perpetual waiting is a serious illness. And I think it’s time to detox.

(Note: This is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.)

For more ways to save time by killing it, get yourself a free subscription to Illuminated Mind.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Sean C February 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

As usual, you take our notions and turn them inside out, turning our values away from the quantifiable to the true value of meaning. It takes a while for you to make your point, but it’s a point worth making.

thanks

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Seamus Anthony February 17, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I totally agree. It reminds me of that guy who wrote that Lazy Way book … I forget his name. Also see my Why Blogs are a waste of Time article. Same concept, different framework. Just do what you love and stop wasting time on BS. You’ll be dead soon anyway right?

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Julie Barton February 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Love this. I will be re-reading multiple times as I consider everything you’ve said – fabulous perspective on being present with the universe, and being honest with ourselves.

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Charlie February 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I agree with your conclusion – although we differ in our views of what productivity is.

Let me explain: “productivity” has gotten a bad rap. It’s become some masochistic hamster-wheel view of checking things off a list that is ultimately meaningless, unfulfilling, and unsustainable.

But that’s not what productivity is about, really. When productivity becomes about instantiating yourself in the world, it becomes about things we care about.

So whereas you say “you find that being productive doesn’t really matter at all,” I say that it does matter if we’re doing things that make us who we are.

We’re not disagreeing on anything of substance at the end of the day, though – we’re just using different words. Productivity is bunk in as much as people resign themselves to a system that doesn’t match what they want to be in the world. But when that system is a part of how they become in the world, then there’s no problem.

Creativity, authenticity, productivity, and personal development are all importantly intertwined and relevant to the things we actually care about: flourishing by living in an authentic life. You’re right, though – somehow we’ve lost sight that.

We’re taking it back!

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Kevin February 17, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Amen, brother! It’s a bit weird when ideas converge. I wrote a similar article only a few days ago that touched on exactly the same idea. In fact, as I re-read my blog, I realized I’d actually touched on it twice! Being productive when a specific goal is in mind and when there is a reward at completion (such as more free time) makes sense. Obsessing about being productive when there’s little or no benefit in it is energy wasted. Focus on what is now, do what needs to be done and then enjoy your life. Stop driving yourself crazy over the minutiae of life.

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Nathalie Lussier February 17, 2009 at 6:22 pm

It’s all about your inner game. If you can’t get that right, then any “productivity” you try to achieve is going to be wasted.

Jonathan your articles are getting more and more in-depth and thought provoking. I love it! :) Oh and the detoxing has begun, my friend.

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larry February 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm

the real issue is that what most people call time management is more about a routine than a way to be focused and in the moment and accomplish the things that we must do to make a living. true time management is about focusing and doing in 4 hours what takes an unfocused mind 8 hours to do and then to use those “free” hours to enjoy more of life.

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Mike Stankavich February 17, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Jonathan, I wholeheartedly agree that making efficiency based productivity your primary focus is a recipe for frustration and ulcers. I strongly believe that in many cases lack of motivation stems from not having a clear vision of an objective you want to pursue.

Where I do see value in certain productivity techniques is in cutting a large objective down into manageable chunks. If I want to write a book, it’s easy to get stalled and and frustrated if I just stare at a blank screen (or page) waiting for War and Peace to magically flow from my fingers. If I can connect an achievable task, i.e. write a chapter outline, to my higher purpose objective, that gives me something to hook on to and run with.

The harder question that I am struggling with today is how much overhead I can accept and overcome, and how to get through that overhead quickly and dare I say it, efficiently. Earlier today I was really having a hard time staying motivated to plow through a one week backlog in my corporate inbox after taking vacation. Doesn’t matter how efficient I can ever be at processing email – that is going to be an obstacle, period. And for many reasons I truly cannot afford to quit the day job quite yet.

I think that Charlie and I are saying similar things in slightly different ways. And you said it as well when you pointed out that productivity is a valuable tool. But it’s only what you make of it, and it isn’t a magic bullet that will resolve lack of focus on a deeper purpose. Thanks for a great wakeup call!

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Christopher February 17, 2009 at 8:14 pm

You say “Imagine building a house, simply aiming to get it built really fast. That would be pretty stupid. You’d neglect the reason for building it, the design of the home, location, and the purpose the structure serves. Aiming to be productive is fine, but you probably won’t have to worry much about that if you really love the blueprint and really love building homes in the first place. If you’ve got that part sorted out, you’ll naturally be highly motivated and productivity becomes irrelevant.”

However to me this is slightly short sighted in the sense that there will be tasks in everyones PASSION (love what have you) that you are going to be less than excited about doing. Take for example your house building analogy, you may love to design them, and put up I beams and hang sheet rock you may HATE to paint and caulk the windows. Those are the things we loose time with from procrastinating. Why? Chances are cause we can’t stand to do them. I myself am a web designer, I love to design, Love to create wire frames, Love to build info structure. HATE to code css and html hate to slice out images and write code. I really don’t see the correlation between living authentically and striving to be productive so that at some point in your life you can be free of some of the things that hinder your authentic living.

lastly like Charlie said, some of us are productive in the things that make us authentic. Take an artist, or a musician if that is his true self you can not condemn that person for wanting to be the best they possibly can be. We all know you can not be the best at anything unless you do it on a regular basic. That to me separates people who do NOT really live an authentic life, being able to devote yourself completely to a cause, and being 100 percent productive is to me the only way to live a authentic life. Being wrapped up in the actual organizational aspect of things may be a waste of time, but the actual doing to me is never.

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Amber February 17, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Couldn’t agree more Jonathan! Great work as usual. It seems a lot of us are on the same spiritual journey. Into full present conscious living! When you align with what you love you align yourself with the universe so to speak. Everything becomes easier and you just do what you have to do. You don’t need to overly organize or get a million things done to be happy. All you need is now. You’re enough, this moment is enough…future goals can be achieved while still soaking in every moment of it. I’ve learned that it’s the quality of every moment that not only fulfills you now, but makes the achieved goal that much better. Love the way you laid this out…keep digging…i’m right there with you!

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Szabi February 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I’m sort of torn between agreeing and disagreeing with this in the strangest way. I feel that if I truly wanted to live by all my pure values, I would be traveling the world, or just traveling, and trying to encounter people, not worrying about money or how I will get by. Living the life I live, I feel I can bring myself to a level that people can relate to, and through that I can understand them better and the ways to tickle their curiosity toward their true being. I define productivity through the amount of interaction in everyday life, measured in earth time, that I can be part of day by day. Sure I have my relaxing, sort of regeneration days, but in the end I know my purpose is to do more.

I challenge myself everyday to see how much I can deal with and do, and show others it isn’t so hard, and when they ask how I can do it, its always a spiritually driven answer. Which makes them start remembering the true reason we are alive. I have a feeling my music or even leadership skills will be significant in the future, but something inside is tugging me to go through this seemingly production driven life. I still lean toward the idea that I only seem productive, because my lifestyle reflects that on the surface. Although I agree that I’m productive, it’s for a different reason, it’s because I feel I touch that many more lives this way, and learn through those interactions equally.

I had my days of being lazy and just laying around and contemplating, or I should say, I had my YEARS of that. I feel truly driven by something that tells me this is right and necessary for a bigger plan. This is why I hate words, as soon as they are written, through interpretation, they will still mean whatever you already believed about life. =D

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Mike King February 17, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Jonathan, you certainly have good points, especially when you do finally make it at the end of the article. I find it a bit one sided though when you leave your definition of what productivity is to you out of the picture. If you simple said it is spending the most of your time on things that have heartfelt meaning and importance in your life, then none of the things you describe are things about productivity. They are all things about pretending to be busy like task lists and schedules. So, your points are valid but the rant on productivity completely depends how you see and define it. Right?

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Nicholas Powiull February 17, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I narrow this down to being the mind. Rather than thinking of it as a rational mind or reactive mind, it’s easier for me to conclude that it’s the mind itself.

When I use the term ‘mind’ in this definition, I am speaking of the part of you that is continuously driving you to get something done in order to make things better. Within most people there is a continuous mind chatter and mental noise dialogging on the background of every moment. This dialogging is in a continuous struggle, since in every moment it has a goal or desire that needs completed in order to make a problem better. This part of you is always questioning with “what if” dilemmas and creating stressful patterns when you respond to it by dwelling on it.

I discovered when the mind is quiet of the mental chatter, something phenomenal happens. The struggle stops, stress raises itself absent, depression melts away, and things I once saw as problems are nothing but a product of the mind. The pain of the problems disappear for the reason that you see the ‘problems’ are nothing more then a situation that desires attention.

The mind does not want to be in the present, the mind fixates a need within people to be in the future, where a goal, plan, or desire needs fulfilling in order to relieve itself from the moment of now. The mind is continuously struggling in every moment to attain itself in an undertaking to get absent from the moment.

However, when living in the moment then your not worried about the time is going to take to get it done (future), you not stressed over the thought of having so much to do because you realize the moment you get it done, within that moment of completion, your mind will think of another goal to achieve. When living in the moment you realize that you will always be incomplete when it comes to goals, so you never worry yourself about them, you just live in the moment and do the things feel good in that moment. You dont have thoughts of “I have to get this done or else this and this will happen!” because you realize that is the mind.

Quieting the mind is perhaps the most ‘productive’ thing one can do to achieve all goals by moments. Living in the moment is perhaps the most effective thing one can do to manage ‘time’. There is no other truer meaning than that.

Thank you for sharing and allowing me to share :)

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David Baillie February 17, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Thank you for the thought provoking post. I will hazard to respectfully disagree based upon my perspective of “productivity.” Certainly, if by productivity you mean cranking out more widgets faster to advance some meaningless end, I agree. Your article is a great reminder for us all to step back and evaluate (often): are our efforts yielding something worthwhile?

I prefer to view productivity as a measure of how effectively I have achieved my goals and how true to my values these goals have been. Have I grown? Have I contributed in a meaningful way to something that means something to me? To others?

With this view of productivity in mind, a lot of the “traditional productivity tools” can be quite helpful, when used to best advantage. That is, to avoid meaningless tasks or work that does not challenge us, and minimize the time, focus and energy consumed by the widgets we’re best at producing. Why? So that we may take on our true challenges where the greatest personal growth potential lies and where we may make the most meaningful contributions to what we hold to be most important. That is, soulful work. Oh, and also, to enjoy the ride. Let’s have fun, after all. Ben Franklin was productive, frugal, and still had boat loads of fun.

My conclusion (and thank you for helping me get here): Productivity is good if the aim is soulful.

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Pearl February 17, 2009 at 11:30 pm

This post is so wonderful, I don’t really have words for it. I feel fortunate that we are about the same age and I can look forward to seeing how your blog and career grows. This paragraph really hit home for me:

“When you really get down to it, the noise and distractions aren’t really obstacles at all. They’re actually there to help you see what’s true for you and what’s not. They are a means to contrast, something to show you what doesn’t matter, so that you might know what is truly important. Obstacles are there to help your spirit grow.”

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Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome February 18, 2009 at 1:27 am

To me, productivity is all about getting what you want done and having fun the rest of the time. So for that to happen there needs to be a plan, but only at the broadest level.

For example, I have my BIG goals for which I create a monthly objective and daily actions. As long as I get (most) things done in a day I can futz around as much as I like.

Most days I don’t feel like I’m being very typically productive, but the next morning when I review what I accomplished the day before I’m amazed at how much I actually got done.

Patience is an important factor in this. Slow regular progress forward mixed with relaxation and fun has created a much better sense of success than I’ve ever felt before when I used to try to push myself into more and better productivity.

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rob February 18, 2009 at 1:48 am

Great article I think. I have starred it to read later. I am to busy doing b**s to read it.

But seriously. It came at the right moment. I am trying to do my work and not ‘be productive’. ‘being productive’ for me seems to involve a lot of bodily tension. I want to drop that.

Keep on blogging!

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Evan February 18, 2009 at 2:54 am

Thanks Johnathon.

I really like the critique of productivity and completely agree with it.

My one quibble: I’m not sure that fear of ourselves is the only reason for productivity. Unless pleasing others is a variety of fearing ourselves – which it very well may be.

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Martin Wildam February 18, 2009 at 5:47 am

I do not fully agree with your article. Although we should be happy and enjoy every moment of our life you can’t only do things that you like. Not every necessary action fits to your desired path of personal development.

Without increasing my productivity I would not have been able to free time that I can dedicate to my family.

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Vi February 18, 2009 at 6:58 am

Unfortunately, I completely disagree with you.

I think that the drive to be productive is part of human nature. And by productive, I mean the root word: produce. Given a blank slate with nothing to do, people get bored and also become unhappy. Sure, some of us could use a vacation. But, given too much free time, I believe people will eventually want to do something useful and meaningful with their lives. Whatever it is, I believe people innately have a drive to produce. Produce what? Well, that’s their choice. Be it goods, services, music, art, writing, ideas, knowledge, charity, entertainment, etc.

Perhaps the discontent comes from people who are unable to choose what they produce. It’s not from productivity in and of itself.

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matt February 18, 2009 at 7:17 am

There are a couple of good points here that are consistent with your last posts, such as accepting the present, being mindful, attaining flow, enjoying the journey and so forth.

However the issue I have here is that you again point to “doing what you love” as the path to attainment of peace etc. Engaging in activities we love is great BUT there are alot of essential jobs and tasks that need to be done that we done love. We need to complete these tasks so we can do practical things like paying the bills and putting food on the table. Applying productivity principles to these tasks allows us more free time and a clearer mind to pursue other activities that we do love.

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AC February 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I actually came and checked on this blog feed because I was feeling distracted while attempting to study. I couldn’t think of a more relevant post! This was SO insightful and really made me think about what I’m doing and why I was feeling that I ‘had’ to do it, thus looking for distraction, when really I do want to be doing it. I’m going to go get to that now.

Thank you always for your words of wisdom!!
This blog has changed my perspective in a lot of ways :)

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Duff February 19, 2009 at 12:49 am

Yes yes yes! What motivates productivity? Wanting things to be different. Why do we want things to be different? So we can experience happiness, peace, joy, etc. What changes if we just step into experiencing these things first? Everything. Does productivity still matter? Sorta, but not really.

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Nina Alvarez February 19, 2009 at 7:03 am

I really highly value this blog. It’s one of the few blogs that is really hitting home with me lately. Thank you so much.

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jo February 19, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Ahhh yes. This is one of the main reasons I left my company that was supposedly “not a corporate environment”. However, productivity and time tracking were top priority….leaving one hard pressed to research and actually keep up with the latest technology that was necessary to apply to the task/project. The other sad point was that we had an extremely obsessive time tracking manager whose main responsibility to see who is “being productive” via her review of the the time entries. This type of productivity does not translate to an optimal product nor necessarily delivery.
So glad to be out of that environment and working on my own….i have gained more knowledge and have been able to apply that much more efficiently…because i had the time to invest in researching w/out feeling guilty…and thus apply in my work more optimally.

Be,
Jo

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Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching February 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Thanks for this post. I’m glad this issue is getting more attention. One thing I’d add is that we can also see being unable to be with ourselves as a reason why we procrastinate and don’t accomplish our goals. If we can’t tolerate sitting alone in silence with all our thoughts and feelings, we’re unlikely to be able to focus in our work.

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Jonathan February 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Thank you to everyone who commented. I think there was a little confusion, because I didn’t adequately describe WHY productivity doesn’t matter. Here’s the deal — at least for me — productivity is the end result. If I want to be productive aka produce, as someone said, then I should focus on the purpose for what I’m doing. If the purpose is a big enough motivator, then you don’t have to strain yourself to be productive. Sure, you’ll get stuff done, create, whatever; but you won’t feel like it’s something you MUST do. And that’s really the whole point when it comes to rejecting the desire to be constantly productive.

For me it’s about realigning myself to stop caring about being productive. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is doing what you feel is truly purposeful.

The reason I talk so much about this is because I’ve gotten to the point of caring about productive on a toxic level. Hence the “it’s time to detox” line. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s sat on the couch, or read a book, went to a park, whatever-it-is, and thought “wow, I should really be doing something productive right now. I should really be *getting something done.*”

When I think about things in terms of purpose and being honest with myself, I still get things done, but I know that’s secondary to being true to yourself.

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Jonathan February 20, 2009 at 12:06 pm

@ Charlie: And that’s all it really is — a matter of semantics. If I define productivity in a positive context, then it probably wouldn’t bother me so much. The problem is we have this stigma that idle hands are of the devil, you know? Western society really fucks with us when it comes to time obsession.

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Jonathan February 20, 2009 at 12:08 pm

@ Nathalie: I see a GNC product in the near future. “Ultra Not Give a Shit About Getting Things Done – 15 Day Detox Protocol. Now with added super time killer formula!” Seriously… we could be on to something.

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Matt Soreco February 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

There comes a point when you have a system down and it’s as good as it’ll ever be.

I guess some feel that when you reach this point, it’s wasteful to try to squeeze out more productivity since the effort will cross over and be more than the reward.

I think there is an insane bias in the backlash though. Because not everyone has mastered being productive. Or even started. I’m so glad I’ve found GTD and have adapted it to my life and work–even though I don’t follow it to the letter or worship it like a cult. I’m at the point where I don’t need to think about it. It’s a discipline/habit.

Perhaps the backlash is from those who have been there, done that, and talked about it ad nauseum. And are frustrated that they can’t achieve absolute perfection (because it doesn’t exist). Fine, then step away. But please don’t dismiss GTD or productivity for those who may need it.

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Shawn Levasseur February 21, 2009 at 1:40 am

The criticism of GTD in this article feels disingenuous.

It presumes that people who engage in it are just getting random “stuff” done that they have given no thought to why they want it done. That the system is an end unto itself, and that happiness is seen by such people an empty in box.

The argument also presumes that GTD is merely about checking off items on a list, that no thought as to why an item is on that list ever happens. The review portion of GTD is all about that evaluation and thought as to an task’s importance.

Of course this article is just a straw man argument, just so one can get attention for meme-bashing. It’s essentially a form of internet trolling. A better class of trolling that most, but a troll none the less. Are there really people who want to get stuff done that give no thought as to why they want to get it done?

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Evan February 21, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Hi Shawn,

Unfortunately there are often things we do that we haven’t reflected on. People often copy others who have been successful without comparing their own situation and abilities with those they copy (but one example).

Every time we find it valuable to re-prioritise we are showing that we have been doing things without thinking about why.

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birgit February 22, 2009 at 1:50 am

thx for putting my feelings in words
i’m a socialworker and i have too much work because people become very poor the families broken and they have not much sense in there lifes
some people think i only have to make some schedules
and my work will easily be handled
unfortunately everybody who asks for help breaks my schedules
and now i’m feeling bad because no schedule works
throw away my schedules and start talking with with the people who need help
socialwork instead of case management

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Richard February 22, 2009 at 4:13 am

Loved the article. I just followed you from Zen Habits by the way :-)

Being productive can be counter productive, unless it comes from an understanding of *why* we should be productive! It is not just to make life easier, but it is to gain understanding about ourselves. After taking initial wisdom from others – like yourself – we should then begin to think for ourselves and use our inner wisdom to get things done and reach higher levels of understanding and, in turn, efficiency.

Tapping into this natural reserve of wisdom takes time, and meditation (although not necessarily in the traditional sense); in Thai it is called ‘samaadti’, and it is somehting which we *all* possess. Unlocking the full potential of this samaadti allows us to see everything as it is, and operate in a superbly efficient state of mind.

What is great about this blog, and this post, is that it helps us to ‘zero-in’ on an aspect of living which is imperative to our overall well being. Good job.

I discuss things of this nature on my own blog at http://www.cheewit.net. It would be great if you stopped by for a moment or two and had a look around.

Happy anniversary of a worthwhile blog. :-)

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Matthew Cornell February 22, 2009 at 7:41 am

Really all that’s happening is that there’s a batch of GTD bloggers who fell in love with GTD a few years ago, have mastered it, and are now bored ;-)

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steven aitchison February 22, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Hi Jonathan, I just wanted to say what a great article you’ve written here. Dave Crenshaw wrote a book on this which is worth a read called the myth of multitasking. Anyway felt compelled to comment, thanks again.

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Baker February 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Being honest with our strenghts and weaknesses gives us clarity. When we are clear we can take the steps to go forward. Great post.

+Baker

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David Dittell February 24, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Jonathan,

Excellent insight throughout. Too often our “goals” become the end-all. We should never lose sight that our concrete goals exist to get us through to another set of goals, and accomplishing what’s on that to-do list or action plan should not be your ultimate focus.

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Mark February 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm

You did an excellent job with this! The perpetual chase of being more productive misses the whole point of why we are here as you have so aptly expressed. What do we get for being more productive the opportunity to squeeze even more into our already over taxed day. Great job!

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Brett February 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I think we definitely need to follow our natural rhythm and flow. It’s what we lack in our every day lives. Yet we still expect it of others and it goes around one more time. I understand why what you believe about productivity but we still have to make a living. And, if we become more productive at our work we can have more time for our natural rhythms. But I think you are on to something. People get obsessed with being productive to the point that they become less productive. They get caught up and miss the point. I’ve done this many times. Good thought provoking article. Keep it up. I like controversial.

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Reginald Reglus February 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I enjoyed your perspective. Thought-provoking indeed. I would give you a resounding “amen” had you said that obsessing about productivity is a waste of time. However, I have to differ with your perspective that productivity in general is a waste of time. Productivity, being present in the moment, enjoying the process and achieving goals all work together. It is about balance and counterbalance. You should productively move towards your goals while you are enjoying where are as you move through the process of becoming. And you should savor the moment when you arrive at your goal. It all works together.

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Valerie March 1, 2009 at 5:01 pm

This is very insightful for someone who is new to the path of enlightenment. Only I perhaps get confused in the nuances of productivity and needing to get things done that are not a part of my passion or who I am now. Don’t you think it is okay to put the taxes, the car wash, dog’s vet trip, kids Halloween costume on your to do list which makes you feel productive as you achieve them. I am not necessarily passionate about any of them, but that is real. That is life. That is what being responsible is – doing what is not desirable. Society would fall apart if no one were doing what is deemed undesirable. Getting these chores out of the way is what should allow you time for your passions – if you are not too exhausted. Then I think about my recent desire to return to grad school for my doctoral degree. A large part of this undertaking is pure interest, but a large part of it is pragmatic – knowing that more doors will open on the other end, possibly leading to more opportunities to pursue passions. I know it is somewhat saying “I’ll be fulfilled and happy when… I have earned this degree.” – essentially postponing current happiness for the dream of future fulfillment… am I guilty of not living authentically now?

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nameless March 7, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Obsessing on be more productive at the expense of neglecting the most important things in life, which by definition are unquantifiable…is, well, un-productive. We should also note that by being more effective getting through are daily reality(task)frees up time to spend with our loved ones, ourselves, and pursue our passions. Humans by nature, live as if we are in control of our lives. As we grow, we realize there are many aspects of the world that are beyond understanding, let alone control. Yet we still must strive to establish some sense of order in the world, it is just who we are. Trying to deny your nature creates it on set of problems. My guess, its a matter of balance.

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Raj March 13, 2009 at 12:03 am

My two cents..Lot of day jobs requires us to deal with drudgery most of the time and we don’t have a choice (do we?). Productivity systems (like GTD) helps us get over these drudgery asap and free up time . If we have goals worthwhile pursuing (alternate career/personal Dev/Spiritual)and yearning for more free time ,then we gotta be a productivity machine ..It’s all about fine balance and nothing is black and white :-)

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Regretful and Introspective March 14, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Your blog and some of the very thoughtful reader replies have moved me to respond for perhaps the first time, to an inspired mental task that doesn’t lie directly in my path of personal productivity. That path, an endless and lonesome corridor has for as long as I can remember, rolled powerfully toward me. At the same time, it presses me unmercifully down into a sticky unforgiving morass of devils and imagined tormentors. It extends much further than I can see, to some unreachable point in the future where I will have finally and perfectly completed every single task, or obstacle, that I’ve placed between myself and any measure of peacefulness.

Today in particular, as I lie once more in a hospital bed strapped down by permanently affecting maladies borne of self-imposed stress, a cold and as yet indefinable realization is trying to form itself for my benefit. I am beginning to see,…no admit, because I have long held in some deeply buried level of consciousness, that I have for the greater part of my life meanly squelched any and all feelings of success, completion or arrival.

I have known vaguely in the last few days and weeks that I’m approaching something large, but I’ve not been able to make out its shape. I have sensed that the pains of loss and rebirth would arrive together and that their meanings would not be immediately understood. I believe now that I’ve just arrived at another place of maturity, an opening in the fog where one stands for a fleeting moment on an ancient stone step. I can feel the presence of the many others who have stood here before me. I can see further and in more dimensions than from any of the previous plateaus. The clarity is crystal. Previous awakenings were gone from my memory until now and I know that this experience will soon disappear with the others. My current thoughts, even if only sensible to me, must be captured and shared.

I am investing these precious moments in the possibility of coming into a new and greater awareness; one that must be teased out by the exercise itself. I sense that I must finally stare directly into some long hidden and precious truths. Had I allowed these truths to emerge earlier, I may have prevented a ridiculously productive life. A life that others, hobbled by the pleadings of well meaning influencers, might admire for its accomplishments, but whose conjoined twin, distorted by the crushing weight of self-imposed responsibilities, ties them both to all things grave and solemn.

The self-wallowing is disgusting even to me, especially in this moment of clarity, but please recognize the necessity of the exercise. The writing may be distasteful as well, but it is really only for me. Perhaps another will find some solace here, but in this moment that benefit is inconsequential. The twins have to be separated. One must die so the other may live and the debris of misaligned energies has to be swept away. In their place a new and sturdy LIFE-supporting framework will be constructed because I am at this moment committing to a new model. I’m committing to giving responsibilities to others and filling the empty spaces with life and nothingness. Relief will not come in a day, but stick by stick, I will dismantle the old model and build a new one that supports a well-deserved, happy and healthy life.

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Krabats March 25, 2009 at 7:36 am

… soulful…..

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jack yuen April 8, 2009 at 6:50 am

Jonathan,

A wonderful post.
I don’t know how I found this post – but it was surely not the result of trying to be productive!
The truth is that we are not put on this earth to ‘produce things’.
We are here to find joy in the experience of ‘doing things’- whether for some defined purpose (which is in itself a lie) or for NO defined purpose what so ever.

The lie is: ‘…if I can just get these things done as quickly as possible – then I can get THAT, which will allow me to do the things that I want to do…’
As a result of this lie, we take the joy out of doing what we are doing now… in the illusion that we will experience the joy later on. For many of us that future joy keeps falling out of our grasp.

As it has been said, taking it one moment at a time, without the constraint of time guilt, will allow us to experience the joy of life now…tomorrow…next week…next month…next year…
…In one continuous stream!

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nameless April 10, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Loved Jack Yuen’s comments. Echo, would not have heard his thoughts if I was trying to be productive. Purpose does seem to be a construct of our mind, most things are. It seems we need to live with sense of purpose, as humans need to feel in control of thier lives…hopefully, with understanding that we are not.

The secret is to enjoy each moment for what it is, it is what we are doing. Taking ourselves too seriously, all the things we must accomplish causes us to continually think of the next task. Seems like checking the boxes becomes the purpose. You create your moments, might as enjoy them.

Eckardt gives a great example of bird sitting on a branch, singing away, without any thought of what of what it is going to do next. Then the bird flies away, not knowing where it will go, what branch it end up on next. No worry of tomorrow. Each moment is just that.

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John Dillon April 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm

One part truth, two parts bullcrap. It’s not all “do what you love” but also “love what you have to do” or sometimes it’s “just do it” … as Bhagavad Gita says, if its something you hate doing but you feel great when you are finished, then you did something REALLY GOOD. There is a world that needs to be taken care of, don’t be so naive to believe your inborn PASSIONS are going to build the world perfectly, when in fact what’s good is not always what your selfish passion is. For example some parents naturally love their children and put them number one, while others force themselves to sacrifice and do it even though it causes them discontent, they know it’s right. It’s only the assholes who would ditch their kids to “do what they love.” You must also do what is required, your duty. If you don’t do your duty, you’re a cunt.

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Lindsay December 21, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Brilliant.
I’m quoting this on my blog. It’s exactly what I needed to hear and savor on for a while.

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Fred January 6, 2010 at 3:35 am

I really enjoyed this article. As a musician I’m always trying to cram in more practice and am always thinking of ways I can speed up my progress. I can definitely see how that mindset could be destructive.

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Ahmad January 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Really enjoyed the read. Actually I was scouting for how TO BE productive when came across your site and this post.

Really like the quote that productivity assumes that your doing something positive but it’s acutlally a rejection of yourself.

I now understand- productivity can either be used to reject yourself and put yourself in a obsessive rat race even more, where you produce more but enjoy less. Or it can be used to liberate more and enjoy what your doing but just giving the time management aspects to fulfill dreams and goals that you would otherwise not be able to achieve (like me being on FB for 4-6 hrs straight is what i might love doing, but there are other better ways even to enjoy life! so there’s another counterargument).

I think your point is that there needs to be a balance. That getting more things done in less time doesn’t mean anything and that there are somethings that take priority in life to accomplish.

I think the main point is that you need to learn to be productive, but live yourself, live authentically, live goals and do things that are really important in your life, and be flexible to not follow your schedule sometime and enjoy life.
the reason i am seeking to be productive is just that– to live more authentic, to liberate myself, to accomplish the things in my life that i only dream about.

So using productivity tools etc to enjoy your life more.
your website is definitely bookmarked :)

May God guide us to living truly for His sake. ~Ahmad

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Steven January 31, 2010 at 5:09 am

Thought provoking article. The problem is that managers in our workplaces want us all to be ever more productive. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of accomplishment because the goal posts for our productivity increase every year (sometime every quarter). You seem to write of a utopia – were we have a choice – but in reality most of us do not. I have to be more productive to earn money and survive. I could quit my job but then my family would be destitute.

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kallie October 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm

When I read this I thought of food and obestity. We have become so focused on putting something in front of our families that we have lost sight of the fact it is meant to nourish the body. We have been programmed that not only cooking is a drudgery, but so is eating. We don’t take the time to prepare or enjoy it. We rush to a drive thru window and eat on our way to doing something else. It is taking a toll on our minds and bodies.

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Vanessa January 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you!

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MattAsk March 17, 2012 at 2:50 am

I like the concept. Unfortunately in this world we need currency, so we still have to hustle if we want to eat, not walk everywhere, have shelter, comfort, etc. Definitely agree on the doing what you love part. What separates us from the animals is our ability to reason and logic so we still have to make money to buy foods they can eat but we can’t. Check out my blog if you want more ideas.. http://survivalforbeginners.wordpress.com/

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nettydoodle8 May 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm

After reading this, I believe everything in it! Because there a lot of times that I try to stick to a schedule and it never works out for me, and I just end up in a bad mood or depressed because I could not accomplish all the things on my list. I found this very uplifting, and very well thought through to the end.

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Rick R. October 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm

In my opinion trying to be productive is not a waste of time. The key in order for you to be productive is self discipline, which will help you limit wasted time and get more things done. I have read an article regarding productivity and according to Mr. Richard Brandson, an English Business magnate, one of his secret to productivity is to “Set big audacious goals”. He also said that “Productivity is not about accomplishing a list of tasks. It’s about achieving the big important tasks that make the biggest difference in your life. “. Check the article here: http://biz30.timedoctor.com/richard-bransons-six-secrets-to-productivity/

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Joan Harrison June 14, 2013 at 8:20 am

Amazing l-o-n-g article, however I struggled with some concepts. I have more time nowadays and so do not tend to set myself tasks and lists the same way as I used to and so my productivity has reduced. This sometimes has the effect of making me feel a less valued member of society and on days when this feeling comes on I want to be more productive, this opens up a juxtaposition and then I analyze why I need to feel part of society, however I understand the hierarchy of needs (Mazlow). So the argument could be – what is your perception of being productive and one stage further what is your perception of productivity.

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Bob March 2, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Right, so what happens when you hit 60 and you’ve got medical issues and bills to pay and your bank account is draining because you’ve “moved beyond productivity”? Are you “there in the moment” as you suffer with debilitating illness and no means to pay for it? Are you “there in the moment” when your house gets foreclosed and you’ve got nowhere to live?

It sounds great on paper but the world we live in demands work of us, and those who ignore that reality in the present are only putting off their suffering into the future.

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