Open Thinkering


Productivity for what?

Hamster in a wheel

I’ve written before about the stuff I had to unlearn from my teenage years. But there’s a bigger thing behind all of that, something that’s so important they should run workshops on it not only in schools but in businesses. Perhaps they do in the forward-thinking ones.

For the past five years or so I’ve been reading productivity books, magazines and blog posts. Occasionally they produce new insights (which is why I keep on reading them) but a lot of them are about reminding you about fairly self-evident things: eat well, sleep well, plan, etc. It seems to me that the biggest saboteurs of productivity aren’t external forces but ourselves. Call it procrastination, call it subconscious normalising to the mean – call it whatever you want but it’s something from which we should all break free.

Productivity has to have a purpose.

The buzz-phrase of the past 10 years seems to have been ‘work-life balance’. It’s a concept difficult to disagree with, until you analyse the assumed dichotomy at the heart of it. The assumption is that work is something ‘other’ – something that you have to conform to, the imposition of someone else’s priorities over your own. But what if (at least most of the time) both your priorities and the priorities of your organisation were in harmony? That’s the promise and lure of many third-sector organisations.

But just as businesses need strategic goals to direct the energy of employees so we all, in our personal lives, need to feel like what we’re doing is purposeful. We may win the battle of getting to ‘Inbox Zero’, but are we fully aware of the war we’re fighting? Whose side are we on? How many ‘troops’ of attention have we deployed and why?

Productivity has to be FOR something.

If, for some reason, you didn’t have to work today, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you talk to? If you’re not clear on what makes you happy in life and what gets you out of bed in the morning (as I haven’t been at times in my life) then you should think about that as a matter of urgency. Otherwise all of this getting faster and more capable at stuff won’t have a purpose.

And that would be a tragic waste.

Image CC BY captainmcdan

Update: Ben Witheford asked on Twitter what I’d do if I didn’t have to work today. Probably five things, if I were at home:

  1. Go for a long walk at Druridge Bay (less than two miles from my house)
  2. Play football with my son and hide-and-seek with my daughter
  3. Drop the children off at my parents’ and take my wife out to dinner
  4. Start a project – maybe with the Raspberry Pi I bought last week (I’ve got an idea for a information station by our front door)
  5. Phone lots of people to see how they’re doing

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