Productivity is Lore
Stop Spreading It
We, as a society, are on a constant hunt to achieve the next thing. While I do think this is a wonderful trait, it can also be extremely destructive. As a digital operations consultant, I hear the term “productivity” dozens of times a day. Every time I hear it, my skin crawls. I believe that productivity does not exist and the constant search for it is destructive.
Note: As I have in many past editions of this letter, I will likely ruffle some feathers with my next words. If you don’t like to read alternative opinions or some healthy debate, don’t read any further. Come back for the next edition though, it might not frustrate you as much.
What is Productivity
The concept of productivity has been around as long as we have repeated a task or type of task regularly. It likely showed up around the invention of modern agriculture. The main idea around productivity is to do more, efficiently. Productivity bled its way into our industrial era, as the leading force for mass production. Since the dawn of the knowledge worker, this concept has been part of our daily lives – get more tasks done, so you can achieve more, faster.
Being able to do more with less sounds like a great thing to achieve, right? At face value, yes, but it is more destructive than it seems.
Seeking Productivity is Destructive
How can something that seems so simple and effective be destructive? Well, that is simple – everything has its limits.
Going back to our examples above:
Making agriculture more productive destroys soil and crops. When we thought we cracked the concept of agriculture, we started making single purpose crops, 365 days a year. We forced the land to sustain the performance we needed from it. We achieved this by tilling soil and stopping rotating crops. While this was lucrative, it destroyed the soil. Some farmland is so dead that they have no choice but to sell it, to build that next suburban housing community.
The industrial revolution is known to be one of the best and worst things that has happened to the human race. We cracked the code of mass production. We made more, faster, and cheaper. People that were never able to get the things the elite had were able to. It created millions of jobs and lowered economic walls. But it also set our planet on a downward spiral that we still do not know how to get out of. During that period we did not only emit more carbon than the human race has ever created up to that point, but we also set a new standard for society – making them not want anything less.
Knowledge workers have always pursued productivity. Lawyers, before the dawn of the modern computer, found productive ways to take on more clients in less time. Typists and admins were able to type faster, so they could do more work in a shorter time, allowing them to achieve higher output. Software engineers learned more coding languages, not for the knowledge factor, but so they could wear more hats, allowing them to do more with a smaller team.
Now, we seek peak productivity – AI. Having a computer do the mundane, so we can do the hard work, the thinking. While this seems great, there are tons of implications here. I am not going to get into them, but most are pretty obvious. The point is, even though the implications are obvious, we still seek the use of AI. We know at best – plagiarism and deep fakes will get more common. And at worst, the computer will learn just enough to start thinking.
Changing the Trend
We know the benefits and downsides from historical data. What happens when we seek productivity? Simply, it bites us in the ass. How can we branch our reality and make productivity less destructive? Simple; stop making productivity sexy.
Stop trying to get more done, so you can do more. Simply, do less volume, smarter. Say no to that extra work.
Second guess these solutions to “problems”. Are they actually a problem or are we pretending like it is, so we can make a new revenue model? Do we really need self-driving cars or do we need to drive less?
Live in the moment. Instead of staying late at work or taking another Zoom call, just to seem like your productivity has skyrocketed – leave on time. Spend that time with your family, go to the gym, take a walk.
We don’t have to do more, make more, be more. We can simply do, make, and be. Productivity is this god-like goal that we, as a people want and “need”, but really it is our undoing. We need to slow down, think, and second guess. Productivity is lore, don’t spread it.