In the early 2010s, I developed what can be charitably called an obsession with productivity. I left no moment in my day unaccounted for and packed every minute in pursuit of “growth.”
I put a Bluetooth speaker in the bathroom so I could listen to podcasts (on 2x speed, of course) while showering.
I tied my sense of accomplishment to how quickly I could clear my to-do list or how many times I could reach inbox zero.
I read books on the treadmill (while giving myself vertigo).
My life was running faster, but where exactly was I going?
I waited too long to ask myself that question because I considered productivity an unquestionable virtue. Who could argue with getting more done in less time—more words per minute, more miles per gallon, more widgets per hour?
This mentality dates back to the Industrial Age. The new manufacturing processes brought us quantum leaps in productivity, saving us vast amounts of time.
Over time, however, we began to get rapidly diminishing returns. Improvements in productivity no longer saved us days or even hours. They could now be measured in minutes.
But instead of dialing back, we upped the ante on productivity. Saving even minutes could help us remain one step ahead of the ticking life clock. So we began to look for ways to squeeze a few more minutes out of our days—to stuff every moment with activity—to see some sense of meaningful progress.
Here’s the problem.
When we take productivity to an extreme, our lives become a series of checked boxes on our to-do list. We do things—not for their own sake—but for the sake of something else. Every moment becomes a means to some more important end.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do more. But when we strive for productivity at all costs—when the substantial costs of becoming more productive exceed the benefits—we lose something in the process.
What’s more, our obsession with productivity often becomes an obstacle to it. We spend most of our time pursuing productivity instead of actually accomplishing something. We tell ourselves that the right time-management app, the right note-taking software, or the right morning routine will magically allow us to level up and join the ranks of the productive elite.
But in the end, we don’t manage time. Time manages us.
The remedy is simple.
Slow down. As the author Brianna Wiest says, “There’s nowhere to arrive at. The only thing you’re rushing toward is death.”
Spend more time chopping wood, instead of endlessly sharpening your ax.
Spend more time enjoying music, instead of fine tuning the levels on your stereo.
Optimize for joy, instead of optimizing for time saved.
Don’t rush through life.
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