Why Productivity is Both Necessary and Dangerous

Categories Productivity

If you’ve known me for very long, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of an obsession with productivity, time management, and just about any other form of life hack that helps me get things done more efficiently.

Over the last couple of years, these interests have helped me realize how much time I’ve wasted in the past and have motivated me to focus on making the most of the time I have been given.

For the most part, I’ve seen this as a positive revelation. If you were to ask my wife, she would probably say I have been more helpful to her, more intentional about what I choose to do, and just more productive in general.

What I’m learning, though, is that productivity is a both/and proposition. While most of you would probably agree with the idea that you want to accomplish more and waste less, the question becomes, “To what end?”

That’s where the both/and comes into play. If we are striving for productivity, at some point we have to ask ourselves, “What will I do with the time I am saving?” “What is it I’m striving for?”

The Danger of Productivity

A focus on productivity is an attempt to free up more time, or, at the very least, accomplish more in a given amount of time.

Accomplish more. Spend less.

Sounds very capitalistic, doesn’t it?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown up being taught this formula is the way of the world. It’s the way we make money. It’s the way we are successful. If we can get more than we give, we are doing well.

The problem with that philosophy, though, is that it tends to focus too much on the return and not enough on the experience.

Let me explain.

If the purpose of spending money is always profit, we are unlikely to ever choose benevolence, entertainment, or education.

If the purpose of creating something (business, product, or service) is to become more “successful,” we are unlikely to choose underserved causes, minorities, or art.

If the purpose of being more productive is only to have more time to fill with more things, we run the risk of not choosing moments, family, or rest.

The danger, then, of productivity is that we create more while experiencing less. We become busier than we’ve ever been. We fill our time moving from one project to another without taking the time to be present with those we care about the most.

In a culture that values progress, busy-ness, and MORE, an unbalanced view of productivity can lead to burnout, broken relationships, and feelings of failure when we can’t seem to ever do “enough.”

The Necessity of Productivity

Notice, I mentioned the “unbalanced” view of productivity. What I’m learning is that we need to know the purpose of a thing before we can evaluate the success of it.

The same is true of productivity. In an increasingly busy and plugged-in world, we have to learn how to manage the 1,440 minutes all of us have each day.

Some method of managing the to-do lists, the meetings, the projects, etc. is necessary. It’s why I’ve become so enamored with learning as much as I can about how to accomplish more with the time I have.

But then there is that question again: “To what end?”

I believe an intentional focus on productivity really comes down to two primary goals:

  1. Do more in the same amount of time (produce)
  2. Have more time after I’ve done what is necessary (leisure)

If that’s true, I think the way we approach productivity really boils down to two related questions:

  1. What do I want to accomplish? (produce)
  2. What do I want to experience? (leisure)

So What Does It All Mean?

Answering these two questions are at the foundation of why productivity is even worth our time.

But until we understand what it is we really want to accomplish and where we want to spend the time we save, we are at risk of being stranded in a circulating pool of time hacks, productivity apps, and overwhelming demands.

We’ll remain busy being busy without any understanding of what we are busy for.

So as we all strive to accomplish our goals and be more efficient this year, let’s remember to take stock of what really matters to us and make productivity work for us instead of the other way around.

“Too many times, we have a focus on all that we did, instead of all that resulted from what we did.” – Rory Vaden in Procrastinate on Purpose

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

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