Productivity. It’s an assumption now. Exalt efficiency. Set goals. State priorities. Make schedules. Complete tasks on time. Get things done. Do more with less. Be productive. Productivity is not just an assumption in society, it’s an effective strategy for assimilation. Being productive means doing what we are supposed to do. Productivity is survival.

Today we hear about getting things done, or deep work, or atomic habits – all variations on the theme of productivity. Sometimes productivity comes to us in the pleasant guise of personal growth or self-improvement. Being productive is a way to achieve more in life. Be the person you were meant to be (because the way you are now isn’t it). In its worst form it becomes You can be anything you want to be in life (just work hard and be productive).

In this series of articles, I intend to push the boundaries of productivity. Ironically, my success throughout my career hinged on well-developed productivity skills. I understand time management (it isn’t a mystery nor is it difficult). You can tweak things here and there, but you just need to choose to do the right work in the right sequence. You don’t need to read a book about it. Any organizer will do. What matters most is doing the work, not wasting time planning, and plotting to do the work.

Productivity is a child of mechanization. It assumes time is a rigid, linear, sequential phenomenon. We come under its spell during our education in the form of mandatory attendance, age segregation, knowledge seriation, and imposed schedules. Education, it seems, is something we only do in the first part of life because it is what we need to become a productive member of society. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

Getting things done (to survive). Time management (time manages you). Technological efficiencies (you’ll work longer than you ever have). Schedules (try and keep up with me). Flex time (you’ll work all the time now). Remote work (now we’ve got you at home too). Smart goals (as opposed to dumb ones). To-do lists (the bottomless pit). Task completion (you’re never done). Workstations (how sitting destroys your physical wellbeing). Innovative initiatives (say goodbye to your mental health).

Productivity is how time passes you by.

We graduate from education to become productive members of something called the workforce. We move through an eight-hour day (my days we much longer than that) and five days of incarceration known as the work week. Workdays and work weeks all flow toward that promised land known as retirement when we experience the outrageous shock of not knowing what to do with our time anymore.

Birth. Childhood. Education. Career. Retirement. Death. Modern society’s approach to living. Ok, it’s not that simple, but there is a question I like to ask: Who says this is the best approach to living and why should I (we) believe it’s true?

Of course, there is an overwhelming force at the center of this called “The Corporation.” Corporations need somnambulant, compliant, submissive, and productive workers to pursue their goal of unending global wealth inequity (they prefer to call it profitability). In a corporate environment, productivity is the weaponization of time. The more productive you are, the more money you make, the more things you can buy, and the more stuff you have, and… I don’t know what comes after that.

Does it not seem wrong that all corporations have similar protections to human beings? In the history of humankind, this is one of the dumbest mistakes we’ve ever made. And it’s the mistake that is the reason for the systematic destruction of the planet.

Nothing meaningful comes from productivity because the end game of corporatism is profitability, which translates into a never-ending increase in global wealth equity. The productivity rubes, however, don’t look underneath the hood to see what’s there. They assume that productivity is an end to itself and therefore something good.

What can productivity mean if we extricate ourselves out of the barren wasteland of corporatism? What would a productive life become? What new assumptions would we embed in the word productive?

What lies beyond productivity as we know it?

I’m a 61-year-old retired male who has led a highly productive life. In the five years since I retired, I remain in decompression mode; that is, trying to free myself from the shackles of productivity. If I’m lucky, I’ve got another twenty or so years to live. Maybe less. Maybe more. Who knows? What I do know is that I want my remaining years to be productive, but not in the old mechanical way.

There’s nothing wrong with the word “productivity.” However, we mire ideas about productivity in business, corporatism, and economics. It is a form of temporal enslavement. Sure, I’m retired and have the privilege to be able to write about it because I’m on the outside now. Two things come to mind. Yes, I will use that privilege to write about it. Productivity enslaved me for forty years of my life. The second thing is that I’m not on the outside of anything, but I do have the benefit of looking at things from a different perspective.

Productivity is the medium of mass victimization. It enslaves body, mind, and spirit in the false urgencies and incessant efficiencies of industry. Productivity enslaves the mind within a complex invisible array of assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs no one questions anymore. Collectively, productivity is the weapon of temporal enslavement. And life inside a vast machinery of routines, habits, processes, and systems enforced by the need to survive. And all of this, conveniently ignorant of long-term individual, collective, and natural consequences.

Productivity steals time from you, like a thief in the night. The reason for this is that productivity is primarily about how you focus and engage your attention, not how you manage your time. This shift allows the possibility of thinking beyond productivity as we know it.

Notes

  1. The idea of deep work is a variation on the theme of productivity. A popular approach today is to merge mindfulness into other areas. Mindfulness is a means to distinguish, or brand, a variation on the theme of productivity.
  2. Atomic Habits is an analytical approach to habit development leading to greater personal and business productivity.
  3. The Bullet Journal is a personal system of productivity that integrates mindfulness techniques in a similar manner to deep work.