Is the cult of productivity finally over?

Interesting article on the cult of productivity. Note I don’t agree with it!

“In the last decade, employees have been encouraged to see work and life as interchangeable, and to hustle ever harder.”

Apparently written by a person who was not employed 11 years ago.


The Economist has a good take on the subject

Productivity is still about working smarter, not harder. The ability to get things done and to be mostly in control of your own schedule. Some weeks will be better than other.

That schedule must include time for family, relaxation and hobbies.

The hardest thing is still to know when to say “wow thanks, but no, I currently don’t have the capacity to commit to this.”


Thanks for the interesting articles and discussion. I do think it is a bit sad that we often use our skills and tools to do 60 hours of work in 45-50 hours instead of 40 in 30. Or 20. Some of us are called to busier lives but not all who do skilled work. Agree also with the observation that self-study of one’s work habits can create misunderstanding of the “unskilled” as well as delay beneficial career changes.

Still, it’s a blessing to be able to do enough work to accomplish something worthwhile that would not be done without a smart approach. Or to do something challenging while not neglecting one’s family. So I’d only ask more people ask themselves if they are actually doing that or just accumulating money or prestige for its own sake.

I like a lot of what Cal Newport has to say on this subject, particularly in his books Deep Work and A World Without Email. Productivity became monopolized by #grinding types that extolled the virtues of constantly being connected and moving forward, with little attention being given to… well, Attention as a finite resource.

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Just a little personal anecdote to go along with this discussion.

I got into “productivity” in the 90s studying Seven Habits, Swim with the Sharks, and Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. Productivity to me then–and now–was the methodology of being a competent professional. It dealt with two concepts. First, how do I organize my wishes, desires, and goals, and make sure I am able to devote enough time to attend to (and accomplish) all of them. Second, how to actually decide what things I should be doing and what things should I be saying “no” to.

When I got to “Getting things Done,” I felt like I really had the big methodology that tied it all together.

And, largely that was true. I, like a lot of people in these articles, would study productivity and look for tips everywhere I could.

But when I started just using the tools I had and practicing the methods I learned, I realized I was accomplishing what I wanted it in the ways that I wanted.

I believe in productivity, but not the addictive drug of always looking for the new perfect tool, always looking for the new perfect method, etc. Once I made this realization, I was able to cut out a whole class of podcasts, blogs, and websites I used to scour. Forget the cult, and we can stop investing so much time thinking about productivity and focus on actually being productive instead.

Now, I actually get things done, accomplish my goals, and have more time to hang out with my wife and play with my kids. Well, at least when work itself is not overwhelming all the circuits. (Somethings defy even our best efforts at “productivity.”)


I feel similarly. Development of my own “productivity,” as it were, has always been more about reliability and accountability rather than output or the latest hack. There was a time when I was talented but unorganized, missing deadlines, often not clear about how to manage inputs, and rarely thinking about my work (or life) in terms of realistic outcomes based on the knowledge I had at hand.

GTD didn’t turn me into a superman. Did it make me more productive? Absolutely. Was that my goal? Not directly. My goal was to feel more comfortable in my own skin, especially at work, instead of always having to come up with excuses for why I didn’t do (or forgot about) whatever I had promised to do. It helped me accomplish that.

If this horrible mess has led some people to get a better grasp of what’s truly meaningful in their lives, I’m glad that happened for them. But I don’t think this article demonstrates the end of anything (certainly not the end of clickbait-y headlines). It’s just the latest take on a realization most of us end up facing one way or another, whether we’re busy “iterating” our way to the perfect system or just trying to get by.


If that’s your goal, never work in IT operations. Planned work does exist, but it happens when things aren’t broken. And things will always break.


Hehe, I have been in Operations for so many years :smile: That’s why I said “mostly in control”.


Agreed. I’m in DevOps so I categorize my work between projects ( code + automation ) and break/fix ( something is broken or impaired ). Something is always broken , so I weigh the value of fixing it against the value of project(s) I’m working on. That is measured by customer impact. Will the customer notice that one server in a highly redundant system is offline vs will they notice that I increased their system capacity and get nice performance bump on the daily?

A harder decision - do a task manually and have done in the next hour, or spend a few days automating it so that next time you can click a button to do it?

As far as measuring productivity , how do you compare , say , writing car self-diagnostics code to replacing a tire? I wrote 1000 lines of diagnostic code and replace 30 tires. Perhaps one week all I did was replace tires. Was writing diagnostics code more or less productive than replacing worn out tires? ? Anyway, that is my dilemma.

The article is bunk in my opinion. Balance things based on you current goals and priorities. Is your goal to be a superstar in your profession? Spend time developing those skills and working extra hours.

Is your goal to be good at your profession, good at your hobbies, and a good parent and spouse? Then you’ll space out your time and attention accordingly.

For my part, I leave work at work and home at home. If I have some idealistic/philisophical/altruistic goal, I do that on my own time. Not at work.