Why Productivity Shouldn’t Be Tossed Out

Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits has come up with an interesting and provocative post: “Why Productivity Should be Tossed Out.

His idea is right in line with a lot of the themes he focuses on in his popular blog, which offers tips on how we can simplify our lives and return to a more basic set of habits.  That’s a hard job to undertake in the times in which we live, unfortunately!  In his post, he argues that productivity advice should be tossed out, at least according to his definition:

“the advice is wrong for a simple reason: it’s meant to squeeze the most productivity out of every day, instead of making your days better.”

What he doesn’t leave room for is the fact that people have different goals, and that these goals change from one phase of life to the next.  Their definition of “productivity” evolves and needs to be used as the yardstick for whatever improvements they contemplate.  The same change might have very different effects depending on what the user wants at the end of the day, including simple decisions such as “whether or not to work this weekend.”

He makes the mistake that many in the productivity and time management field make, which is to assume that we should (or do) have the same goals.  While this assumption is arguably a reasonable one to make, simplifying people’s goals isn’t the same as simplifying their habits.

When he gets into the “7 Tips” that make up the meat of the article, his broad strokes turn into broadsides, as he recommends that his readers not measure anything, not have goals, not focus their work, not plan to do more than one thing per day, not make plans for time spent waiting in the dentist’s waiting room, and even not get organized.

If he were to add that these recommendations are some fun variations from the unquestioned routine we find ourselves in at times, that would be one thing.  But his words appear to be stronger than that and sound prescriptive.

Here’s the contradiction:  I imagine that he wrote his article on a computer and shared it on the Internet.  It’s a mistake to think that the technology that allows his message to reach his 200,000+ readers takes place without a lot of people committing themselves to mastering complexity and doing exactly the very things that he is advising people not to do (it could be that he’s only writing to his core constituency, but the article makes it seem as if his one size “should” fit all).

It’s a bit of over-reaching on his part.

He does, however, end the article on an interesting point:

You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to work hard on something you dread doing, and then take a break to reward or relieve yourself from that dreaded work. You should work on stuff you love, so that you can’t wait to do it, and taking a break is just a matter of enjoying something else (maybe a nice walk, a nice book, a nice conversation with a friend). Life where you work hard in bursts, with some breaks, is dreadful. Life where you’re always doing something you love is art.

Apart from the part where he’s telling everyone what they should do, he paints a great possibility: it’s possible to get to the point where we don’t shun the stuff we dislike, but instead we prefer what’s happening at any moment, simply because… nothing else can be happening, and we are at our best when we accept what is.

That would make for a helpful article, but the doctrine of simplifying everything doesn’t seem to be the answer that would make a difference.