Unproductive: Why the Productivity Industry is Killing us

productivity

Last week was one of *those* weeks. You know the ones I’m talking about. A Sisyphean series of tasks that kinda sorta moved forward but never really got finished. A black hole of productivity where effort went in, but nothing came out.

productivity

Yeah…that kind of week.

In my case, the causes of that kind of week could be any number of things: anxiety, procrastination…the need to do the dishes above all other income-generating work.  

The results can range from snail’s-pace productivity to complete paralysis, emotional stagnation, and work stoppage. This leads to a fear of failure, which feeds back into the vicious cycle, which leads to self-fulfilling sabotage, which leads to the motherfucking rabbit hole of all rabbit holes on Pinterest.

Productivity

But, the thing is…it doesn’t have to be like this.

Even worse? We are getting bamboozled, fooled, scammed, and robbed by the self-help productivity industry. In fact, I’m pretty sure they are at the root of it all and wouldn’t be surprised if they had a super-secret global cabal that met quarterly and outlined evil task priorities in their planners.

How can I say this? Because I figured it out. Just today. While walking my dog (which is pretty much when all amazing, brilliant, razor-sharp life insights happen).

This way madness lies…

You know the old chestnut about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result leading to madness?

That is exactly what we are doing with the productivity self-help industry. Sure, the details of the approach might change (the tomato thing, the micro-task-delegation page planner, the subscription-based app to organize and motivate us), but they all share the same goal…

…and that goal is what is killing us.

productivity

The self-help industry doesn’t want to make us more productive. Their only goal is to SELL us on the idea that we CAN and SHOULD be 100% PRODUCTIVE EVERY DAY.

While we actively engage in debate about idealized body image, relationships, politics, etc., why are we not questioning the acculturation of the idea of PERFECT PRODUCTIVITY?

Perfection is not attainable. Ever. In any way, shape, or form. It is the great existential challenge of humanity to be aware of this wisp of an ideal just beyond our full comprehension and grasp, and yet to learn to see flaws as part of a whole that has become perfect in and of itself because of those flaws.

…um…sorry, my inner academic nerd is peeking out. *stuffs back in box with a copy of Plato’s Republic to pass the time*

My point is this: all absolutes are guaranteed to fail eventually.

(*side-eye at quantum physics and the like* You may be excused until further notice.)

So, if absolute perfect productivity is unachievable at worst and unsustainable at best, why are we so determined to bang our head against that wall?

The Bad Day Tax

I don’t have all the answers to what will help make us more productive. I’m not even sure we NEED to be more productive.

productivity

Shocking, I know, but work with me.

Say we make $50k per year. Break that down into a 40-hour work week, then we are earning (rounded) $24/hr…before everything gets taken out. If we get more productive, work more hours, get more stuff done…we’re still making $50k per year, but even going up to a 50-hour work week drops our ‘hourly rate’ to $19/hr.

So, our employer is getting more work, more productivity, more hours out of us…for less money…because we believe we need to work harder, smarter, better, etc.? And you laughed at my international productivity self-help cabal conspiracy theory…

In a way, we could look at that $5/hr we lost as a ‘Bad Day Tax’ that penalizes us for imperfect productivity. We can’t even throw teabags around our cubicles in protest because…we’re not protesting. While we are trying to keep up with the email (or Slack for those sharp techno-progressives) chain, we are tacitly accepting the rule of Perfect Productivity.

Damn you, Rousseau!

productivity

We can’t change society expectations or recover from our own conditioning overnight. Maybe not even in a generation. This mindset has been a long time in the (*coughIndustrialRevolutioncough*) making, and it may take just as long for us as a society to learn balance. That, or a zombie apocalypse that will wipe out everything and force us to start all over again.

What we can do now is stop tripping ourselves up with the idea of 100% Perfect Productivity. If productivity is a flow, then it must also have an ebb. Forget that little detail and we’re on our way down the garden path to anxiety, depression, exhaustion…you know the rest.

Equal and opposite reactions, baby. Newtonian physics for the win!

The Old College Try

Even ‘trying your best’ is an effort that cannot be sustained at 100% at all times.

productivity

Usain Bolt doesn’t sprint full-out every time he runs. He doesn’t even jog to the supermarket. His attempts to ‘try his best’ are reserved for specific, confined bursts of time – workouts and races. And trying his best is no guarantee of any result. It’s just his intention to sustain superlative effort for a set period.

Biologically, we are not designed to function at 100% capacity at all times. Yet, we chase the perfect body weight, perfect sleep patterns…and optimal work capacity. And since our brain is a resident member of our biological ecosystem, the same rules apply to our psychological health and mental abilities.

In all seriousness, we need to accept that we will have good days when we set ’em up and knock ’em down, and we will have bad days where trying to get something done feels like riding in a bumper car without a seatbelt.

productivity

That’s just the way it is. And, that’s okay. Take a deep breath and really think about it.

You are no longer expected to be perfect and achieve all things on your to-do list today. Yes, obviously, some things have to get done and are non-negotiable (feed the dog/children/partner/goldfish).

The best we can do is to aim for putting forth our best effort for a certain amount of time for a certain task/set of tasks. This doesn’t guarantee results. Lots of stuff might get in the way, both legitimate and procrastinatory.

productivity

Bad days will happen, thwarting our best efforts. BUT, giving our best efforts EVERY DAY means that there will be GOOD DAYS when we zoom through our to-do lists, finish projects, and reach major milestones.

The good days and bad days will balance out until we are operating at the level of productivity is that is optimal for us. Nature will always seek its level…and nature is inexorable.  We can nudge the needle a little through practice, habit, and knowledge, but the only real way to change is the unglamorous, unmarketable reality of plodding persistence over time.

Earthquakes are quick and exciting, but gentle water over time carved the Grand Canyon.

Does this mean I’m doomed to serve fries forever?

Probably not.

Yeah, I know. Not the answer you’re looking for, but hey, I’m gonna side-step that trap of absolute guarantees.

productivity

I feel your pain. I fight ‘Fryolator Flunkie Fear’ every day, and this past year, I’ve struggled with more bad days than good days. But, I haven’t given up yet.

All I can do is give my best effort today, accept what I did and did not accomplish for what it is, get up tomorrow, and give my best effort again.

You with me?

(Oh, and I have a lot more to say about the evil productivity self-help industry, so there will be more posts on that! LOL)


WANANANO?

I have lots of things coming up to help you get through NaNoWriMo! As usual, I will be right there alongside you, slinging words and pulling hair.

On November 1, Kristen Lamb and I will be doing a LIVE ALL-DAY WRITE-IN on our YouTube channel – Reynolds & Lamb.

NaNoWriMo

For the first time, and for FREE, you can hang out with me and Kristen, chatting, putting words up on the board, and getting jazzed for NaNoWriMo! We’ll probably also be dishing out expert writing advice…because we can’t help it.

But seriously, if you’ve never seen us together, you are missing out on doctorate-level snark, random goat noises, and 10 million watt energy!

I’m also offering two classes – one to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, and one to help you get through it. Check them out below!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $77.00 USD (both classes live/recorded AND bonus gift!)

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: (see below)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off!

And, did I say bonus gift? I did! That’s right. When you buy the WANANANO Class Bundle, you will get a FREE copy of my “Book-in-a-Box” template that you can keep and use for all your stories.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 


Book-in-a-Box: Get Ready for NaNoWriMo like a Doomsday Prepper!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: MONDAY, October 29, 2018. 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

The best part of NaNoWriMo is the worldwide energy and camaraderie that fuels the writing community. The worst part of NaNoWriMo is facing the fact that we are trying to write a story from beginning to end in 30 days.

For many writers, planning out our NaNo novel ahead of time feels like cheating. Well…so what? It’s not cheating if we don’t add the plan into the word count. In fact, it’s what I like to call SMART WINNING.

Yet, those of us who are planners and plotters still want to be part of the slightly-giddy, euphoric rush of pseudo-pantsing through NaNo with millions of other writers.

Fear not, Wordy Warrior! I am going to share with you my Book-in-a-Box Method that will give you the ability to plot and pants as much or little as you want while helping you stay focused on the finish line.

This class will cover:

  • The Book-Before-the-Book: the secret magical well that you can come back to every time you get stuck or blocked;
  • The Serial Killer Wall: capturing, tracking, plotting in real-time (string and duct tape not included);
  • Stress-Free Plotting is not an Oxymoron: how to cruise through all three acts, figure out chapters, and keep the action going…all without breaking a sweat.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

THE WANANANO CLASS BUNDLE! (with a bonus gift!)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off!

And, did I say bonus gift? I did! That’s right. When you buy the WANANANO Class Bundle, you will get a FREE copy of my “Book-in-a-Box” template that you can keep and use for all your stories.

REGISTER HERE!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.


The Sticky Middle: Get out of the Swamp and over the Finish Line!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, November 16, 2018. 7:00 P.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

So…how’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

The first 10k words? No problem. Another 5k? I can pants that.

Now…I’m at 18k words with 14 days left…and 0 clues about where to go from here.

Sound familiar? This is what I call ‘The Sticky Middle,’ and it is a treacherous swamp that can swallow even the most accomplished, focused writers. It is the moment when writers are most likely to be pulled under by the forces of writer’s block, insecurity, and exhaustion.

The Sticky Middle is the root cause of 98% (I’m guessing here, but I’m pretty darn sure I’m right) of all unfinished first drafts. This class will teach you how to get out of The Sticky Middle…not just for NaNoWriMo, but for every book you write from now on!

This class will cover:

  • Walking into Quicksand: Half of getting out of The Sticky Middle is knowing how we got in there in the first place…and how to avoid making these early mistakes next time;
  • Maslow Stripping: Assessing where characters are when we get stuck…and what we need to take away from them in order to move forward;
  • The Treasure Map: Making sure we have our eye on the prize (i.e. the ending), and how to use that to get through The Sticky Middle;
  • Stop! Break it Down!: (Couldn’t help myself with that…) A blunt, practical way to tackle the amorphous goo that is The Sticky Middle and wrestle it into realistic, achievable, bite-size steps.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

THE WANANANO CLASS BUNDLE! (with a bonus gift!)

Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off!

And, did I say bonus gift? I did! That’s right. When you buy the WANANANO Class Bundle, you will get a FREE copy of my “Book-in-a-Box” template that you can keep and use for all your stories.

REGISTER HERE!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude.