The Tyranny of Productivity

in the future

This morning, while leafing through the Internet with my first cup of coffee, I came across an article that I thought would interest a new friend, so I sent it to her. We exchanged pleasantries, I wished her a pleasant day or something to that effect, and she wished me a productive day.

And I responded, “The tyranny of productivity”. It’s easy enough to tell yourself that you’re going to write stuff today, but to actually write something worth sharing even with the mouse next to your keyboard is not always easy. It’s not always associated with that spark of creativity, which I had been looking for while playing with Inspirobot last night (all images within this post are from there).

Being productive and creative is a tyranny. Some things take time to percolate but after a certain point in time it becomes procrastination. Being productive by itself is often associated with being busy, and I see lots of people who are busy every day who aren’t productive. Getting things done is productivity, and if you’re too busy being productive it’s worth looking at why you’re so busy – but often, we’re so busy we don’t have the time to figure out why we’re not being productive until we have no choice or we burn out.

flirt with your life

There’s often a sense of being overwhelmed when this happens. Things become repetitive, you feel you’re in a rut, and you somehow have to push yourself forward or you feel like you’re falling behind. It’s not as if you’re going to wake up in the morning, roll off whatever you were sleeping on and suddenly start pummeling a keyboard and fashion something creative that other people might actually want to read.

After all, the whole point of writing is to be read. I know quite a few people who claim the title of writer, who write things that are published in newspapers that are read with the same gusto that I used to read the sides of cereal boxes with. There’s an entire generation who did not grow up eating breakfast and reading cereal boxes while doing so, and thus it seems that the writers for the ingredients of cereal boxes are sometimes employed by newspapers to make those of us who did read those boxes comfortable. I wish they would stop.

To be considered productive, one has to produce things. And as she and I later discussed on the phone, the things we prize the most are not the things we cherish the most, and the things others prize the most are the things we throw away as crap. Granted, she does photography at a much more professional scale than I have ever contemplated, and I write at a scale that I contemplate too much about, but these things seem to apply to just about any creative…. work. ‘Work’. Nobody wants to work.

creativity fuckupWe all want a feeling of accomplishment, though, and growing up as I did, with the engineering side of the family, the intuitive leaps weren’t as appreciated as grinding away at a problem. In a peculiar sense, creativity is often considered a fuckup because to produce things with creativity requires that little spark that you don’t get when trudging away at a problem. It’s that part of software engineering that I hated, but had to become good at.

Yet we need productivity. We need to produce things, creative or not, because we are tied to silly addictions like food, shelter, and clothing. It’s not often we get to merge the both creativity and productivity, and speaking for myself and the people I know, that little nexus is where we live. That eureka moment when writing some software, where you get to solve something in a unique way, or finding a new way to look at something for photography (literal) or writing (figurative) is a form of mental and/or emotional orgasm. Sort of like that guy Nikola Tesla once said:

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success … Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

So, we work on it, and like a child who has just made the latest great art piece for a parent, we might expect it to be hung on a refrigerator door, or for fear of it not being good enough, we may hide it away under our beds. Either way, we may not feel that our work is respected, and we may think because we’re not making money, getting page views or some other arbitrary thing that we are not being productive.

Productivity is judged.

So, like this little post about the tyranny of productivity and it’s practical issues… a sense of accomplishment can come from many things. I feel like I have unburdened myself, and in that way, this post is productive.

One thought on “The Tyranny of Productivity

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