In defense of productivity

by Jason Swett,

Anti-productivity sentiment

In my career I’ve noticed that a lot of developers have a distaste for the idea of “productivity”. They view it as some sort of toxic, unhealthy obsession. (It always has to be an “obsession”, by the way. One can never just have an interest in productivity.)

Productivity is often associated with working harder and longer, sacrificing oneself for a soulless corporation.

In a lot of ways I actually agree with these people. Having an unhealthy obsession with anything is obviously unhealthy, by definition. And I think working long and hard for its own sake, for no meaningful reward, is a waste of precious time.

But I think sometimes these anti-productivity people are so blinded by their natural aversion to “productivity culture” that they miss out on some good and worthwhile ideas, ideas they would actually like if they opened their minds to them.

“Productivity” is a pretty ambiguous word. It could have a lot of different interpretations. I’d like to share my personal interpretation of productivity which I happen to quite like. Maybe you’d like to adopt it for yourself.

My version of productivity

For me, productivity isn’t about obsessively tracking every minute of the day or working so hard you burn yourself out.

The central idea of productivity for me is decreasing the ratio of effort to value. This could mean working less to create the same value or it could mean working the same to create more value. Or anywhere in between. Each person can decide for themselves where they’d like to set the dial.

I value a calm, healthy mind and body. People obviously do better work when they’re relaxed and even-keeled than when they’re harried and stressed.

Productivity for me is about realizing that our time on this planet is limited and precious, and that we shouldn’t be needlessly wasteful with our time but rather protect it and spend it thoughtfully.

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