We need to talk about Productivity

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 4 min read

When I say Productivity, what do you think of?

  • Does it have something to do with how many tasks you can complete over time?
  • Is it about the number of deliverables produced by the teams you are on or lead?
  • Are you thinking about the types of reports you’d run?

While all of those things are perhaps the most dominant parts of the productivity conversation, it’s not the full picture. I would actually argue without the broader picture, no amount of hacks, tricks, tips, or tools, will cure what ails you.

Today, I feel the need to talk about “Big Picture Productivity,” the one that often goes overlooked.

The Perfect Productivity System

My good friend Matt recently sent me an article by Oliver Burkeman from his newsletter The Imperfectionist.

In this article, Oliver describes the recurring process of discovering a new productivity technique or system, excitedly indulging in it, only to find the novelty wearing off soon after. He describes the feeling of the system becoming just another thing to do or manage. He describes the discomfort of realizing that this system, too, would fail to do the work for him or achieve the dream of being “set-it-and-forget-it.”

Time after time, this would result in the same realization that the work still needed to be done. That we’d still need to show up.

Maybe this resonates with you, maybe this experience feels familiar. We search high and low for the best system. We try different methodologies hoping to find the one that gives us a leg up on the competition. The one that finally lets us leave work feeling accomplished.

For me, I think this illustrates an interesting facet of the productivity industry: the system vs the outcome.

What’s the point?

What is the purpose of your productivity?

  • Is it to achieve maximum efficiency with your system?
  • Is it to facilitate the ability to achieve your outcomes?
  • Is it about what happens at work or what happens when you leave work?

Simply put, where is your focus?

When I approach my productivity systems, I am looking for something that is as useful as possible in service of helping me stay on track to produce the things I want to share with the world. I am also looking for the system to help me recover time that would otherwise be lost to repetition or inefficiency. With that recovered time, I indulge in relaxation, hobbies, and spending time with those I love.

Productivity is a discipline comprised of systems, processes, and methodologies that serve my goals. The productivity is not, in and of itself, a goal.

You are not a machine

In too many productivity conversations, WE are left out of the equation. Instead, the WORK is what we focus on. In these cases, the work is not qualitative, it’s quantitative. We’re focused on how much, rather than what it is, or why we should work on it in the first place.

Few productivity guides mention our families or friends. It’s one of the reasons my business partner Sarah’s COAT productivity methodology is so appealing; it actually encourages you to leave work behind and spend time with those who are important to you.

Part of being productive is including your life outside the task list. This means the people that are important to you.

The Reclaimation

The Produtivity Industrial Complex has sought to reduce humans to inputs in a system that pursues ruthless efficiency. Let’s reclaim Productivity for the people.

Let’s ensure that we’re being productive in service of things worth producing. Let’s make our goal the ability to walk away from work to spend time with those we love, rather than using that extra time to get a few more things done.

You’re not a machine, you’re a superhuman. Work on things worth caring about and make time for those who wait patiently for your attention.

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