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Rethink Your Definition of Productivity to Squash Uninspired Fill…

"Volume does not equal vitality." – Kelton Reid

You’re not losing your mind.

A constant stream of social media posts on the internet right now promise to pull back the curtain on the next great advancement in usefulness, productivity, or shiny automation engines.

The cult of productivity is always knocking on our doors because it’s a part of a $10 billion institution that never sleeps, and our hyperconnectedness amplifies it.

“Howtoism” (aka self-improvement) has been a large part of traditional publishing, and there are more than 45,000 titles in print to prove it. It’s built on planned obsolescence, each new title having the average shelf-life of about six months.

“Beware of technology that claims to solve your problems with more technology.” – Manoush Zomorodi, author of ‘Bored and Brilliant’

The more connected we become, the more our brains get addicted to that sweet hit of clicking on solutions to the problems we didn’t know we had, finding shortcuts to hyper-proficiency, and the answers to our FOMO.

It never lasts long, though. You find yourself clicking around the next day for the very same thing: the latest hack, the freshest app, webinar, or podcast that seems promising.

Is your “busyness” amounting to anything useful?

Tech addiction is real. There are whole movements rising against it and holidays dedicated to unplugging.

With 5G, fiber, the Internet of Things, and the “smartification” of entire cities, digital overwhelm can swallow us, and our time simultaneously seeps away searching for new ways to manage our time.

“Most of us have experienced this creeping sense of being overwhelmed: the feeling not merely that our lives are full of activity — that can be exhilarating — but that time is slipping out of our control.” – Oliver Burkeman, “Why time management is ruining our lives”

Productivity wasn’t a part of our vernacular until the late 1800s, right around the birth of the telephone, transcontinental travel by rail, and the arrival of the first time management guru (hired by a steel company in 1898 to improve industrial efficiency).

The cult of productivity has you

In the economic sense of the word, productivity is now defined as “… the effectiveness of productive effort … as measured in terms of the rate of output (of goods, products, etc.) per unit of input (of labour, materials, equipment, etc.) ….” (O.E.D.).

But the origins of the word are from the post-classical Latin, productivitas. Translation: creative power.

Maybe it’s time to reexamine how we define our productivity. Maybe we’re doing it wrong.

“Behaviors that have been chastised today as being unproductive, by a culture that mostly fetishizes measurable outputs like hours worked and reports produced, seem to actually be some of the most productive.” – Zat Rana

It’s like learning that you’ve been eating bananas the wrong way your whole life.

Creativity is at the core of our very human ability to take and process disparate ideas and influences, and to transform them into unique, useful, and innovative combinations.

“Don’t take shortcuts; they take too long.” – Sonia Simone

In order to “produce” something useful, you need time. Time to read, unplug, take a walk, daydream, reflect, engage, analyze, verify, and then — above all — create.

What app does that for you?

You probably don’t endeavor to become a content monkey — only measuring your effectiveness by the sheer volume of random, insouciant nonsense you bang out.

There are armies of people who do “volume” for a living, and they mostly live in Eastern Europe. They are productive.

Volume does not equal vitality

You have a unique style, process, and personality that makes you creative, makes you a writer, a content creator, and more importantly, a connector of ideas who a robot can’t come close to replicating.

Whether you’re a planner or pantser, binger or time-blocker, without some dash of creativity, you’re probably not connecting with your audience.

And you can get to know your creative psychology, but no productivity hack or app is going to do the hardest work for you.

“Read > Write > Publish (Repeat)” – Austin Kleon

Great writing and great content are created the old-fashioned way. Through hard work.

What did writers and marketers do before our hyperconnected era? They shipped because their lives depended on it.

A return to simplicity

I’ve heard the acronym for “keep it simple, stupid” a lot since I started working with the team at Copyblogger, and it makes sense:

Most systems work best when they are kept simple.

So why not take a step back in time for a moment?

Go analog for a day:

  • Put your phone in airplane mode and place it out of arm’s reach … for an hour or two (unless your spouse is very pregnant).
  • Let your mind wander, get bored on purpose, meditate, take a long walk and try to get lost.
  • Take a nap.
  • Read a paper book; they’re proven to sink in better than digital formats.
  • Go to a coffee shop; it works wonders.
  • Write your first draft in longhand, in a paper notebook. Handwriting notes, rather than copy/pasting into an app, has been proven to signal to your brain that they’re more important.
  • Write your to-do list on a Post-it note at the end of each day, an age-old productivity hack.
  • Then, when you’re ready to crack your knuckles and get going: unplug your computer from the internet, set a timer or a word count, and sit there and do nothing else until you’ve completed your goal.

What’s the worst that could happen?

No one said it would be easy, or sexy, or exhilarating.

But show up every day and you’re on a well-worn path to success.

“I’m basically nuts. I sit by myself every day, most days, eight hours in this little room. It feels like either a torment or an adventure. The only way I can still the torment or appreciate the adventure is to write it down.” – David Mamet

There is absolutely a right time and place for productivity hacks, learning from your mentors, harnessing automation, and a (healthful) addiction to busyness.

But a return to simplicity is a great option if you need some respite from all of the “new and shiny” out there.


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