I enjoy listening to productivity and growth podcasts and reading time-management and self-help books. We must be careful, though, that productivity and efficiency remain means and never goals.
Oliver Burkeman correctly cautions us: (Full Read)
But the modern zeal for personal productivity, rooted in Taylor’s philosophy of efficiency, takes things several significant steps further. If only we could find the right techniques and apply enough self-discipline, it suggests, we could know that we were fitting everything important in, and could feel happy at last. It is up to us – indeed, it is our obligation – to maximise our productivity. This is a convenient ideology from the point of view of those who stand to profit from our working harder, and our increased capacity for consumer spending. But it also functions as a form of psychological avoidance. The more you can convince yourself that you need never make difficult choices – because there will be enough time for everything – the less you will feel obliged to ask yourself whether the life you are choosing is the right one.
Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. “How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”
You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like – but eventually you’ll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren’t really about technology. They’re manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas. Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?
For Merlin Mann, consciously confronting these questions was a matter of realising that people would always be making more claims on his time – worthy claims, too, for the most part – than it would be possible for him to meet. And that even the best, most efficient system for managing the emails they sent him was never going to provide a solution to that. “Eventually, I realised something,” he told me. “Email is not a technical problem. It’s a people problem. And you can’t fix people.”
It isn’t prioritizing unless it’s hard to choose. It’s hard to decide what events to attend, what meetings to attend, what books and articles to read, what movies or tv shows to watch, and what issues to care about.
When prioritizing, we should always know what are our real goals.
- 7 Habits https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People
- Getting Things Done https://gettingthingsdone.com
- Deep Work https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692
- Habit https://www.amazon.com/Power-Habit-What-Life-Business/dp/081298160X/