There is No Such Entity as Productivity
doing shit is much better than arranging how you do shit
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos where people show off their desktops, as I did in a recent open thread myself. (You are free to admire the patience of my girlfriend.) I don’t know why this stuff interests me, but it does. Intellectually, however, I recognize the genre as a function of the fetish for Productivity rather than as the pursuit of being more productive. The operative question, after anyone shows you their desktop setup, is OK, now what do you actually do at that desktop?
Capital-P Productivity is an internet obsession. There are myriad YouTube channels, podcasts, newsletters, and social media accounts dedicated to Productivity. There are journaling techniques and strategies for calendaring and methods for maintaining inspiration and so. many. time-saving. hacks. And the question I’m always left with is this: across all the people who consume all of this Productivity stuff, are they actually saving more time from all the tips and tricks than they’re spending consuming all that Productivity content? Because if they’re not, the whole thing seems misconceived to me. Perverse, really! Or, to take it from a slightly different angle - as my friend Alan Jacobs has asked, if you’re listening to podcasts at 1.5x speed to save time, you’re saving time in order to do… what, exactly? What are you doing with that “saved” time? And what does it have to do with the work you want to get done?
If Productivity is consumed for entertainment, like when I watch guys drone on about their desktops, then there’s no issue. Being entertained is an end unto itself. But if people are getting really into Productivity because they want to be more productive, I think it’s a trap. You will almost always be better served simply doing the task that you want to be more productive about than finding new ways to be Productive. And I suspect that that’s what a lot of Productivity is really about - an excuse to avoid doing the task that you don’t want to do while convincing yourself that you’re really doing something productive. Productivity is, at best, a second-order abstraction; that is to say, it’s an abstraction of other abstractions. Work is work. Productivity is what you concern yourself with when you’re doing something other than working.