Productivity Fallacy

There’s a huge misconception about productivity in our society. People believe job efficiency comes from the dedicated hours in a work and the numerous tasks of to do list in the schedules.

People believe that hardworking is a good sign. Therefore, they fill their schedule and life with task and activities to make them look engaged and productive. Because busy means more productivity, more productivity means more efficiency in life and work. This is a very typical social norm in modern society. When people are busy, they tend to associate them with the successful and hardworking person.

What If I tell you, we were completely wrong. I am not joking. It’s true. And it is happening around us, and yet people are not aware of this perilous state. In the early 1900’s, during the industrial revolution, humans formed more complex societies and living method. We need to cooperate with stranger and people in order to get the things done and feed the family. So, we began to work to get food on the table. The way to improve the life during that era is only one option. To associate yourself with more work and busy to earn more money just to survive in the society.

But the truth is, if you engage yourself with unnecessary task, appointment, replying email, meetings. You don’t necessarily have the time to challenge the limit of your capability and creativity in your work and life. We will fall into the infinity loop of routine and work like a robot. Because, productivity is meant for the machine, the machine can produce incessantly without any sense of stress or fatigue.

Behavioral scientists divided what we do in our job into two categories. “Algorithmic” and “Heuristic”. An algorithmic task is one that follows a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion. A heuristic task is an opposite. We have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. For instance, grocery checkout clerk is mostly algorithmic. Creating an ad campaign or creative problem-solving is a heuristic task, we have to come up with something new.

But during the 20th century, most of our work was algorithmic. Even when we traded blue collars for white, the tasks we carried out were often routine. We can now reduce much of what we did, in accounting, marketing, law, computer programming, design, and other fields. Wherever it can be done are always the cheapest and fastest.

Routine work can be outsourced or automated. That’s means we are dispensable in the workplace as an alternative for cheaper and faster robots.

For Epictetus, the great Stoic Roman philosopher and slave. What are the chances that the busiest person you know is actually the most productive?

“I can’t tell a person a hard worker just because I hear they read and write, even if working at it all night. Until I know what a person is working for, I can’t deem them industrious …. I can if the end they work for is their own ruling principle, having it be and remain in constant harmony with Nature.”

We tend to associate busyness with goodness and believe that spending many hours at work should be rewarded. Instead, we should evaluate what are we doing, why are we doing it, and where accomplishing will it lead us. If we don’t have a good answer, then we should reconsider about the tasks.

My favorite author, Seth Godin once described that ” Scientists are the Explorer”. Because lab assistants do what they are told. Scientists figure out what to do next. To explore, to follow hunches, to see the landscape and plot a new course. Setting ourselves up to be surprised is a conscious choice. Craig Venter, who first decoded the human genome, didn’t wait for someone to tell him what to do next. Marco Polo explored the continent of Asia, the first European to meet Kublai Khan. China’s great armada, admiral, Zheng He, the first of seven epic voyages as far west as Africa. Because they understand that there’s always another argument or mystery around the corner, which means the map is never perfected.

We people are designed to be active and engaged. Just like children, they careen from one thing to another thing. They burst with autotelic experiences, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of possibility, and working with dedication. Then at some point in our lives, we don’t. What happens? Because we start to conform, complacent with our work and life.

Once in a while, stop and think about our life, what is the purpose and meaning behind of all this routine work. If you can’t find a purpose, we should seek for our vocation and inner voice. Do the work that meant for the greater picture. Be proactive, initiatives, don’t wait for instructions. Because we are not the robots.