You Are Not a Machine — Why ‘Productivity’ Sucks

Society tells us that to be good at something, we just have to try really, really hard. We have to care about one thing, push forward, and if we bleed enough, sweat enough, and shed enough tears, we’ll reach the beautiful land of success.

This may be true for those at the top of their game. (Although you should check out Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments to the contrary in the brilliant Outliers.)

For the rest of us, though, life offers too many opportunities. There’s so much at our finger tips, and not enough time. Each day, there’s a new hobby to pick up, a new film to watch, a new game to play or a new experience to try.

If you took a look around my flat, you’d see the remnants of a number of disparate hobbies: turntables, a guitar, a keyboard, a coffee machine, various kitchen gadgets, a pair of dumbbells, and so on.)

Then, there’re the books on psychology, marketing, history, philosophy, cooking, strategy, music biographies.

You get the picture. I’m a commitment-phobe when it comes to hobbies.

I’ll never be the best at anything. Because if you look at those who are the top in their field, they often give up a lot to reach that point. They’ve decided that being good at something is the absolute only thing they want, and they’ve gone full steam ahead.

The rest of us are commitment-phobes, who want to do way too much with way too little time.

For the longest time, this anxiety has forced me to try and find ways to optimise my life. To focus only on the one thing I can so I can be the best at it. The difficulty is, this changes each week. One week I may want to be an author. The next a musician. Then a business owner.

Then, there’s technology. Apps are great but they can facilitate this anxiety. When I’ve burned through 15 or so different to-do list apps, searched for places to hold everything in one place, or checked my RSS feeds to read every. single. article. I’m wasting time.

So, what can we do? Embrace imperfection. Cull the long, dreaded to-do list. And recognise that popular news and inbox zero are for people who have too much time on their hands. Recognise non-important, non-urgent work, for what it is — a waste of your time.

You’ll probably never be the best, and that’s okay. Just enjoy what you do, learn a wide range of skills and take advantage of opportunities.

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