Productivity: Origins, Obsession, and How to Break Free

Discover the history and downsides of productivity as we know it today.

Călina Mureșan
Published in
4 min readMar 21


Photo by cottonbro studio

Productivity is a term that has become synonymous with success and efficiency in today’s society. It’s a measure of how much work an individual can accomplish in a given amount of time. But where did this idea of productivity come from, and why are we so obsessed with it?

Where did it all start?

The concept of productivity dates back to the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, machines began to replace human labor, and factories became more efficient as a result. The goal was to produce as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, which led to the development of new management techniques and systems that emphasized productivity.

One of the pioneers of the productivity movement was Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American mechanical engineer who developed the concept of “scientific management” in the late 1800s. Taylor believed that productivity could be increased by analyzing and optimizing work processes, and by training workers to perform tasks in the most efficient way possible.

Taylor’s ideas were influential in the early 20th century, and his principles were widely adopted by businesses and organizations around the world. The focus on productivity became even more pronounced during the two World Wars, as nations needed to produce as much as possible to support their war efforts.

Today, productivity remains a central goal for many individuals and organizations. We live in a fast-paced world where time is often seen as a scarce resource, and the ability to produce more in less time is highly valued. In many industries, productivity is linked to profitability, so companies are constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and output.

What is productivity today?

But there’s a downside to this obsession with productivity. It’s easy to fall into the productivity trap, where we measure our worth based on how much we can accomplish in a day. We sacrifice our health, our relationships, and our happiness in pursuit of this elusive goal.