The Danger of Trying to Be Too Productive

You can get addicted to anything, including exercise, knitting, reading, and even organizing. These are elusive addictions because they involve doing something we deeply enjoy or have positive benefits. The reasons propelling overactivity may be problematic, or the result of the addiction may be troublesome. For example, if you exercise to the point of injury or are upset with your body image. Doing more of something “good” isn’t always better. I’ve begun to see this with productivity and optimization culture.

Let’s start with the positive: Productivity strategies help us save time and money, improve performance, boost efficiency, and avoid burnout. That’s why I love productivity tactics, to-do lists, and automated systems. I’m always looking for ways to optimize them and help clients do the same. While this is typically advantageous, there’s a danger in acquiring new problems and no longer meeting the objectives of the problem you’re trying to solve.

The danger begins with excessive time reading books and articles about productivity and focus. Then you implement systems, some of which take an investment of time. After that, you may switch plans when you hear about a new and better system or strategy. And because you are now obsessed with optimizing, you spend more time scouring the internet for videos on the topic. When our focus becomes productivity itself, instead of things we want to do more efficiently and effectively, we must investigate. Have we crossed a tipping point where we’re not optimizing our time anymore because the return on our investment is nil or costly? Once we crossover, we find ourselves in a time trap, and contentment becomes challenging to achieve.

Let’s consider an example of optimizing effectively and avoiding potential pitfalls. I have a friend who pays to get his groceries delivered. His reasoning was simple. He didn’t like going to grocery stores. He tends to buy mostly the same items weekly per his meal plan, and his hourly rate is higher than the delivery fee. Also, he’s not bothered by one of the primary optimization system fails: ordered items are left out of the delivery, or the wrong ones are included. He doesn’t care if the best cantaloupe isn’t chosen. Further, he doesn’t spend time trying all the grocery stores and shopping strategies to optimize continually. Instead, he found something that performed well enough and addressed the problem he wanted to solve. In other words, grocery delivery wins the trade-off when looking at the situation from all angles. It’s optimization done right.

Suppose you’ve successfully put all these productivity strategies into practice and built systems and habits to maintain them. A possible result is creating a frictionless life too well. This may lead to you losing your patience and ability to deal with unexpected moments of friction. Parts of your system not working perfectly may become problematic. It’s easy to fall into the expectation of life working so smoothly that the smallest detours rock you. And you may even blame yourself for these, under the impression that you have much more control over your life than you do. On the contrary, I believe that some friction helps us build strength and resilience. It lets us see that we don’t (and shouldn’t) have control over everything.

The meaning behind why you’re optimizing is essential. The goal isn’t productivity. It’s everything you want to accomplish and experience via the focus, time, and money saved. Optimization provides the tools to help you get there, but only to the extent that it’s not an activity unto itself.

The motto here at Less Equals More is to “build your life around meaning and forget about the rest.” We optimize to avoid spending more time than necessary on the things that don’t matter. Even though we believe organization is key to creating a simple life, we warn against “over-organizing” rather than simplifying. Never lose sight of your true objective.

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