Creative LeadershipCreativity

Is It Time To Say No To The Cult of Productivity?

I was drafted into the productivity cult a long time ago. I have 3 different To-Do List apps on my computer, iPhone and iPad. I have about 6 different calendar apps. I’ve experimented with roughly 20 different online productivity suites for our Cooke Media Group. I’ve read David Allen’s books (the holy scriptures of the productivity movement) and plenty of others. And the truth is, there’s something to be said for being organized. While I’m not a fanatic, I do believe that if you’re spending all your time searching for documents, clippings, books, files, or other materials, that simply takes away from creative time.

But there’s also those who are obsessed with simply being busy.  I noticed it long before the computer age. Early in my career I worked with a guy who spent the first hour or two of his morning just getting his to-do list down. It was a work of art – nice lines, organized, boxes to be checked. He constantly told everyone how “busy” he was, but the only problem?  He rarely ever accomplished anything significant. He was simply too busy keeping his to-do list up to date.

But there’s something even more sinister about the productivity movement. It’s the attitude that if you’re not busy, you’re not accomplishing anything. As a result, I have friends who don’t talk about accomplishment, they constantly talk about “being busy.”

“Hi, what are you doing?”
“Oh, you know – just staying busy!”

“Did you have a good day today?”
“No – I’m have so much to do, I barely scratched the surface.”

Writer Tom Kreider puts it this way: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

Maybe it’s time we worried less about being busy, and more about being significant.  But then again, significance takes deep thought, focus, and reflection.

And in today’s distracted world, it’s probably easier just to be busy.   

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  1. Thanks Phil. Great points that led me to think how I can apply these ideas you have shared. Here’s what came out of my meditation on your ideas:

    I should have a significant (value added) personal walk with God. I need to spend significant time and resources growing, nurturing and relaxing with my family. Then finally, I need to find ways to be significant (value added completions) in my ministries, which is whatever I am responsible to do, with the people I find myself surrounded with, each moment of everyday. Bloom (significantly) where I are planted.

    Hope this helps someone besides me.

  2. I agree. Many Americans young and old are discarding the current version of the “American Dream”. Me included. Opting to purposely dedicate time to doing absolutely nothing. Literally sitting still and daydreaming— “time-hacking”.

    Allowing their minds to wander. To embrace the impossible. To smell the roses. To travel the “road less traveled”. Wearing their brand, not someone else’s.

    For this former Type A workaholic, it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I highly recommend it.

  3. This article describes EVERYONE in Sydney! Whenever you ask ‘how are you’ the answer is always ‘busy!’

    The prior question is ‘busy doing what?’

    This also reminds me of what my friend Jonar Nader says about decision making, being that we are encouraged to be ‘good decision makers.’ A person may be very good at making bad decisions, but they are still good ‘decision makers.’ Rather what we want to be are ‘makers of good decisions’, and that may mean that we are not often perceived as being ‘busy.’

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