Thursday, January 17, 2013

Productivity Is A Four Letter Word

I've been thinking a lot about the notion of productivity.

When one thinks about productivity, one usually thinks about what one has done that day. How many chores we finished, errands we ran, projects we finished, the work that we did. Personal productivity is the motivation for many people to drag themselves out of bed in the morning and put on pants. This notion of having to do things in order to feel good about oneself is very strange, don't you think? Simply being alive and breathing should suffice to satisfy our ego enough. So where does this come from? Why must I tally off each and every task completed and feel better about higher numbers?

So let's look at the history of "productivity" and see if we can unravel the conundrum of it's looming presence in our lives.

Productivity is an economic concept connecting the measurement of efficiency to production, relating the total input to the total output of a single unit. The term was coined in the early 19th century (1), during the escalation of the Industrial Revolution. A quick look at the history books will give you an idea of what was going on at the time. The world experienced a huge economic boom which, it could be argued, continues today. We have reached the peak moment in this event, however, and it is evident in all of our institutions that the Victorian ideals that drive our Industrialist philosophies are unsustainable and flawed.

Productivity has crept into the deepest recesses of the human psyche through the clever use of money and commodity. We are consumers, and the notion of economic productivity touches every facet of our lives. Even our expectation of ourselves as people.

Pseudonyms of productivity include, "abundance" (which relates to the creation of "starvation economies"), "fertility" and "potency" (relating subconsciously to gender politics), "richness" (relating to wealth, and wealth back to consumption; and also to quality of life). These words trigger different subconscious relationships to productivity in our brains.

Productivity as abundance means we will never have enough; we will work to earn and consume and hoard. We work to fuel the productivity loop. We create capital to gain capital. And if we find ourselves with more than we need, we hoard that capital in banks and garages and storage facilities. Or stocks and real-estate. If you are not productive in this way, you live a life plagued by unfulfilled needs. You are deprived, and poor, and lazy. Very negative things to be.

Productivity as "fertility" and "potency" feeds our instinctual need to create. One could argue that the drive to reproduce and gender politics are influenced by this subliminal aspect of productivity. If you are not fertile, you are sterile. If you are not potent, you are weak. For women, this means you cannot produce children, and for some women, it carries the ridiculous notion that you are "less of a woman". For men, it is an affront to their masculinity; we all know the toxic stigma that being "impotent" carries. I mean, you must be a sissy if you aren't sporting a raging boner at all times, ready to rock!

Productivity as "richness" is pretty obvious. If you aren't productive, you are a lazy, stinky bum who lives in a shopping cart in an alley and begs for change. For not contributing to the production/consumption loop, you are a burden on society. And no one wants that, right? (Except for those that choose it in the name of simplicity or adventure.)

Productivity is a positive word that people use to describe themselves. "I was super productive today!" "I had a very productive afternoon." "I was running around all day being productive!" These are all statements that make us feel very good about ourselves. This is productivity as progress, and this is where it gets complicated.

The notion of progress and the notion of productivity are married in their influence over our lives and culture. Lack of progress means you aren't "growing" or "allowing for positive change" or "developing". Further, and at it's root, it means you are lazy. And being lazy in this culture means that you aren't "producing" anything of "value".

Progress, value, and productivity are very toxic things in a starvation economy. They cause people to degrade things that have no monetary value, hold themselves to unrealistic expectations, devalue experience and the time it takes to gain it, develop toxic attitudes about taking time out for self exploration, attach deep meaning to material possessions and wealth, hoards of very negative things. And not meeting these unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves in the name of being productive makes us feel horrible about ourselves.

So what have we done? How did this abstract economic concept seep into every crack and crevice of our lives? I could rant about the unsustainability of the 1950's utopian concept of progress and the deep evils of capitalism, but you've no doubt heard about those elsewhere.

I propose something more... well... productive!

I propose that we unmask the concept of "productivity" for what it actually is. It is nothing. It is a rule we added to the game to complicate it for ourselves. Productivity is man made. Productivity is a restriction. Productivity is, above all, a stupid rule. I say we break the chains that bind us to ridiculous expectations and low self esteem. Dare to be unproductive! Deign to sit with yourself and do nothing but feel the sun and the breeze! Don't think about anything, don't move, don't listen to music, don't check your phone, just be here. Set a timer if you have to (I know it's lame, but it helps).

Be present, not productive. Celebrate the little victories like putting on pants and feeding yourself. If you are warm, comfortable and fed at the end of the day, I'd say you were pretty productive! Don't get mad at yourself for taking a day off to think, or heal, or sleep. Do what you have to do! If it conflicts with your productivity, you are being too productive, and you are not being present.

I know it's hard. Doing nothing and being present may lead to enlightenment (or a general feeling of wellbeing) but it is much harder and less immediately satisfying than being "productive". Being present takes time. It takes time to learn how to do it, and one needs to make the time to do it. Because it takes time, the rewards, though greater, take time to manifest and appreciate, but they are worth the wait. (I hate the word "manifest", it's overused but it's the best I've got at the present moment.) Let go of your attachment to productivity and begin living up to your own expectations. And then let go of those expectations and really find bliss.

Do what you have to do, don't put productivity above yourself. I wish there was a word other than productivity that encapsulated the concepts of "do what you have to do" and "be true to yourself first". Silly English, you don't have the right words. Productivity is a 4 letter word, and that word is "work". Work is no fun. "Play" and "live" are much more fun! Feeling good in your mind and body is a lot more fun. That's not to say that you shouldn't take care of yourself, but "doing what you have to do" and "work" aren't necessarily synonymous. There is work in doing what you have to do, but do just that. Just do what you have to do, don't get hung up on all the extra side-quests.

The game doesn't have to suck, because we can pick the rules we want to play with. I'm leaving productivity, in it's negative sense, to people that like complicating things. I'm much too busy playing my mo'betta game over here. Not only that, but I demand to play my own game. It is my choice. Don't diss me because my game is easier and more fun than yours. That's your problem. No fair trying to make me feel bad about my awesomeness.

Try it. That's the main message here. Try doing what you have to do instead of what productive industrialists tell you you "could" or "should" be doing. "Could" doesn't mean "should", and "should" doesn't mean "must". There are 3 words for a good reason. Try it. And make sure you fit in things that you "like" and "want" to do too. : )

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