Productivity leaders are turning away from productivity

What’s next for growth?

When it comes to figuring something out, I dive into tips and self-help. I can find the information, I can learn, I can do this. So when this past year yielded all the stress and problems and anxieties that was 2020, this is what I did. What I noticed though, was that stories on personal growth and productivity took a shift.

Jocelyn K. Glei writes about creativity and productivity, and hosts a podcast called Hurry Slowly¹. The podcast is full of productivity advice, but from an angle that includes more compassion towards the self — which feels especially crucial right now.

This latest episode called “R.I.P Productivity” ends on a bold note for anyone interested in personal growth and development:

What we need is not to learn how to be more productive, but to learn how to heal ourselves from our toxic obsession with productivity. You don’t need any more productivity advice from me, or anyone else. You don’t need to buy anything, or read anything, or listen to anything, or do anything to make yourself “better.” Your best self is a mirage capitalism created to make you feel inadequate so that you buy more stuff. Forget about it. Hang up the phone. Let’s work with this self. The one that’s right here, right now. It’s all you’ve got, and it’s pretty good. Let’s let go of all that striving, and plant the seeds for something new. What will you nourish and grow in the coming year? And how will you share your essence?

A few years ago, I took a break from productivity. What I found was this lingering tension of who am I without the things I make?

The feeling of constant striving is familiar. When it’s mixed up with problems way beyond the scope of what we can control, in a way that affects us on a day to day (like now), it can become untenable. I noticed this feeling, and I made a meditation to help relieve it. This was my hack. I was excited to find it. It didn’t really work for long though.

Similar to Glei, Cal Newport is a productivity writer who found the model of personal productivity flawed. It’s the push for autonomy that puts an undue stress on the individual. This becomes futile when there’s issues with the system as a whole. To grow here means to figure out a system of work collectively. In the “Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done², ” Newport suggests:

Even if we convince ourselves that the psychological toll of overload culture is acceptable collateral damage for a fast-paced modern world, there’s too much latent economic value at stake to keep ignoring the haphazard nature of how we currently work. It’s ironic that Drucker, the very person who extolled the potential of knowledge-worker productivity, helped plant the ideas that have since held it back. To move forward, we must step away from Drucker’s commitment to total autonomy — allowing for freedom in how we execute tasks without also allowing for chaos in how these tasks are assigned. We must, in other words, acknowledge the futility of trying to tame our frenzied work lives all on our own, and instead ask, collectively, whether there’s a better way to get things done.

At the end of 2020 I got a bunch of books for personal growth and development that I was planning on reading over the first weeks of 2021. You know, start the year strong. Figure my way through. I’m still going to read them, learn, and apply the principles, but be a bit gentle about all of it. You’ll see me blog about some of it here. But more generally, I’m curious to follow this space and see where it goes. I’m looking forward to seeing how the tone, language, and approaches shift.

How are you approaching productivity and growth in 2021?

[1] h/t Sarah Klearman for recommending this wonderful podcast. [2] h/t Scott Lamb for pointing me to this article, and 🙏 in general for the ongoing thread on work and wellbeing.




Author of “Feeling Great About My Butt.” Previously: Creators @Medium, Product @embedly, Research @NECSI.

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Kawandeep Virdee

Kawandeep Virdee

Author of “Feeling Great About My Butt.” Previously: Creators @Medium, Product @embedly, Research @NECSI.

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