The Cult of Productivity
Coffee: Productivity Tool or BEST Productivity Tool?

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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May 25, 2016

Coffee: Productivity Tool or BEST Productivity Tool?

Coffee: Productivity Tool or BEST Productivity Tool? (Shinya Suzuki, CC BY)

The cult of productivity is a hard thing to resist.

So many pretty pictures of gorgeous planners layouts, imported planners, custom planners, different pens and paper to try out and it’s all wrapped up in the idea that we’re all supporting each other in our goals (and yet: some animals are more equal than others) and yet. Yet.

For me, the point is to reduce the amount of thinking I have to do on a day to day basis around what I want or need to do.  Knowing that I always pay bills and balance our bank accounts on Thursdays means that I don’t worry about it other times. Writing down things I need to do at work means that those things actually get done. Keeping an editorial calendar means that I know when I need to sit down and write posts and newsletters.

And all that means that if I want to spend an entire day mainlining Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, then I can do that guilt-free because I know that everything else has been or will be handled at the appropriate time.

For me, there is freedom in structure.

You don’t need to buy anything or give anyone money to learn how to get shit done

You really, truly, don’t.

Here are the basics of pretty much every productivity system out there:

  • Record and organize the stuff you want to accomplish. Paper, text editor, clay tablet, whatever.
  • Break it down into smaller pieces and put it into some sort of reasonable order–in project management terms, this is called developing your work breakdown structure (WBS) and your critical path (PERT charts are fun, too).
  • Finally, work on your projects a little at a time.

The caveat is this: getting shit done doesn’t mean success–at least not success in a capitalist society, by which I mean lots of money–is guaranteed..

Productivity “gurus” and prosperity gospel

And the world is full of people who want to sell you the dream that success can be guaranteed. But only if you pay $2,500 for their six week online course. Only if you pay $97 for their meditation coloring book that will help you visualize away the bad energy that’s blocking you. Only if.

Only. If.

And once you’re on the hook, you believe, because you have to–it’s a sunk cost fallacy (I loathe the headline but the article is good). You’ve invested all this money, why isn’t it working? The problem must be with you. You’re not trying hard enough. That’s the lie they sell you to keep you on the hook. It’s prosperity gospel re-written with a New Age or secular focus and the only person making any money is the person leading the revival.  No, the universe does not “speak to us through cash flow” as a marketing email I received earlier this week stated.

Kelly Diels talks about this as part of her series of posts on the “Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand”: On the ‘Mental Triggers’ of Online Marketing, The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, Assessing Who Deserves Your Money, and Why We Should Be Skeptical of Makeover Stories.

While I was writing this, I received an email from a list I’m on with someone’s sad history and how they’ve managed to bootstrap themselves up into prosperity and freedom and they want to help me, too–but for a price. I wonder how many fish she’ll catch with her inspirational story. Which just happens to be shaped like every other rags to riches story I’ve ever read.

I don’t begrudge people making a living.

I do begrudge a system that disproportionately advantages a small subset of people. In this case, the advantaged people are primarily conventionally attractive, white, cis, straight. Mostly women–men have more latitude in how they look when they’re trying to build their “brand”. I begrudge a system that takes advantage of people who have very little to use.

It starts to feel a lot bit like Landmark Education, which I had an encounter with in the late ’90s.  They didn’t get any money out of me (thank goodness), but it was very much Not A Fun Experience.  One should never feel like one has to run a gauntlet of sales people haranguing you for not believing in your potential as you try to leave. Because you don’t have $500 for their dumb course and when you tell them that they tell you that if you really wanted it, you’d find a way to pay for it.

And here’s the money quote from that article about Landmark:

The profitable field Landmark helped pioneer is now crowded with life coaches, time-management gurus, and productivity bloggers. Like David Allen’s Getting Things Done or Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Landmark is just one of dozens of quasi-philosophies that promise to empty your inbox and fulfill your personal goals.

Everything old is new again.

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