'Productivity'. The enemy of the mind.

About ten minutes ago, I had just finished listening to a Ted Talk about some guy who gave up the internet for a year. I didn't really pay attention for most of the talk, because I was a) balancing my laptop awkwardly over the arm of the chair because my Fitbit was charging in one of the usb holes and Apple obviously didn't think of the fact that many people's laps are actually crossed legs, and b) busy reading one rather graphic Facebook post about how someone's boyfriend didn't know his way around female anatomy. I did hear one word that resonated with me in the closing gambit of said Ted talk - and that word was 'productivity'. I paused for a second, and then I typed 'What's so great about being productive' into Google. 

This probably seems like a ridiculous question, but I hear the word everywhere I bloody go these days. 'Productivity tools' like the Eisenhower Box pepper my inbox from every direction, and this obsession with benchmarking and measuring and just fucking judging ourselves and everyone around us has built up as a knee jerk reaction to the 'jobs for the boys' club who never held anyone accountable or assigned worth based on output. But perhaps Thom Yorke was actually right all these years, and the 'fitter, happier, more productive' human was merely a construct sold to teenagers of the 90s to make us all work harder. It's all '6 effective ways to enhance workplace productivity', 'The 7 drivers of workplace productivity', '4 surprising truths about workplace productivity', and I'm expecting to come across '5 pointless mantras that merely serve as distraction from productivity', '3 little pigs and their house that productivity built' and '1 great idea - how's about we just get on with it?!' pretty soon.

We're so busy trying to not only BE productive, but to PROVE how productive we're being all the time, that we forget that there really is no substitute for doing something really good, really well, no matter how much you plan for it, how long it takes and how well you can describe what you did to make it. This is how art works, and why creative genii are so aloof, nay mysterious. Now, I'm in no way claiming any status akin to genius here, but if you asked me how I wrote any of my last three albums of music (I know, right? A whole three!) I would probably give you one of my stock made-up answers because as musicians one must have something to hand to trot out, otherwise our mystique ebbs away, a bit like that weirdo princess's world in Neverending Story (and yes I'm singing the theme tune right now). I found out during a job interview that if someone asks you how you did something fairly substantial and you say 'I don't know', it tends to count against you. But who cares how I did it? I was vibed out in my creative zone! I wasn't following a project plan and cutting myself off just before I finished a song because I'd overrun a deadline, or documenting each melody line before asking people what they thought before I carried on - I really couldn't give a fuck what anyone else thinks of the music I write, because I just write what comes out at the time - it's not something I have much control over. And that's exactly what productivity is all about: control. More specifically, it's control of the self, and if you've read many of my other posts you may have recognised a theme about self-control - I just don't have any.

Having no self-control doesn't have to be a bad thing though, and this is what I keep coming back to in the multitude of conversations I have with people I work with about this. When you're in that slightly meditative state that happens when you're writing your best stuff, you're completely focused in on what you're doing. You're not doing anything that distracts from that, so in that sense you're doing the opposite of multi-tasking, and recently people have begun to realise that doing loads of things at once, which was once hailed as the 'superfood' of human abilities, might in fact be a bit of a red herring (one that's been in the bin rotting and working up a stink for a while).

In the time it takes me to try and focus my mental chatter long enough to arrange my tasks into order of priority and then importance, I could've easily got some work done. In fact I do my best thinking when I'm just staring out of the window, musing on something at random and seeing where my mental drift takes me. I actually started another post that goes on to talk about this 'thinking time' as I call it so I won't go into great detail here, suffice it to say that hardly anyone is making time for this anymore and that's why we're a bit stifled and everyone wants to work somewhere like Google or Apple, where they've created an atmos of relaxation to promote alpha brain waves, and in turn induce creativity. I actually believe that one of the main reasons I inhabited my own imaginary world for so long into my teens was because ultimately I enjoyed the feeling of being in this state, but it also meant I could generate ideas from things that I orchestrated in my own mind. I'm pretty sure I also get what are known as 'intrusive alpha waves' - which happen during REM sleep - because I frequently have very long and very detailed dreams and sometimes even lucid dreams where I'm aware I'm in a dream but I'm in total control of myself for once.

In summary, self-control and productivity are both slightly bollocksy and should be applied with an awareness of this. 

I found this article, which totally sums up what I think about this - only in a much more succinct and shorter way (giving you that bit of time back to go and pretend to be... productive...?).


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