298: Is Productivity a Worthwhile Goal?

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Happy Monday!

I published a new article last week on "Building a Sustainable Play & Earn Economy," based on what we're doing at Crypto Raiders.

Not much else besides that, so on to the Medley!

Is Productivity a Worthwhile Goal?

There's a line I love from "Finite & Infinite Games:"

"An infinite player does not begin working for the purpose of filling up a period of time with work, but for the purpose of filling work with time."

It beautifully captures two kinds of work:

  • Work you must do to fill some expected quota of output
  • Work you want to do and thus put more time into

Most of our concepts around Productivity arise from the first kind of work. There is X amount of work to do and Y amount of time to do it. So by being highly productive, we can do more of X within the constraints of Y, and assuming the work is valuable, our created value per unit of time should be maximized.

It's a great concept for an assembly line. The more productive you can make everyone on the assembly line, the more things that can be assembled. But productivity is not necessarily a worthwhile goal.

The Goal, a rather fun book on the Theory of Constraints, which is an excellent tool for improved output, misses the mark in this sense as well. In the best example from the book, the hiking rate of the boy scout troop is optimized by putting the fat kid at the front of the line. Yet no one asks if it's worth walking faster.

The proper place for productivity is for thing we don't want to do. It's not to fill the same amount of time with more work, rather to minimize the amount of time it takes to complete a fixed amount of work.

As a simpler analogy, no one would argue you should try to be more productive at playing with your child, walking your dog, or cooking dinner with friends. Those are all activities we enjoy filling with time and so should not be attempting to minimize the time they take.

If it's work you love, then you should want to fill it with more time because the time put into it is spiritually fulfilling in its own way. Attempting to optimize your productivity at something you love is to treat something you love as a step in an assembly line.

Now there is obviously another constraint here: money. Often to turn something you love into being sufficiently self-sustaining, you need to make a certain amount of money from it. And most of us are disorganized and lazy and don't like to grind away all day, so a bit of productivity helps us stay the course and avoid failure.

So perhaps the point of personal productivity is not to minimize work or maximize efficiency, but rather to reach some level of financial security. And though the idea of "early retirement" is absurd, no one who can achieve it will actually take it, perhaps the better idea of "early retirement" is to retire from the need to force yourself to be productive. It's to give yourself permission to enjoy what you do and take your time on it, and not be under the gun to keep shipping as fast as possible.

I can't imagine ever not working. Putting time into work brings me so much joy and I feel depressed when I go periods without it. And I suspect many people are depressed because they don't have anything meaningful to put their time into.

But I can certainly imagine not having deadlines. Or not feeling the need to maintain some level of output. And maybe that's a better goal than "being productive" or "retiring early." Getting to a point where you don't need to "be productive," and can just pour time into work in whatever way brings you the most joy.

Have a great week,


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