What is Productivity?

Productivity in simple words can be defined as the ratio of output volume to the input volume. This acts as the foundation to define productivity specifically in different areas with parameters that indicate the change in outcome. As Paul Krugman states in The Age of Diminishing Expectations “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”. Hence, in the prospects of discussion around productivity can help us gauge our personal growth, economical in terms of individualistic or institutional, career and academic prospects, mental health, etc. Productivity thus takes a methodological tool to help us see where we stand and what it will take to get to a certain goal. The lesser delved part is how productivity has become a measure of status quo and prosperity to be a social animal. Sometimes overstepping the role of measuring goes beyond to a state of paranoia. Productivity can be instrumental and mindfulness is what we will delve in this article.

Prosperity and status quo – A measure or Bi-Product of Productivity?

Productivity is like hydra that propagates through all levels of a ecosystems. An example we can draw is when an employee puts his/her all gears to accomplish a set of tasks it will compound with the rest of team’s productivity in achieving a similar set of goals. This adds to multiple vertical teams adding to quarterly deliverables, this extends to a project’s overall progression. Further, this propels the clients to retain and collaborate again with the organization. This is the effect of combined, administered inputs, the outcome will also be a dominoes as company revenues will go up, it’s drive to perform and set new goals for it’s future. The teams will take it as a testament of unity, agility and driven. Ultimately, employees as individuals take away that their efforts speak for themselves and a return in form of career growth, a bonus and eventually a sense of accomplishment – which is a common denominator to all these horizontals leads to an overall prosperity. Similar derivations from personal life can also be seen. Productivity is a continuous process of executing a set of tasks, dynamically working over them as challenges arise and meeting the desired goals.

Now, the results are usually positive or negative. But question that stands is should one’s efforts to be productive be result-oriented?

We often hear from public figures and well-known works that no one aspired for a set the results. Rather something along how being consistent and disciplined helped them acquire the excellence. The said excellence then doubled with failures and required perseverance to get to the accomplishment. One instant is the glorious win by Neeraj Chopra, where he bagged India’s first Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Javelin Throw. This set of a huge boost to fellow athletes, sports industry and the citizens to change generational view on sports. His start however was not aimed for gold medals but to shed some pounds at the early teens. He ventured to get fit and tasted his first throws under few seniors. He recognized that a javelin was his outlet from the taunts of his peers and the struggle to travel 10+kms to a nearby stadium.

What started as a liking and his earnest will to excel in the highly technical event, to strive for improvement with what he had at a district level, helped him hone the skills to win laurels at a Junior Tournaments. A decade-long strife levelling up and not staggering to injuries and blurry sports administration. You see, Indian Administration makes headlines often but for wrong reasons of internal politics, non-compliance to sports code of nation or international boards. These ultimately hamper athlete’s lives with funds in form of peanuts, lack of infrastructure and a bad name for nation globally. We witness this kind of unfair hand me downs everywhere, to triumph over them Neeraj Chopra displays an unwavering drive, his persona is appealing to people across all boards and his numbers speak for himself. One common factor is all of his interviews over few years are that his commitment to his plans drawn by coaches, a sense of surrendering to today’s plan, to be present for his diet and comply all of that. Giving his “100%” overall daily surmounts for epics throw downs on the javelin sector. Productivity in his everyday workout, diet, plans and strife to be consistence shows up on his play days. He does it with confidence. He often mentions not trying anything new in the last few days before competitions but to polish and practice the same regime. His mantra to stay 10/10 is set in stone and his medals and performances speak for themselves, only ones who have witnessed or taken time in the days leading up to podium realize how productivity plays an imminent role in shedding pounds or pounding down titles in International Track and Field Circuits.

For an everyday reader who is akin to any technical aspects on Javelin this becomes an acceptable and doable task – to implement, to curate out own productive routines. It is to excel every day, not just one day, a collection of small milestones. A habitual friend to excelling will tag along for the process of prosperity. Prosperity become a bi-product and should be so as you set to out for a productivity journey.

Status quo however is lesser vice to productivity; it can be defined rather as a hurdle to leap over to atypical ideas. Atypical ideas are often shunned and questioned in the beginning. An impressive example is that of an atypical business model is of Airbnb which offers alternative to traditional hotels and B&Bs – it helps customers have look before booking, offer a packaged deal and by doing so revolutionizing the lodging industry, catering to budget groups ranging from classy gateways to backpackers. By 2016, people found the convenience of Airbnb’s service so much that 60% travelers now prefer Airbnb over other services. Similarly, Uber changed the traditional transportation by using an app to make commute easy. The common denominator of both companies was the drive to ease existing services, to challenge orthodoxies to land a productive and conducive industry. Hence, challenging status quo becomes a driving force for any act of productivity.

Case of Productivity leading up to Paranoia:

Recently productivity paranoia is the talk of “corporate” town. As Satya Nadella said on one occasion “Leaders think their employees are not productive, whereas employees think they are being productive and, in many cases, even feel burnout.” He continued, “One of the most important things for us in this new world of work and hybrid work is to bridge this paradox.”. Productivity Paranoia is coined by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, it means a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution. As COVID-19 hit the world remote working was adopted by corporates and employees adapted to it seamlessly. There is a debate entirely trying to see if employees are productive in office set up or work from home set up, one crowd supports WFH, the other does not. Also, according to a survey by Microsoft, about 85 percent of managers are always worried about the productivity of the company, whereas 87% of workers say their productivity is on average level. Corporates are notorious for undermining employee’s well-being, they witness an alarming number of micro management that has managers breathing down employees’ necks, an entire vertical for grievance and mental health care is the need of the hour, consistent case of burnouts that lead to quite quitting – which is a form a reclusive behavior of employees who stop going the extra mile at work, who clock out at the strike of 5pm. A number issues pile up where higher management goes mum when bought, either deflecting or demeaning these concerns.

Fed up from this culture, there is a newer pool of people who have harnessed the power of productivity due to remote working by utilizing whatever time left on their hands to take up side jobs, converting their hobbies to side hustles, monetizing a evening job to bask in the after glow of extra money and a sense of euphoria to pulling off so much. It very much borders on the thought that if your task doesn’t make you a reward then it’s not productive. A very tell-a-tale story of toxic productivity. There are several reasons for moonlighting, rising inflation and frequent layoffs have made it abundantly clear that every one is replaceable. Majority working class is ready to put in extra work, upskill for the sake of it to work, to build a portfolio in famous “T zone”, to be multi-faceted at the cost of burnout which usually extends to long term anxiety and insecurity.

Obsession with productivity stems from an unclear boundary less view on productivity itself. Once the taste of productivity is set in motion, there is the wave of rewards in whatever field, form or facet of life. The reward of finishing a 5K marathon makes you aspire for a 10K marathon immediately after despite knowing the repercussions of not valuing rest and recovery. Along the same lines, productivity becomes a euphoric mess when a strife to keep pushing your body and mind that levels collapse, it becomes too late. So, one needs to assess, define and inculcate productivity. It must be a value adding not depreciating. Coming to the moonlighting debate, companies are valid in questioning employee’s loyalty, risk of breaching confidentiality and a drop in performance. However, the standing case Wipro laying off 300 employees citing moonlighting becomes too extreme. It proves the employee’s stance that they are replaceable, that they are mere “resource” for a company. This in no ways will help moonlighting go away, rather a hostile environment will flourish. On the other hand, companies that empathize with their employee’s concern are supporting moonlighting. For instance, Swiggy, they supported moonlighting under specific conditions. They tailored the situation which became conducive to both employer and the employee. This harnesses the soft power of inter horizontal trust.

Diagnosing Productivity Addiction:

The business and productivity market is worth billions of dollars. A simple search on the internet on “how to be productivity” lands with 5000+ websites and quick quizzes offering a new tool, a new fad to try like cut sugar, have 10 shots of espresso, do a hand stand every 15 minutes etc., they get as non-sensical as days pass on. What started as a measure of efficiency for individuals or a specific industry or program has evolved into a monstrous goodie bag of addiction.

The obsession of being productive can be observed in minute behavioral patterns. One that glares in our face is the normalized one upping of being productive at any and all cost. It’s sign of bravado to for go weekends to take extra clients, it’s okay to compromise of physical health for a rally of 10 cold emails and so on. Be sure that you will still one upped.

The core of productivity obsession can be traced to same reward systems as other addictions. By providing constant reinforcements like financial rewards – salary hikes, bonus, luxury trips etc., or social rewards such as a new title, a gallant position in the said field, productivity becomes a goal in itself resulting in compulsive behaviors. Two nationally representative studies carried out in Norway and Hungary reported that 7.3% and 8.3% Norwegians are addicted to work. In Hungary, 8.2% of Hungarians are working at least forty hours a week at a risk of work addiction.

Work addiction was originally termed as “mixed-blessing addiction” back in 1980’s, as this form of addiction is socially accepted and easily shields negative effects longer. Similar to someone addicted to smoking, initially it eases the brain of its heaviness and provides a sense of stillness, it becomes an escape to recharge, a sign of social being cool. However, long term it results in health issues, making smokers a serial outcast from social groups, a delayed sense of awareness, a need for intervention. Right from our days in school, we instilled to grow up to tie our self-worth to how much we contribute to the society. This sort of positive reinforcement leads to a very rushed path to productivity addiction.

5 tell-tale signs of productivity addiction:

1. Refusing to “waste” time: Time anxiety is a common defaulter among productivity addicts. An obsession with spending our time meaningfully. Dr. Alex Lickerman describes time anxiety often stems from the following recurring line of thoughts: “Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?”. The pursuit to always optimize your time, a habit of breaking time into bits to fit as many tasks, a plan to even unwind and relax leads up to a point where people fail to do anything at all.

2. Turning hobbies into side hustles: The best way to explain this is, let’s say you love sketching, have been using it as a way to unwind and let your creative side let loose over the years. You see a trend of opening art account on Tumblr to monetize it by blogging all your works, maybe to start a tutorial channel on sketching on YouTube. Essentially making sketching a cumbersome task that you’ll probably make a great profile, garner an audience and maybe earn some money all at the cost of losing its essence of hobby.

3. Feeling guilty for ticking of your to do list: Whether it is a finishing all action plans at work or hitting set number of reps at the gym, being addicted to productivity may result in uneven sleep schedule, bad eating habits etc. The awareness to tell stop to yourself becomes a new target in itself. Often witness a struggle to detach/disconnect from your task as the guilt of not finishing it looms over you.

4. Always making task at hand a priority: The obsession of productivity for a certain task or generally also makes one rush through menial tasks as dinner with family, a walk-in early morning, shopping for grocery etc., In extreme cases you become habitual to cancelling plans, cutting down your meal and sleep time. Normally choosing to compromise on such stuff is okay from time to time, however productivity addicts see this as a daily tendency.

5. Constant need to be busy: Booked and busy is the new mantra to boast about. For addicts of productivity, it levels up to planning their days on hourly basis with little to no sense of break. A research professor at University of Houston, Dr Brene Brown describes it as “I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums.” This is termed as numbing strategy that helps people avoid facing the truths of their lives, which obviously it as exhausting as it sounds.

Fortunately, productivity addiction is not a disease, it possible to detect, accept and make changes to avoid falling to this rat race before the negative effects catch up to us.

How to Manage Productivity Addiction?

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Certainly one-size-fits-all is a lost concept to get rid of our addiction to productivity. At no cost would I advocate it. However, mindful practices that could be adopted by anyone is what the following pointers delve into.

1. Self-reflection: There is tale by buddha where his disciple is visibly troubled by something and he seeks resolutions. Buddha advises that no one can see a clear reflection in a lake which freshly disturbed by pebbles thrown in it, the water surface is rippling and the shallow mud is risen. Allow the ripples to die down and mud to settle, eventually you will be able see your reflection. Similarly, our mind is the lake that is muddled, self-reflection helps us settles our constant need to be productive. It helps us study ourselves, where do our motivations to be productive stem from? Is it from money, rewards, a mindset to tag it with self-image? Journaling lets you put these speculations into words, once done your pondering helps you realize the details of your addiction.

2. Define meaning priorities: Defining your work as your identity losses it’s value. You have to not limit your identity and worth to a task, a job or a trend. What else do care about? What are your ethics, morals and values? Use them as a compass to define your priorities in life. Then base your goals – be it familial, personal, career etc., on these defined values.

3. Stop pinning the butterfly: Consciously remind yourself that your hobbies are not a pet project, no need to monetize them. Let these hobbies be hobbies, a place, an activity, a habit you can rejoice in for no ulterior motives. With no expectations to excel in it. These are the space which let you to unleash and express in the spirit of play. Treasure it.

4. Personalize your definition of productivity: DO NOT adopt someone else’s definition of productivity for yourself. It might work for a short while, but it will eventually turn void when you cannot resonate with the said definition. Design your own system of productivity by experimenting and iterating. Incorporate people, places, hobbies and insights into these definitions. Trim these definitions from time to time which will ensure that you achieve your goals without sacrificing your mental health.

Finally, pay detailed attention to your triggers and your immediate response. It is easier said than done. A mindful attempt to not seek old patterns is also a great progress. Making room for yourself, your hobbies, your social events should never feel like a task. Productivity when used mindfully helps us soar new heights and unlock capabilities unknown to us. Ultimately, productivity must add value to our lives, not take away from it.

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