“The boss is coming, look busy!”
Welcome to Productivity Theater. The players? Just you. The plot? Conscientious person works for only X hours; suffers the consequences.
Does this sound familiar?
It’s what happens when, after working for X hours, you decide to watch Netflix, and after five minutes, a voice in your head says, “you should be working.”
That voice is fluent in the language of guilt, shame, and condescension. “Look at you, you lazy bum. You worked for only nine hours.”
The power struggle of Productivity Theater is between you and that voice.
But the quality of your work will suffer if you choose to listen. There’s a difference between appearing productive and being productive.
When you appear to be productive, you’ll be typing away at your keyboard, sending those emails, revising those drafts. It’ll certainly feel like you’re being productive. But that’s the trap. It’s just a feeling. You’ll have an acute sense of how productive you’re being – and with that comes the tendency to romanticize your productivity. “Oh goodness, I am being so productive!”
When you’re actually being productive, especially if you’re working on a task that’s meaningful to you, the hours disappear. You’ll be lost in the work. You’ll be enjoying the work. You’ll be in flow. You’ll have no sense of how productive you’re being; no more romanticizing. A painter in flow never stops painting to pat himself on the back to remind himself of how productive he is. There’s none of that self-congratulating b.s to the person who’s fully engaged in their work.
And to be fully engaged in your work, you need to be a part of both the crew and the cast of Productivity Theater.
The crew gives the hero a clear aim, a direction.
And if the hero has no aim and direction, Productivity Theater has a bittersweet ending. The hero will work himself to death, but through death he is released from the oppression of that voice that wanted him to work for just one more hour. It’s the fate that Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us of when he wrote, “work is what horses die of. Everyone should know that.”
There’s no greater contradiction than being productive by doing what’s degrading you.
You have two choices: work yourself to death by appearing productive, or, work yourself to life by working on what fulfills you.