I have been trying to optimize my life for a while. I looked for what I could do to organize my life. If I search about productivity and life organization, Google shows me almost four billion pages for “productivity.” I have read many of them while hoping they will help me. After a while, I realized my problem was not being unproductive. My problem was my understanding of time. The word productivity became so polluted that we forgot how time works. We think that time is limited, which is accurate, and we try to bring out the best. This limitation comes from comparing it with eternity. We believe our time in life is so tiny that we have to rush everything. Yet, we have more than 70 years on average; it feels like an eternity. Thinking about that long time, I asked myself, “Why do we rush everything? Why can’t we take the long road and slowly move while consuming everything around us in the best way possible?”
While keeping this wondering in my head, I’ve met with Oliver Burkeman’s thoughts about productivity and time after reading a wonderful piece from Maria Popova in Marginalian.
This strange moment in history, when the time feels so unmoored, might, in fact, provide the ideal opportunity to reconsider our relationship with it. Older thinkers have faced these challenges before us, and when their wisdom is applied to the present day, certain truths grow more clearly apparent. Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster. Nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved “work-life balance,” whatever that might be, and you certainly won’t get there by copying the “six things successful people do before 7:00 a.m.”
Rushing every task, job and finishing everything quickly fastens the process of refilling. Productivity is a never-ending scam. The more we try to be productive, the more we are sucked into extra shallow work. We forget that we still have long years and act as if we are about to end our time.
We will never control everything that’s going on. There is no way other than accepting the reality that life is messy and we will never have work-life balance by just copying other people who got up early at 5 a.m. and did X number of things.
Constantly increasing productivity is a capitalist scam that increases the output while promoting more happiness and satisfaction by giving rewards, especially in the knowledge worker community. I’ve fallen into this trap and confused productivity with happiness. When I produce more, I tend to think I’m happy. A small dopamine rush after completing a to-do item gives me pleasure and, as a result, demands more from my life because I take that load and think that I can do more all the time. Yet, I can’t because life puts various difficulties.
Whenever life amplifies the difficulties, we choose the easiest way out. That’s what Rainer Maria Rilke observed as well.
“People are drawn to the easy and to the easiest side of the easy, but it is clear that we must hold ourselves to the difficult.”
Although Rilke was talking about the difficulty of solitude, there are other things around us that are difficult but serve us the best. For example, the best non-fiction books are often the most difficult ones to read. Some of the best movies are the longest ones you have to watch with focus. The best games are the most challenging ones that take you into a story and teach you something else than just a game. And the best writer is the one who spends more than 10 years changing with words with every piece. The best Japanese swordsmith spends around 18 months on a single Katana and does not care about productivity. The process has to be slow. Whenever the expert rushes, the result will show itself.
It takes years to become an expert, and there is no to-do list for a swordsmith during the training; it’s the leisurely pace that brings the best. It breaks our hasty relationship with time. We have to slow down and accept that reality sucks, and there is nothing we can do about it. Life will always show its difficulties and will throw us off track. Improving our productivity and processes won’t help at all unless we change our perception of time and take some things slowly.