On Productivity

I really don’t like the word productivity or the discourse that has emerged around it. I felt like I needed to just come out and say that at the beginning of this because it’s clearly a bias, and I recognize it.

Every time I see a new post talking about “how to be productive” or “increasing your productivity” or “programming productively” I cringe a little. I’ve been asking myself recently, why that is. On some level, I think it’s a defense mechanism. Not engaging with that discourse protects me from my own guilt that’s always there about not being productive enough. On another level I think it’s some other part of me fighting back.

I think that this relentless pursuit of productivity is actually very dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tool aficionado and I’ve spent countless hours perfecting my vim configuration and dotfiles. But the deeper I get into this field, the more programming and software making feels like art to me, and treating it transactionally seems like a great way to curse yourself into local maxima.

It’s the classic Apple thing, if you’re constantly looking at the data, you’ll optimize whatever is in front of you. If you’re constantly chasing productivity, you’ll optimize time spent producing. But, I'd argue that what you want to optimize for is time in flow.

Flow is a great, powerful beast. I listened to a podcast recently where Daniel Gross described happiness as being in flow, I think that’s true for me at least. But the other side of that is I definitely do my best work in flow. Best, not measured by volume of output but best as measured by my own taste and aesthetics?

Maybe this whole article is a cop out. But productivity just feels like the wrong header for this whole debate. Maybe a better framing would be, Doing? How do we think about Doing and Being better? What does it mean to Do, to Make and how do we do it thoughtfully? What feels right?

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