Purported productivity

I came across an article yesterday—and I’m purposely not sharing the link here—about “microscheduling.” The latest in a never-ending series of purported productivity hacks that actually just help you add even more hours—and more work—to an already full day, microschedulers plan every hour, and in many cases, every minute of their day, from their meals to their email responses to their bathroom breaks. I couldn’t help but wonder how many hours all this meticulous microscheduling takes–hours that could have been spent actually getting those scheduled tasks done.

I hope we can all agree that being successful in school, in work, and in life requires that you regularly and willingly put your head down and focus on doing great work that matters. If you spend most of your day watching TV and eating Cheetos, you’re not learning, contributing, or benefiting as much as those who fill that time in ways that leave them proud of their efforts.

But our culture has somehow gotten to a place where we glamorize work-at-all-costs mentality. Long days, lost sleep, schedules without free time, overflowing inboxes, working nights and weekends, constantly available online—it’s all part of this narrative that those who get ahead are those who make the sacrifice. Sleep, family, fun, leisure, friends, sanity—you’ve got to give something up if you want to make it today!

But this notion that adding more hours and more work will automatically lead to more success is demonstrably untrue. Nobody is impressed just by how many hours you worked this week. Nobody cares how little sleep you had. Nobody will rave about you just because you answer emails at all hours. What gets you ahead is the work you produce. Yes, the quantity maters, but not nearly as much as the quality does.

Productivity isn’t a willingness to let work seep into every part of your life. Productivity is producing great work from focused but manageable workloads. That’s not the lazy way—it’s the effective way.

So before you add more hours, or yet another way to cram more work into non-work time, consider not just how much you’re trying to do, but how much uninterrupted, focused time you’re giving yourself to do it. Your reputation is built on the quality of your work, not on your willingness to sacrifice via hacks of purported productivity.