I think this is a very interesting question, but I haven’t responded yet because… it feels a bit daunting. A very deep subject and I’d want to do it justice.
That said, I’ll put down some initial thoughts and hope to revisit later with more ideas and/or detail (and see what others have to say!).
First I’ll say that I think the word “optimization” is probably more applicable at a high level for me rather than “productivity”. Productivity is one aspect of optimizing my life, an important one, but definitely not the only one. I try to optimize as much as I can, which includes even “recreation” (i.e. see “free” time below), as well as relationships and other things where being “productive” may be less applicable.
Personally, I think my biggest motivations for higher productivity as well as optimization fall into two major categories.
Productivity for Higher-level Outcomes
One big reason I want to increase my productivity is I have a lot of ideas and ambition for making cool things in the world, affecting change, etc. The more productive I can be with my time spent with work and “passion projects” (as I call them), the further I can take them and the more impact they will hopefully have. I only have so much time and energy to give, especially if I want to enjoy some free time (the other side of the productivity equation), so the more efficient I can be, the better. Thus I want to do more in the same amount of time = a need for improving productivity!
It’s important to always focus on how to do more in the same amount of time though, rather than just spending more time (or energy) in exchange for more “output”. One also has to factor in health aspects, both mental and physical. Sometimes you can focus very hard for a finite period of time and have tremendous output, but generally this is taxing in some way and can’t be sustained forever. These are mostly obvious points, but are worth reiterating because I do think the pursuit of “productivity” can become unhealthy all too easily. Keeping ones motivations and limits clearly in mind is critical. And having good and reachable goals too, IMO.
Productivity for More “Free” Time
Quite simply, rather than always hoping to accomplish more through productivity, I instead hope to accomplish “a good amount”, while leaving time available to be “free”, to enjoy myself, my relationships, and the world around me with little or no focus on output or outcomes in general.
This one is a bit more vague, perhaps, because I consider “productivity” and efficiency outside of my job context at least as much as within it. Yet still there is this idea of “free” time, perhaps better said as “unstructured” time or “recreation”, and in the context of this discussion, it implies a type of space in my life where “productivity” is not as applicable or desirable.
Examples could include:
- Hiking, camping, backpacking trips (i.e. time in nature)
- Road trips and other types of travel
- Dinner parties, etc. with friends
- Time spent with a partner and/or kids
- Hobbies like photography, drawing, making music
While I think there may be room for “optimization” or even “productivity” in these areas, I feel like that is mostly true outside of my direct experience of those things. In other words I may optimize or increase productivity in some way that will help enhance my experience of recreational time (such as maintaining a reference packing list to make it easier and faster to go on trips in the future), but the actual time spent out camping, or hanging out with friends, etc. has a lot less actual practice of “optimization”. It is more served by prior optimization and structures or habits I have created, perhaps.
Anyway, that’s what comes to mind for now…
It’s The Economy (Stupid?)
As far as productivity in the broader economy, there could be much to discuss, but I think one of the most important things that comes up for me is the disconnect in current dominant forms of Capitalism between productivity and compensation. As far as I’m aware we have had steadily increasing productivity over the past 100+ years, as measured by GDP, actual production of physical goods, and other aspects. But the compensation of people involved in the economy has not grown by nearly the same measure.
We all know about the increasing income inequality, especially in certain countries (e.g. United States, where I live), and that too is deeply connected to this issue. How the economy measures and rewards “production” and thus “productivity” is deeply flawed and imbalanced, and it’s causing major problems in our society.
In theory, increasing productivity should be good for everyone! And we here in The Productivists could be contributing to the improvement of everyone’s lives in non-trivial ways. In reality, even if you increase your personal productivity at work, you are probably still required to put in an 8hr day, even if your time and energy investment to increase your personal productivity has allowed you to create twice the output of your peers. You may be a bit better compensated than some if you’re in the right company, but probably not 2x more, even in the best of cases.
Most of the time compensation on the job is more connected to the relative scarcity of people with your type and general level of skill, and the general value of that skill for generating money in the economy (i.e. supply and demand). But the hiring company mostly reaps far greater proportional rewards from high achievers than they do personally. Which is one thing that leads so many to try their hand at starting their own company!
OK, that’s what comes to mind for the time being. I’m sure there is a lot more that could be said. Hopefully others will chime in with their take!