I recently came across an interesting-looking article in the business magazine Fast Company. The (quite bold and glistening) title read: ‘Your Perfect Productive Day: Fast Company’s Road Map to Making the Most Out of Every Moment, from the Second You Wake Up in the Morning to the Minute You Fall Asleep at Night’. The next two pages contained a painstakingly illustrated spread that mapped out just that. Who wouldn’t want to read it?
I’m not going to reproduce the entire contents here, but the recommended schedule went something like this…
6.30 a.m. Meditate.
8.00 a.m. Go to work an hour earlier than everyone else and start work.
9.30 a.m. Have a cup of coffee.
11.30 a.m. Have another cup of coffee.
2.30 p.m. Meetings.
3.00 p.m. Check e-mails.
4.00 p.m. Watch a funny video because apparently it boosts your productivity by about 10%.
4.30 p.m. Call your mother because that’s also shown to boost productivity.
5.45 p.m. Clean your desk.
7.00 p.m. Have a drink to boost your creativity.
10.00 p.m. Do your serious reading at night.
To be clear, I’ve left out a chunk of little tips and strategies scattered throughout the piece. But as I was reading it, a horrible realisation dawned on me. This was not the kind of day that would be my cup of tea. In fact, it actually sounded awful. Working from the moment you get up to the moment you shut your eyes at night, kind of like a well-oiled and well-programmed but ultimately dumb robot. There was no experiencing, no savouring, no presence to the day. And that meant no enjoyment. This schedule was meant to tweak your productivity to death. But at what cost?
As much as I would like to improve my productivity and refine my habits to boost my efficiency and output, I wouldn’t want to have a perfectly productive day from start to finish. That just wouldn’t be my definition of a good day. I like listening to podcasts while going through my two-to-three hour morning routine, and taking my time browsing through news articles before plunging into my tasks, and connecting deeply with my colleagues at work. I like taking frequent breaks, letting my mind wander, and having a few hours in where I have nothing planned and I could do whatever I felt like doing. And I don’t force myself to read just for the sake of it – I only do it if I’m in the mood for it. All these things don’t make me a super productive person, but if you take those away, you’re eliminating the little joys that are in my day, the time that allows me to pause, reflect, recharge, and discover. And that’s a huge part of how I gain enjoyment out of the day.
So – is there such a thing as too much productivity? Actually, I think the answer is no. To me, being productive is about being in a state in which you’re reasonably on top of things, you’re engaging in constructive habits, and there’s this sense of growth and moving forward. That’s a good thing, and developing your own personalised system of productivity will go a long way in achieving that. However, I think a lot of people assume the answer to improving productivity is to increase how busy you are. But busyness doesn’t equal productivity. If you’re desperately trying to make the most out of every second, fearing any moment of stillness or rest, believing these to be a waste, and you feel guilty if you find yourself doing something you like ‘that you shouldn’t be doing’, I do think there are costs to that. There needs to be an element of serendipity to make a day beautiful and worth living. It shouldn’t always be hustle and bustle.
So, don’t aim for a ‘perfect, productive day’ – enjoy your day. The next time you want to take a rest, take a rest. You’re not meant to be programmed or designed to run like clockwork.