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Breaking Free from the Productivity Hustle

wellness Feb 24, 2022

I've lost track of the number of times that I feel defeated because I think that I "wasn't productive enough." Similarly, after a day of much needed relaxation and taking it easy, the damaging thought that it was an ineffective use of time because of the unattended task list surfaces. In Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman provides context on how the clock-time mentality created by factories resulted in a view that time by definition should produce some form of value. He points out that a layer that adds to our anxiety regarding time is that the attention economy through means such as social media "persuades you to make the wrong choices about what to do with your attention, and therefore your finite life, by getting you to care about things you didn't want to care about". 

After realizing where these pressures come from, you can start to ask yourself questions like whether you're judging yourself against impossible standards and how you might spend your days differently if the results didn't matter so much.

The book consists of a lot of insight to help readers accept that time is limited and attempt to reorient accordingly. Here are a few ways I am attempting to release my own feeling of time pressure using some of Burkeman's techniques:  

  • Adopt a fixed volume approach to productivity. As Burkeman says, "even when you're bursting with energy and feel as though you could get much more done, stopping helps strengthen the muscle of patience that will permit you to return to the project again and again, and thus to sustain your productivity over an entire career." An example of utilizing this as I prepared this post was creating a few set time blocks to sit down and write, and accept that the work completed when time is up is enough.  
  • Decide in advance what to fail at. As a perfectionist, I often find myself disappointed when the results don't meet expectations. By recognizing that these standards are impossible and proactively choosing what to fail at, I can release some of that pressure. As Glennon Doyle so eloquently said when encouraging Adele to go easy on herself, "these days I'll go ahead and fail to deliver rather than fail to care for myself and my people." During the time I set down to work on compiling this, I found myself dissatisfied that I couldn't cover every quote that resonated with me. After all, folks looking for more can read adapted excerpts or read the book themselves. By accepting that I would fail to rewrite or summarize the book, I could move on and focus on speaking to areas that have been helpful for me.




  • Focus on what you've already completed, not just on what's left to complete. So often I find myself creating to-do lists, trying to categorize and prioritize in order to "finally get them done." While it's definitely helpful to get this information out of my head and on paper, it's unrealistic to look at these as lists that need to have every item checked off. After finishing my writing blocks, I acknowledged the progress I had made towards the end product, rather than focusing on the sink I didn't clean or messages left unanswered.


Reframing the productivity mindset is incredibly challenging and continues to be a work in progress for me, but by experimenting with these techniques I'm hoping to feel more satisfied and in control of how I choose to spend my time.

Article by: Karen Segal 

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