The Problem With Productivity

Issues With The Productivity Cult and Self-Improvement

Hey friends,

I’ve been reflecting over this quote for the past few weeks now:

No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

This quote struck me because it’s the same problem with “productivity and self-improvement.” You always want to improve, but in doing so, you may forget to live. This week, I want to share a few of my insights.

There is no ‘Objective Value’

It seems to me that life is a never-ending stream of infinite options, all of which lead you to different paths. You cannot say path A is “better” than path B in an objective sense. It’s only what works for you.

So, the idea of being productive or always improving oneself is not suited for all; it might work for some but it may also not work for many. Either way, there’s no objective, intrinsic value in this space, unlike what’s commonly portrayed.

Fiercely Original Thinking

‘An incredibly fierce, original thought process with a deep-seated purpose for doing the thing you’re doing’ will always trump everything else. But here’s the catch: Original thinking is hard. This is why we create an artificial FOMO for ourselves, subscribe to a bazillion newsletters (like this one), have a gazillion tabs open, and want to do everything.

But if you think for yourself, and are fierce (or ruthless) in thinking about what works for you, what helps you, and what you’d like to do, you’ll filter the signal from the noise.

This signal will allow you to come into your most natural self, your most authentic, unfiltered, childlike avatar, one that will be the most interesting and full of potential. This is why original thinking is important.

Most problems are emotional problems

As I grow older, I’m beginning to imbue the same cliches we’ve been hearing ever since, with greater and deeper meaning. One such cliché is the tagline of this point: “Most problems are emotional problems.” Whether it’s anxiety about the future, your career, your life, or any other problem, I’d say with a reasonable guarantee that a majority of that problem is actually internal (or better, “emotional”).

Which is why Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

To solve any problem or reach closer to your goal, then, resist the urge to find a hack to achieve the goal. Instead, focus on introspection, reflection, and calm. Rally understand why you’re feeling a particular problem, and then, go at it.

Everybody is figuring it out

As Tim Urban said:

Stupid is when you don’t know that much about anything and you feel like everyone else does. The good news is, everyone else doesn’t. At all. The world is full of exciting, complex things that almost no one understands. Once you realize this, all the stuff you don’t know isn’t upsetting, it’s exciting.

If you’re ‘X’ years old and you feel insecure about not knowing XYZ, chances are, others are ‘X+10’ years old and they equally feel insecure.

The point is that feeling insecure is useless, because at the end of the day, everybody is figuring it out. Nobody has all the information to make the perfect decision. That said, the truly high-performers practice differently. This practice is what you can consider replicating, rather than the final, end-state.

Until next time,


Our Commonplace Book

  • I binge-watched many of CGP Grey’s videos, all of which were incredible. A few recommendations follow.

  • Please also read Balaji’s article on ‘Founding v Inheriting’ in 1729 here.

  • This Vox video was useful to evaluate how the future looks like for us.

  • Finally, this lecture on “building a life” was incredible as well:

Take care, all.

Stay safe. Be positive. Test negative.