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the end of productivity

I’m done with productivity. I’m done using a word from an industrial age that doesn’t speak for the work I do. I’m done beating myself up over not cranking out more without thinking about the work I’m doing.

Do you read a lot of productivity blogs? They’re easy title bait for me. Titles like, “10 easy steps to do your best work”, or how about, “7 things you can do to get more work done”. It’s masturbation, plain and simple. Why do I chase after this stuff? Why do these types of blog posts seem so appealing? Why do I take the title bait every time?

As developers, it’s easy to let our happiness to be tied to “what we get done”. When I come home from work, and I knocked out a lot of features or bug fixes, I feel good about myself. I feel more “productive”.

But there’s something that’s missing. That good feeling doesn’t last as long as I want it to. I start to tell my wife about my day, and after I’ve talked about it, my excitement starts to come down a bit. There’s something temporary about that ‘productivity high’. There’s a deeper desire inside my heart, another layer to the onion.

What I really want is to feel like what I’m working on is making a difference. I want to feel like the work I do makes an impact on others, that I’m building something that’s pushing the envelope, doing something new and exciting - that I’m moving the baton down the track.

Let me unpack this a little bit more with a question. Let’s say you’re tasked with two different features. One job is a straightforward feature that involves something simple like some CRUD features to an existing data model. It’s straightforward, you know how it’s done, you can do it quickly and effectively. In fact, you’re so good at this feature that you know you can get 10 features like this done in one day. Wow, 10 new features in one day, that’s some high productivity. The other feature involves a newer technology. You haven’t used it before, there’s more unknown, and you don’t know exactly how you’re going to solve the problem. Maybe this feature is going to take months to complete. Which one is going to bring you more long term satisfaction?

Cranking out the same stuff as we did yesterday might feel good in the short term. Maybe we feel really productive, but the long term joy is found somewhere else. It’s found in creating something you didn’t even know you were capable of creating. It might be difficult in the moment. You might not feel the short-term highs of productivity from cranking out tons of code, but it has the potential to be life changing in the long run.

I want to throw away the word productivity. It doesn’t apply to the work I to do. I’m not on an assembly line worker, trying to produce more widgets. I have to keep reminding myself about this. It’s easy to fall into the elusive trap of the productivity snare. It’s easy to feel like just being ‘productive’ is what it’s all about. We need to think more for the long term. We need to stop obsessing about who has more github repos, or who’s committed to more open source projects and start thinking about contributing to one project that’s going to change a lot of lives. The measuring stick of productivity isn’t what’s going to make an impact on the world. It’s not going to make your life in the long term feel like something valuable.

Build something lasting. Make something that counts. You might feel the pressures of productivity all around you, especially since raw productivity is easier to measure than lasting impact. The productivity trap is only going to keep you spinning in the same place. Please, make a difference in the lives of others, make a difference in your own life. Throw away the productivity, embrace real impact.



about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer and leads the Infrastructure group at at Sprout Social.

Blake Smith

create. code. learn.