Most Productivity Advice is Bullshit


I’ve been having a productive time, up the mountain. I’ve achieved things at work, blogged regularly, sent out Technically Speaking with Chiu-Ki, made some progress on The Dark Place that is my personal inbox, I feel fit and healthy.

I’ve achieved this by skiing for two hours weekday mornings (longer at the weekends) – hard, so it’s good exercise, and the fresh air and freedom from devices clears my head. Then I work until I go to sleep. I could advocate for mountain life – and it’s good, I hope I can do it again next year – but actually that rests on the same things that most “productivity advice” does, just more blatantly.

Money. It’s quite expensive to live in a mountain village during the ski season. But a lot of things that show up in productivity advice cost money: separate workspaces, daily yoga classes, a diet of solent.

Control over schedule. I shifted my hours to work 12-9 most days. This, by the way, isn’t sustainable – working weird hours is not good for various things, including my social life. But I could do it here because I love to ski. Not everyone’s job is that flexible (by time, let alone by location). There’s also a social cost because it makes it hard to have friends who live on more “normal” schedules. You get to be more “productive” because “no-one is around” and that probably comes with some downsides, too.

Some specialised skill. Firstly, a flexible job is normally the result of some specialisation. Secondly, and less obviously, I already knew how to ski well and had all the equipment. It would have been much harder for someone who didn’t already ski well to come live up here and learn to ski in a couple of hours every morning. They’d have a harder time coordinating ski lessons, and working to a schedule (I can make it top to bottom in 8 minutes and I have done that in order to make it in in time). They’d have to stay within a smaller area and get stuck in the crowds. They’d be more exhausted by it, and more likely to hurt themselves.

General good health. Most productivity advice comes with a suggestion of exercise that is infeasible for people with chronic or temporary but severe health conditions. There was a period when I injured my knee so badly I could barely walk for about three months. Firstly, the gym felt like a far off dream, and if I went at all, lasted very little time and left me feeling bad about myself. Secondly, just the basics of life like getting to uni or the grocery store were really painful and left me exhausted, not to mention the time I spent in physio.

Lack of dependents. To be able to live this selfishly requires that no-one depends on you. There’s a reason the bizarre productivity advice I find on the internet is never written by women with kids. I can eat cereal and yogurt to save time for lunch or dinner every day or at some approximation of a mealtime that coincides with a gap in my schedule and feeling hungry, and no-one else has to deal with that. I don’t have to be back home by a certain time, or pause what I’m doing to pay someone else attention.

If the prerequisite for productivity advice being useful is having control, being selfish, healthy, specialised, and unconcerned about money… well that’s not useful to everyone. Or even that many people at all.

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