It used to be a little more clear. You wake up, shower, and make breakfast in one place. ...
Issue #6
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or happiness: Pick one

On the surface, productivity is a perfectly reasonable and seemingly harmless idea. Somehow, intuitively, it makes sense to do more than to do less — in the same way it feels better to run 5 miles than 3 miles. Or lift 80 pounds instead of 50 pounds. (It’s all sports metaphors from here on out.) It makes you feel better about yourself, which is, undeniably, a feeling very much sought-after. Gives you a tangible sense of accomplishment. Dopamine rush. Etc. But after a certain (barely visible) point, productivity begins to turn into an obsession, the ever-illusive line that divides positive productivity from productivity-for-productivity’s-sake. A typical “too much of a good thing” situation. So, in a world that’s increasingly measured by output, how much productivity is too much?
🔮 Back to the future

The more you work, the more you work

It could’ve been an ancient Chinese proverb. It isn’t — but it’s true nonetheless. It makes sense to do an extra push and finish work faster if there’s a clear payoff, such as closing your laptop and going to see a friend. But the way a lot of companies/projects are organized is that there’s always more work, there’s always not enough time and people, and there’s always the sense of urgency and stress and underachievement — all of which are not exactly stimulating, or encouraging.

For most of human history, up until the 19th century, the concept of productivity didn't exist the way it does today. Simply put, people were occupied with keeping themselves alive, in the very literal sense, i.e. food, and everything that was produced was immediately consumed, and that was that. There was no real surplus (fridges only appeared in 1834), and therefore no pursuit of growth or more-more-more mentality either. (Needless to say, growth hacking was not a thing.)

Perhaps the rest of human history was onto something. Ultra-productivity leads to us exhausting Earth’s resources faster than we should, which is just not sustainable in the long run (as we’re only beginning to learn). Maybe it’s time for all of us to commit to anti-productivity, for the sake of saving the planet — if nothing else.


The dark side of productivity

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“Did I already tell you about my morning routine? I wake up at 4am after a wonderfully refreshing two-hour sleep. I read a couple of books (history, philosophy, business administration) while listening to my favorite podcast: In today’s episode, they spoke about the importance of concentration. Cool stuff. Then I hit the gym. I have this super special technique of checking email while doing the deadlift that I’m kinda super proud of. On my way home I invest in a couple of startups while investing in my inner self: Did I tell you I LOVE MEDITATION?!?!?!?! I also like to post a couple of LinkedIn updates here and there, but I might as well do it later. There’s so much time! Okay, bye now, gotta prepare for my webinar.”

Silicon Valley, and the tech industry in general, ingeniously created a cult of productivity. There are a gazillion task managers and to-do list apps (in fact, the founding team behind Pitch previously created one called Wunderlist) and time management techniques (Pomodoro, anyone?) and apps for tracking time and progress and what not — along with a gazillion articles and videos and (paid) workshops and Extremely Fierce online debates about how to stay productive, how to manage distractions, which technique is good, and which is bad, and someone on the internet is wrong. Again.

All of which is good and fine, up to a certain point — but this directs attention to the how, conveniently bypassing the why.

Yes, there is good productivity; no questions about that. Learn basic keyboard shortcuts of your operating system and the apps you use the most (side note: see below for more on that) — and you’ll save yourself a lot of time spent moving the cursor around and clicking those tiny icons. Learn to type 80 words per minute (test yourself here) and you’ll save yourself A LOT of time. (Plus it’ll give you an enormous upper hand in heated Slack arguments.)

There’s another, darker side to productivity, though. Getting obsessed about how much you’ve done throughout the day. Letting that largely define you as a person entirely. Boasting 80-hour work weeks, no weekends, etc. Designing a super-optimized schedule in which not a minute of your day goes into something “unproductive” — like having a proper lunch, off-desk, or taking a walk, or some good old thinking. Okay, this begins to feel like pure socialism speech slash unsolicited well-being advice. But I’d just posit that humans are not meant to be super-efficient robots, and we have feelings, and ups and downs, and more productive days/weeks, and less productive days/weeks, and it’s all totally absolutely okay, and this whole maximum output factory-style optimization of everything is simply not sustainable in the long run. And then you have that whole “burnout in tech” conversation going on on Twitter for God knows how many years now. What have we done!

All that being said, there's also a big wave of companies (often those who were remote pre-pandemic) with a new age productivity mindset. The evangelists of “you do your best when you get your rest,” “we don't want you to work for the sake of working,” four-day work weeks, unlimited vacation, sabbaticals, etc.

Unfortunately, it’s not just about Work productivity. Our brains are trained to keep going, to always do more, and that's why we don't know what to do when we're supposed to stop. (There’s a good reason why the entire U.S.A. was learning how to make sourdough bread during the lockdown.)

And so, companies who suddenly find themselves remote shouldn’t really worry about their employees being productive or not: for better or for worse, the drive for productivity is inherent.

I’m not going to lie to anybody, though: I, too, paired all of my socks (and more than once) — instead of finishing this article.


Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the 9-to-5?

Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule from 1791 is one of the first known examples of a modern to-do list — and also a great insight into how that era spent their leisure time (Hint: It wasn’t on Instagram.)

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Make my quick menu quicker

Pitch engineer and Counter-Strike world champion Jeremy Vuillermet is obsessed (in the best possible sense of the word) with optimizing for productivity. His first mission: Build the best quick menu. Learn how he designs for productivity, and how gaming concepts help him get there faster.

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Pitch blog, 12 min read

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