I'm more than the things I do

Preoccupation with productivity obscures larger truths about life

Duretti Hirpa

3 minute read

I research productivity tools when I procrastinate.

It’s a compulsion. In the moments where I should be sitting down, highly focused, in so-called flow, I’m typing nonsense like “iOS productivity apps” or “best Markdown editor” into Google. For hours. I read the lists provided by the search engine like a catechism - in a low whisper, feverishly searching for a productivity miracle.

I’ve long been on a hunt for some kind of a productivity hack that’ll stick, some trick that’ll help me get over my own inconsistencies, striking deep into the dark heart of my idiosyncrasies. As such, I’ve become the kind of person that reads business productivity books and clicks on internet videos titled How to Write The Perfect To-Do List. The perfect list! Yes! Exactly what I’m looking for, I think.

By now, I’m pretty good at lying to myself.

Lifetime count of note-taking (markdown compatible) applications downloaded: 7

Count of note-taking applications in current rotation: 3

Productivity research appeals to me. As a former high-achieving teen, decimating to-do lists fills me with a manic, soaring glee. As far as I can tell, the bulk of the writing on productivity attempts to tie highly calibrated habits and routines into a practical happiness. Haven’t you heard? Happiness is achievable, in six easy steps:

  1. Determine Your Dream
  2. Break Your Dream Into Tiny, Doable Pieces
  3. Have The Kind Of Life That Doesn’t Get Interrupted By Tragedy
  4. Manage to Not Get Distracted By Hashtags Like #hurtbae
  5. Make Progress Against Your Tiny, Doable Pieces
  6. Rinse, Repeat Until Dream Is Achieved

As you can imagine, I’ve yet to achieve my practical happiness, but I remain optimistic.

Lifetime count of to-do applications I’ve downloaded: 7

Count of to-do applications used today: 1

My problem with productivity apps (and realistically my overarching obsession with productivity research) is the Tiny Doable Piece. TDPs help me measure my productivity, but ultimately they’re a meaningless metric! I never resolve the actual issue. I never make progress towards my dream.

Remember how I told you I was good at lying to myself?

How about some truth, then? I’m worried I won’t ever be productive enough. I procrastinate, and then look for an app to help because I’m American and I love a quick fix. I feel bad when I’m not productive. I’m scared to try because I might fail.

Because, what if you’re only granted so much energy in life? In quieter moments, I contemplate what would happen if I used all my energy up. I’m a compressed springed coil before its bending moment: all potential energy. What would happen if I let my effort loose? What would be left? Would I snap back into shape, or would I break?

The first law of thermodynamic states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, merely funneled somewhere else. Sometimes, what I pour my energy into materializes, but more often than not, my effort evaporates, wisps of steam twirling heaven-bound.

Lifetime count of habit trackers downloaded to my phone: 3

Current count of habit trackers used: 0

Productivity is not the only measure of a life well-lived. Habits tracked and tasks ticked off are not the only way to measure impact. I keep reminding myself that I’m more than the sum-total of the things I’ve done, and productivity is not a baseline or measure of my life being a worthwhile one.

But. Things 3 is pretty good.

This piece was originally run on Super Yes More, on 1 Oct 2017.