Words that don't show up once: freedom, exploration, curiosity, creativity (that does show up once in quotes technically).
Everything that makes life interesting is discontinuous and surprising and unique. Productivity culture is an attempt to bureaucratize human action, a sort of individual Whig history.
Newton was a genius, yet the man spent most of his life doing alchemy, trying to forecast the future with the help of the bible, and chasing dragons in the Swiss Alps, put simply, he was batshit insane and probably a failure by the standards of modern productivity gurus. Yet he also made contributions larger than anyone will ever do by filling up note-taking apps and tracking how much time they spent on their breakfast with a stopwatch.
By chasing the money you commit yourself playing within the confines of this system.
I instead chase my passion and ive found an employeer who is happy to make those same tradeoffs. I remotely work on a global SaaS product that is scaling quickly, and my backyard is a river next to the ocean where i can immediately connect with physical world. As the tides ebb-and-flow i can see the day changing and feel apart of it. My water cooler is like going on a hike into the mountains. This is what pleases me so i keep it close.
My day is a combination of creativity and nature mixed with technical challenges and stress. No matter your situations, if you are working a growing company you will have competing priorities and therefor stress.
Ive been developing professionally now for 26yrs. 10 years ago i released that i was not going to be happy climbing the ladder in search of more money. More money at the expense of my personal time. More money to manage people. More money to 100x shareholder value... Ive switched markets/verticals from gov to private to startups in search of this balance.
Advocatus Diaboli here. One has to be careful not to forget benefits of the hard work over millenia which we all enjoy: shelter, electricity, food in the fridge, medicine in the cabinet, transportation right outside of the house we live in. Countless people worked hard to get to this point. So the question is: is our society evolved enough to stop working hard and still enjoy these benefits?
Jests aside, these are all valid points, and it's sad that the current political climate has become so polarized that it's difficult to have a reasonable discussion about this. Going from one extreme to the other won't necessarily result in a net improvement.
Am I understanding correctly that you switched to startups to find better work/life balance?
I have to say I'm surprised by that. Usually startups have the highest demands and the fewest people to get things done. Can you expand on your experience?
This is unironically the best way to find a good WLB while working on interesting problems. I switched from a startup with great WLB to a big tech with worse WLB because I recognised that the brand name on my resume will open me up for more interesting work with better WLB later on. It sucks for me now, but I'm hoping it'll pay off soon enough.
I think the reason is that small startups can't always compete on salaries, so they have to make up for it by giving you something else in return. The market is full of extremely talented people leaving big tech because they're unhappy with the wlb, or want full-time remote or so on, so it turns out to be a win-win for startups and engineers. Big Tech will continue to get meat for the grinder by their sheer reputation, so they can expect you to dedicate your life to them if you want to stay.
I experienced both a megacorp and one-man-army setups, and I find fighting bureaucratic inertia, office politics, endless stream of status updates, ever-changing organization chart and product rebrands - all way more tiring than shipping out features at frantic pace.
I generally agree with your comment but this sentence doesn’t do justice to Newton. During his time alchemy, predicting things from the Bible were generally accepted. If Newton had published papers about his successes in alchemy you could call him crazy but he just probed the accepted wisdom of his time. I bet in few hundred years a lot of our current conceptions of reality will also sound crazy. That doesn’t mean that current scientists are insane. They are just trying to expand our current knowledge. Which is the same Newton did. He did all kinds of crazy looking stuff because he was curious.
One of the primary problems with this culture, and the general culture of quantified self/everything, is that the data doesn’t inform or change actual actions.
Most quantification is proffered as a solution by the Anxiety Alleviation Industrial Complex.
I’d argue a significant portion of consumer SaaS is just that.
It depends on how you use the collected data. I think it is psychologically similar to investing in stock market or cryptocurrencies: Some people keep refreshing the screen every minute and get crazy about microscopic increases or decreases of the stuff they own, read all the clickbait with related keywords, and after a few weeks they burn out. Other people invest some money, then forget about the whole thing for a few months, then spend one afternoon looking at the numbers and making small adjustments, then again forget about the whole thing for a few months.
Just because you collect a lot of data about yourself (as the quantified-self people like to do), doesn't mean you need to review it every day. You could simply spend the minimum effort to collect the data, and then summarize it and draw conclusions once a year. I know people who collect various body statistics every day, and they just upload the logs to their computer, and later write a script that generates graphs over longer periods of time. And their conclusions are like: "hey, I made this lifestyle change a few months ago, and here my health data have improved significantly, so it was the right move"; where the health data is something like a weekly average of blood pressure.
Collecting million trivial details does not necessarily prevent you from seeing the big picture. Though I guess for some personality types, the temptation to obsess over the details is irresistible. It is not enough that the big picture is okay, they need to maximize the pressure at every single detail... until the thing somehow explodes. Congratulate yourself on successfully shortening the bathroom breaks, and then get surprised when in a few months half of your workforce quits.
At breakfast time, I grab a bowl.
And in the bowl I drop an egg, and add some juice.
A poor excuse for what I crave.
And then I add some oatmeal too
and it comes out tasting just like glue,
But think of the time I save.
Newton can come up with the laws of motion, but he can't build a space shuttle by himself. Nobody could. It requires some organization and coordination and, yes, some menial, boring tasks.
Maybe one day we'll get robots to do all of that, but we aren't there yet.
I don't know much about macroeconomics or economics in general, but it seems that's how you climb in the Western world these days. "Working hard" and increasing your productivity - that's for chumps.
Or perhaps - used to climb. Property prices can't rise sharply forever. Not if you want real people to buy them too, not just the speculators. Real people have real limits on what they can afford, and, if priced out, you're just left with speculators and a speculative bubble, which won't go on forever.
Obviously, that's going to break down eventually, and it will be a mess when it does.
If one is at rock bottom then working hard and being productive can get them to middle class lifestyle. It works. Helped billions of people in the past few decades.
But starting from middle class and working hard won't make riches. Think of it physically. A hardworking person can build a house compared to a drunkard who will be homeless. Yet the same hard working person can't build million houses and get insanely wealthy.
To get truly materially rich (millions+ usd, servants, yachts, etc) one usually needs to be evil and screw over other people. Productivity, in the sense of a machine making houses in the millions, would make the inventor fairly rich. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most riches are arrived at immorally as parent comment mentions.
I know this is a serious forum. But the last line had me in splits.
And yeah. He made contributions larger than anyone will ever do. End of the sentence.
Maybe not the best example. Apparently, Newton took loads of notes, and also created handwritten indexes and contents lists, alphabetical, by topic.
Part of the problem is that both the low hanging fruit has already been picked and the competition is steeper due to a wealthier society.
If you can't make a societal impact the magnitude of calculus, why not time your breakfast so that the marginal benefit you provide improves society a little while also increasing your status?
I wouldn't say I agree with the above, but I'd push back against the portrayal of the productivity guru being irrational.
I'd argue we need a fundamental shift in our economy and regulation to incentivize diversity.
It’s reason to get what you can out of life, not to throw your hands up! And maybe one way to get more from life is to cut down on drudgery or do work faster so as to contribute more.
Everyone can’t be Newton, but perhaps everyone can aim higher than yet another note taking app.
> Yet he also made contributions larger than anyone will ever do by filling up note-taking apps and tracking how much time they spent on their breakfast with a stopwatch.
I really doubt Cal Newport would recommend this.
> Words that don't show up once: freedom, exploration, curiosity, creativity
Pretty sure Cal discusses these often - some in a positive manner and some in a disparaging manner.
This worked because he was independently wealthy, and lots of people at the time couldn't do that and made all the goods and services he paid for so he could spend his time doing what he did. That still is the case today.
He only became wealthy after joining the Royal Mint.
And Efficiency progress is so nicely measurable while it happens. Effectiveness you only see once you have it and not in a new organisation design.
Newton was notoriously involved with the Royal Mint (for decades, I think) and efforts to maintain sound coinage, and it's conspicuously left out of your list of odd things he did.
It isn't exactly about "productivity", but your overall tone seems like you're presenting him as unsullied by capitalism, finance, "bean counters", and other mundane things.
Actually, reading some of this sounds like Newton may have had some good insights into management for productivity:
"he encouraged the Mint’s engravers who were responsible for engraving coin designs on to the master punches (the tools used to make the coins) to take on private work outside of their contracted working hours. Newton recognised that this would enable them to improve their skills, making their engraved designs of a much higher quality and thus more difficult to replicate by the counterfeiters."
I think you could spin him as an icon of productivity, an early forerunner, if you so desired.
Look into how the lean ideas promote productivity. Hint: it involves freedom, exploration, curiosity, and creativity -- quite explicitly. Those are the things from which true, lasting productivity stem.
Obviously, those are the opposite of productivity, the things you want to get rid of to get more things done. Productivity is about optimizing your workflow to the point where no action is wasted, and every second is used in the most beneficial way.
> Newton was a genius
Was he? Or was he just lucky to be rich enough to be sent to university, while living in an age of low-hanging fruits to discover?
> yet the man spent most of his life doing alchemy, trying to forecast the future with the help of the bible, and chasing dragons in the Swiss Alps,
Now think about what else he could have discovered if had work seriously and not wasted time on pointless stuff.
Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, nobody knows that. Creativity is random and unpredictable. Sometimes is bringing forth something good, but more often it's more harm than benefit. There is a huge mountain of survivorship bias with those cases.
It's true that we need the creative nut heads who think outside the box and contribute in mysterious ways to society. But not everyone should be a nut head and not everywhere we can afford them. We've seen in the last 18 months the other side that this creative minds will bring to society, in the form of conspiracy idiots and anti-vaxxers.
From what I've seen, working in large corporate environments, is that people make their own productivity prisons doing things that no one asked for or working late hours on something no one is waiting for. Individuals create the stress for themselves by trying to standout or impress others.
If someone doesn't care about career progression, which I'm assuming is most of the anti-productivity crowd, they can get along just fine at almost any company doing only the minimum requirements of a role, have a fair work/life balance, and live a normal life.
If someone takes a mid six figure comp package from a major tech company, they should expect to work hard going into that role. Those jobs aren't for everyone. There are plenty of less stressful work environments in technology that will pay someone a decent salary and will be much less demanding.
There are?! Could you list some examples? I would take a pay cut for fewer responsibilities if I could stay in tech and if it didn't pay like thirty grand, which is what you will make in support.
How do I transition from a high stress high pay software engineer to a medium pay low stress other kind of technology worker like you have described???
Only problem is that after a while you'll get really complacent and your skills may suffer. If there are layoffs and you have to find another job, you might be in trouble.
You can't know every technology and in 5 years you will probably be applying for jobs with tech that doesn't even exist yet.
However, if you are an internally motivated and driven person, you can take that extra time and energy you get from the chill job and learn all kinds of things and become a much better engineer. The situation is whatever you make of it.
Work literally _anywhere else_ but Sillicon Valley. These jobs are aplenty; they are probably at least 2/3 of all programmer jobs everywhere.
Software Engineers and Data Engineers have one of the best leverage positions in the work force. If you don't like your current employer's practices, find another one.
But luckily I differ from you in that I'm a type-A personality, and slow, relaxed work bothers me. I want the high-speed high-stakes atmosphere.
I recognise that I'm not a normal person in this regard, which is why I say I am lucky.
Also this “the only way to improve is slowly gaining experience and mastery” is not true. (I was paraphrasing your words) I watch many videos of great artist sharing tips. Again I don’t know what medium they work in, but in 3d work one can improve a lot by better organizing their asset library. In digital painting work I have seen people use posable human models to start sketching from. Ian Hubert shares great “lazy tutorials” on how he learned to cheat and animate complex looking things in super simple way. Just spending an hour a week reading up on tricks from others can improve ones “craft”.
And what is the worst? You goof around an hour and can’t think of anything. You tell the boss that when he asks, what is he going to do? Fire you for not trying hard enough? If he does, he wanted to fire you anyway and was just fishing for an excuse.
Conversely, as I look at all the accomplished people around me, they've quietly built a mountain of expertise and achievement with cobbled systems held together by spit and glue that a productivity hustler would scoff at.
Perhaps you admire them. I don't, and I suspect a lot of the anti-productivity people don't as well.
Any source for this or is this just assumption?
There are many people in that business.
> (other than marketing their stuff)
How is that not work that involves productivity?
The problem is they don't account for other damage caused by that. People get a sense of purpose from work, many would actually rather work than get a welfare check. Communities are built around industries. Uncertainty and changing circumstances can have big impacts on people, more than can just be measured by subtracting their income from some balance sheet.
But to whom go the spoils?
And when will we take responsibility for the losers?
We've been a bit slow about adding that ingredient into the formula.
The author's book "Deep Work" was a great lecture for me and though it used the term "productivity", I think its message lays elsewhere:
Cal deliberately talks for pages about the idea of working less but prioritizing deep work. It's true that this is ultimately a "productivity" hack. Still, practicing this idea myself, I'd say I have more time of my day now "not having to be productive".
I used to work shallowly for 8 hours a day. Since a year or so, I spend mostly 4 hours in the office. My "products" haven't suffered. They've become better, and so have I.
"Agile project-management methodologies didn’t alleviate the need for programmers to strive to be better coders, but they did prevent the developers from having to excessively worry about what they should be coding and whether they had done enough"
I think there are many coders here who would strongly disagree, and maybe even identify Agile as the ultimate manifestation of productivity culture.
The original idea of sprint planning was to choose only as many tasks as you feel comfortable doing in given time frame. The customer specifies priority, the developers estimate effort. Also, measuring individual productivity is strictly forbidden; the team is supposed to operate as a "black box" from the management perspective. In theory, that is.
In real life, in most companies there is pressure on the team to take more tasks than they feel comfortable doing. Sometimes there are external deadlines, like "all these tasks must be completed in the next two sprints, but hey guys, enjoy your AgileTM freedom to decide which ones get done in the first sprint, and which ones get done in the second sprint". Or you measure individual productivity by number of story points completed, and say "hey guys, feel free to set your own sustainable pace an enjoy your work-life ballance, but the 20% of you with least story points completed will get fired at the end of the year".
Agile was meant to be a replacement for management. Instead it became management's another weapon. Because management makes the ultimate decisions about how exactly agile gets implemented at your company.
Its a tragedy how the model fails utterly at building frameworks to think about things, instead just popping out endless cliches or tips. There's a reason anything you learn in college is structured and professors work hard at defining course plans - it builds up a framework, piece by piece, making sure you understand each piece before moving on to the next. The framework lets you reason about X in many contexts. The framework for productivity is not all that complicated.
In open source it works naturally. I can contribute a trivial improvement to a project where geniuses do magic. Hey, I am not a genius, but I can still improve the documentation, or add a translation, and my humble contribution is still an improvement to the overall project; the geniuses don't mind me doing this.
It just somehow doesn't work at a job. Speaking for myself, I absolutely wouldn't mind if the geniuses get 10x the salary I get; that would be completely fair. Sadly, the geniuses usually don't get paid significantly more... if you are 10x more productive, your salary is maybe 2x higher. And then the company resents having to pay 50% of the genius salary to a person who is clearly not in the same league. Also, managers love treating people as replaceable, so they e.g. estimate the effort in man-days, ignoring the fact that one person's man-day could be another person's man-week or more. From this perspective, working with geniuses is exhausting.
He makes the great point that no matter how productive we get, we will never feel satisfied, as there will always be more to do.
Instead, we need to start focusing on things that actually matter.
The title 4000 weeks is the average lifespan of a human-- and Oliver make the point we get stuck in the race to be more productive, and forget to enjoy life, which is usually the reason we start the productivity race in the first place.
The benefits of productivity have not gone to workers at all, even professional workers. In fact, it has been the opposite, with even high value workers being squeezed for more hours.
His book "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking" is one my favourite books
But many of us want more money, a bigger house in the right neighborhood, travel across the globe, acclaim from others, etc.
If there’s no end to your wants there’s no end to the work.