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SARA J. LONDON

  • Writer's pictureLondon

Entry 14: Pro-Duck (tivity)


I wish I could write this about ducks. I suppose because this is my blog (and I'm essentially the only reader) I could if I wanted to. But alas, duty calls.


Also, I don't know that much about ducks. But I guess that's why the internet exists. Perhaps we can learn together.

  1. Ducks are called 'waterfowl.' Their feathers are waterproof, so much so that their down insulation stays dry when they dive underwater.

So I'm supposed to be writing about productivity tomorrow for Hive (a lovely company with very lovely people and a lovely product that I in no way shape or form can use as a freelancer, but will consistently recommend to everyone else). The title I pitched, which may very well change as I'm not a master of SEO, would be "Is Productivity a Scam?". Spoiler alert: my answer is yes.


What I like about writing for Hive is that I get to pick and choose the topics I feel the most passionately about, and sprinkle a little psychological mindedness into the usually un-psychological business world. And like many of the articles I pitch, I have a passion for deconstructing the means of productivity (hah!) and thinking about what it means to be productive in my own life. So I thought I'd wax poetic here a little bit, and figure out what I'm going to say.


2. Ducks can live up to 20 years in the wild! However, the amount of eggs they

produce is subject to the amount of sunlight they're exposed to. The more daylight

they get, the more eggs they pop out.


I think productivity kind of is a scam. Not in the clickbait sense, but in the legitimate sense. I think that what people define productivity as these days is the kind of slimy part. Oftentimes I see productivity used in the context of work (and believe you me, I've been the enemy on this one as well, what with the amount of Productivity Hacks and Tips for Productivity that I used to write back when I had no morals and lot of rent to pay - and oh, how different am I now!). How to answer emails faster - how to talk to your boss better. How to hold better meetings! How to hold fewer meetings, but also more meetings? How to hold meetings that are more substantively meeting-filled than the meetings you've been meaning to ...you get the drift.


Oh, productivity! It's all about how to increase output, maximize input, fill the gaps and circle back on the synergy. And the tips, my god! What times you should answer emails, what moments you should be muting your Zoom meetings, how 5 AM workouts will supercharge your day or the best terms and phrases to use in a meeting if you want to make the best of your time there. Oh, I'm tired just thinking about it. How will I ever be productive when I'm spending so much time on improving my productivity? And how do all these idiot gurus and ass-clown journalists get away with telling desperate, burnt-out people how to work harder - or better - or whatever it is we're talking about?


3. Ducks are very social. They usually spend their lives in large groups, and are

humorous, silly, and friendly - which makes them easily domesticated.


I happen to think people take productivity a little too seriously. And I also happen to think that productivity is an inside job (oh, now that's a good clickbait title!). It's not to say that the algorithms at Big Business are binding the little helpless proletariats into a BDSM-like contraption, whipping us with the words "productivity," "time-management," and "life-hacks" until we goosh the sweet, sweet nectar of Output all over our company's quarterly reports - a sentence I could never be paid to write. But I think there's certainly an element of some more vanilla business-industrial foreplay, as I'm sure that organizations seek motivated workers as much as the zeitgeist is pushing workers to be motivated (chicken, egg, yadda yadda). I'll leave that metaphor where it is, and promise to never use it again.


So maybe, it's a way we've been conditioned to think about how to succeed. Everyone wants to be a good student, and get an A to make their teachers, their mommies and daddies, and the highest ranked college of their choice happy. As that one waxy-looking woman whose husband got pissed on by a hooker said, "Be best!". One could say it's a uniquely American phenomenon, but I've met some very, very productive Ukrainian individuals in my undergraduate days, so let's not get too hasty with the generalizations.


I think it's just something we tell ourselves to feel like we have some semblance of control over the direction of our lives. Sure, people want their companies to do well (and there's nothing wrong with that) - but "maximizing productivity" for the sake of a greater good is still about the desire to control their circumstances. As Nietzsche said (who I'm sure was also pissed on by a hooker (or his sister?) at one point or another), "he who cannot obey himself will be commanded." And if you're obeying yourself, maddeningly obsessing over your own definition of productivity until you've managed to tweak every aspect of your work life, a larger institution - nay, society! - will never get its grubby little hands all over your pure, angelic little free will. You'll be free forever, as long as you control it. Right, guys? ...guys?


4. Ducks are omnivores, and they love grass, small fish, fruits, and nuts (the Mediterranean diet!). Sometimes, they'll eat bits of dirt, rock, and gravel to help them digest food. But duck-feeders beware! Bread or breadcrumbs will make them sick.


And not to get all philosophical (as if you expected I wouldn't! Why else do you come here?), but I think that people have this notion of what it means to "do" and "not do," to "act" or "not act." Ultimately, I think the concept of being in a world in which many of our lives are mostly work or sleep has contorted what it means to exist in the first place. Like, yeah, you see productivity in the context of your job because that's the main thing you do all day. But efficiency, craftiness, cunning (working smart, not hard), and other attributes supposedly affiliated with productivity can be applied to everything from grocery shopping to getting your nails done - if you want it.


Furthermore, is it enough to simply do things? Does everything have to be done in this distanced, analytic way? Does getting your nails done have to scheduled and executed in the most cost-effective, quickest and highest-quality fashion possible? Or is it enough that you simply did something that you can check off of your to-do list, something that makes you feel good, something that keeps you chugging along in this wild, wild journey we call life?


5. Some female ducks say, "quack." But for the most part, ducks don't do that. They sound like this.


I really do think that productivity in the eye of the beholder. To me, it means the tasks to take care of yourself - in the words of my people, your "IADLS" - and the tasks you do to further your goals. Going to pick up food so that you can eat, and consequently live, is just as productive to me as writing up an email template for a basic, repetitive request you respond to ten times a week. And submitting a passion project to a publisher (not naming names here, but someone writing this blog did that yesterday!) can be just as productive as cleaning the house, or getting your tax documents in order. I don't think you need to categorize "work" as the only place where productivity exists. I think "productivity" is everywhere - well, I'd name it something else, but we'll get there.


This topic bleeds a bit into another article I'm writing on why we're obsessed with separating work and life, as if both aren't inherently intertwined and enmeshed in the new, futuristic hybrid world. Is it great to leave your job at the end of the day and pretend it doesn't exist until tomorrow? Absolutely. Do you need to be constantly thinking about it in order to see yourself as keeping up with the productive Jonses in the cubicles alongside yours? Not at all. But is there a balance, a place where you can assess tasks (job-related or not), complete them in a timely manner, feel good about your progress and move on to the next thing? Hell yeah. I think that's called productivity - or at least that's what all the experts call it. I just call it being alive. I guess I don't get why that's such an earth-shattering revelation.


Now that my daily naval-gazing is done, I have to go to Costco. Each meaningful activities in their own way (to me, at least). Productive? Who knows. And quite frankly, who cares?


I think I'll buy some fish. Or fruit and nuts. You know, bread makes me sick too! Ducks might have the right idea about a healthy diet.


Come to think of it, I think ducks have the right idea about a lot of stuff.


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