Last week in my blog post, I almost went down a rabbit trail related to our contemporary relationship with time. At the heart of our society’s love of the digital is its love for “saving time.”

Or should I have said "down the rabbit hole" since we are talking about time management?
Or should I have said “down the rabbit hole” since we are talking about time management? [Image in Public Domain]

Productivity and efficiency are words we see everywhere today. In fact, those words are so much part of our culture that we don’t even notice their presence anymore. But I want to pause and give some attention to those words and ask: Why is productivity so important?

I’ll preface my response by noting that I am currently up to my ears in school assignments and Ph.D applications. If you’ve talked with me lately, you have probably heard “survival mode” stated in correlation with my current state of being. So what follows is not nearly as academically rigorous as it could and should be. However, I don’t want to lose this opportunity to follow-up on last week’s post that explores a related topic, so I will briefly explore the question today, and hopefully, return to it in more depth later.

If you trace mankind’s history, humans have always sought to improve upon their situations–hence our ever-developing technologies. However, notions of progress and efficiency became particularly prevalent during the Enlightenment (late 17th & 18th centuries), Industrial Revolution (end of the 18th century to the early 19th century) and again during the turn of the century. With the rise of industrialism came the thinking: the more my factory produces, the more my factory will profit financially. Society shifted from a model of subsistence, where families or individuals made enough to survive, to an industrial system in which factories and large farms provides resources in bulk to consumers at a price. Pivotal to the success of this system was a productive use of time.

Thunderbird Assembly Line: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.

Henry Ford‘s assembly production line is a great example of the industrial focus on maximizing profits and time. The assembly line created a system that enabled workers to methodically and consistently assemble cars. This process, while potentially brain-numbing for the employees, sped up the production process tremendously.

In and of themselves, profits and/or efficiency are innocuous concepts. The problem is when producers (i.e. all of us in the digital age) get caught up in the need to be efficient and lose sight of why we are striving for productivity. Or when we highlight productivity or profit at the expense of the individuals involved, including ourselves. Reducing an employee to an automaton has some serious ethical concerns. In a similar fashion, if our lives are so driven by a need to fit in as much as possible into a day, we need to pause and question our motives, along with the impact that productivity has had both on us and those around us.

I am all about getting things done–anyone who has worked or lived with me can attest to that. However, I have often done that at the expense of my health, my relationships, and ironically, my ultimate efficacy. I do so with a sense of duty because the notion of productivity has become so engrained in our culture that we treat it like a virtue. But productivity is not a virtue; rather it is a product of the industrial age. Instead, we should be consciously taking  advantage of the leisure time that technology frees up for us rather than using that extra time to simply accomplish more.

So my encouragement to you is this: take a moment to stop and question the patterns of progress, productivity, and efficiency in your life. Why do they exist? Did you consciously introduce them into your routines? What could be changed? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Also, if you don’t already, you can follow me on Twitter @highandlowblog and, as always, please make sure to subscribe below. Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to give me verbal feedback on my posts–I love hearing your reflections, but if you are willing, please post them in the comments section so others can benefit from your profound insights!

This week’s featured image is courtesy of the National Archives and is under public domain.

I’m writing this blog post on a Metrolink train headed to Oceanside. Very soon I will be seeing the sparkling blue ocean on my right and tanks from Camp Pendleton on my left. I love train travel, so this is a treat because in California trains aren’t terribly convenient. The schedules are sparse, the routes are minimal, and the accompanying app & web technology is quite clunky. The LA Metrolink is no London Tube or NYC Metro. Nevertheless, I love trains, and I have started to discover various opportunities where the train actually works to my advantage, allowing me to be productive on my commutes and less stressed by California drivers.
pacificoceanTalking about stress, that is precisely the topic of this week’s (belated) blog post. On Wednesday, our students returned to school for the fall semester, so the campus was abuzz and my email inbox is back to overflowing. Our society loves its digital tools like email, but we seldom are trained in how to use those tools properly. Technology is lauded if it is “intuitive”, but that merely references ease-of-use, not how a piece of technology interacts with other aspects of our lives. When it comes to email, how many times have you found yourself killing 2-3 hours wading through a sea of emails. I have spent countless days where I have wasted most of my workday just trying to stay afloat of the deluge.

That is not good use of a technology. That is enslavement to that tool, rather than mastery of a tool.

So, this year I am thoughtfully examining how to better use my resources, both digital and analog, to both maximize my productivity and create healthy habits in my life–physically, mentally, and socially. I’ll be checking in with my discoveries periodically. To begin, I recently found an amazing free course that transforms the relationship one has with their email inbox. The 21 day program is called Revive Your Inboxand it takes about 10-20 minutes every day. I am usually fairly skeptical of these types of courses because I find them obvious and unhelpful, but the creators of Revive Your Inbox have carefully curated together a number of extremely useful tips. I’m about halfway through the program and discovering how much I need to change my email habits. 

Revive Your Inbox

The course was created by the creators of Boomerang— another email productivity tool that you may already use. The team has rolled out a number of nifty tools related to best practices with email, and I really hope they extend their thoughtful technology development to other areas of our digital lives.

Please check it out and let me know your experience with Boomerang or Revive Your Inbox in the comment section below. And don’t forget to let people know about High and Low, as I continue to build up my readership.

I finished Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The ending was exquisite though I was slightly disappointed that not all my questions were answered. In reflection on last week’s post, I have revised my conclusion and I think that perhaps I did place unfair expectations on the game based on prior constructs of “what constitutes a video game.” Rapture makes no pretense to be anything other than what it is, and it does a phenomenal job of that. A review from US Gamer articulates the “that” well, “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture takes elements of a radio play, underpins it with a core of classic science fiction literature, and wraps it into a combination of walking simulator and slice of interactive drama to create a game, product, or perhaps even a piece of art, that’s simply gorgeous.”

Thank you to Death to Stock Photo for today’s featured image.

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