Anyone who knows me, or anyone who feels they know me after following Consumerism Commentary since 2003 or my personal blog since some time in the previous century, will know that I always turn a critical eye towards the so-called benefits of the “productivity” movement.
Techniques like those popularized by Getting Things Done and thousands of other programs on which corporations spend millions of training dollars are good for the corporation, not for the individual. I agree that there is some benefit to a strong level of organization, but most people I know who follow these tenets take the concepts too seriously.
Super-efficient task-crunching among employees is a way for large companies to fulfill their real goal of super-efficient payroll spending.
The typical working American spends more waking time at the office than with family and friends. Leisure activity — that is, what people actually enjoy — takes a backseat to work in this country’s culture. I am confounded by the idea that one’s working environment should be completely free of distractions to allow intense, uninterrupted concentration on the computer monitor.
It’s bad enough that most people find themselves working at a job they don’t particularly enjoy just so they can pay the bills. Productivity gurus want to take those endless, tedious hours and turn them into a much less human experience. The truth is that the beneficiaries of the productivity movement are the employers. Why else would corporations spend so much money on training sessions? It’s not to make workers better people, it’s to make people better workers.
This post on Zen Habits offering 5 steps to a distraction free workspace is exactly why there needs to be a revolution in workplace philosophy. Skellie, the author of the post on Zen Habits and a blogger at Skelliewag, offers these suggestions for a productive and focused workspace:
* Keep the light, lose the view. Create natural light but nothing to look at.
* Move books into another room. There should be no superfluous reading material.
* Keep your desk focused. Remove family photographs and toys.
* Minimize digital distractions. Disable the internet and games while working. (People don’t really play games at work, do they?)
* Simplify decorations. The author is really suggesting the removal of decorations; blank walls force you to look at more interesting things like your monitor.
These are all great tips for increasing a certain type of productivity that involves freedom from some distractions. If you work in an office, you don’t have much control over the real distractions, like inconsiderate coworkers. Following Skelliewag’s tips would help you become the worker bee you’ve always envisioned, but devoid of personality.
While more people are “hoteling” and not the sole occupant of a workspace, the majority of us spend so much time in the same exact place at the office. If I were to make my particular space as uninteresting as possible, I simply wouldn’t enjoy my time there as much as I do now (which isn’t much). If I were to remove my personal items leaving more of the grey desktop visible and become more productive because of the adjustment, I wouldn’t suddenly get to spend more time away from the office with my family or working on my own more enjoyable projects. I’d simply have more work to do in the same amount of time.
Your desk and workspace is your reflection and a canvas for emphasizing anything that makes you unique. Surrounding yourself with objects that make you feel like you far outweighs your ability to stare at your computer monitor and type at your keyboard all day. If you are happy, as you might have a higher chance of being in a comfortable environment, you will be productive. You don’t need to live most of your waking life trapped in a desolate 200 cu. ft. space. What kind of life is that? Make it interesting, make it you.
You are giving the bulk of your time to a company and in return they send you to seminars to teach you how to spend that valuable time like a robot. Don’t allow yourself to be enslaved or brainwashed by your corporation and its owners into a way of working — of living since so much of our time living is working — that strips out everything that makes you who you are.
That is an unfulfilled life.
Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published October 26, 2007.