On Productivity

Opinion: Hard Work is Not Always a Good Thing

Western culture has a real attachment to bustle. I’ve had a front row seat to this since moving to New York, and it’s quite contagious. I know a fellow student working a part time job, a full course load, and a couple student leadership positions. This level of involvement is nearly always met with praise and admiration, but should it be? I am here to argue that this love of bustle is often not deserving of praise, but sympathy.

In the book How to Think More Effectively by the School of Life, the author provides the useful distinction between strategy and execution. Strategy refers to our big-picture goals. It is the “why” behind everything we work on. Execution is made up of everything after strategy. It includes the activities that turn our strategy into reality. It seems natural to assume that strategy would be a high priority. After all, there’s no benefit to a well executed plan if it moves us no closer to our intended goal. Work for work’s sake is no good. Yet so often people find themselves working away on a project they don’t care about in a job they hate with no end in sight. This situation stems from a proclivity towards execution, but not strategy. Good execution is entirely dependent on good strategy. Otherwise you end up bustling about but making no progress.

So, in order to be more productive, stop doing everything you can as soon as it becomes available. Ask yourself why you’d do it. How does this help me move closer to what I hope for in life? How might it take away from other things I could be doing? What is the opportunity cost? These questions will allow you to make better decisions when faced with new prospects. A couple hours of reflection could save years of your life from fruitless toil. 

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