Skip to main content

Artem Zamula

Have you read David Allen's Getting It Done and applied his productivity system to your work in order to free more time for family and friends? Do you buy the famed Franklin Covey planners to organize yourself better? Do you scan the Monday Morning Manager column in The Globe and Mail and productivity blogs for tips to make your life less harried?

If so, Internet marketer Clay Collins feels you have fallen into the clutches of the Productivity Industrial Complex. Productivity, he argues, is an industrial age concept that applies to factories, machines, and economies. But when it's applied to people it often has a dehumanizing effect and negates both individual differences and unique talents.

"David Allen and others like him make money by companies hiring them to get more out of their employees. The advice is not in the interest of the common person," he says. "Productivity should increase the number of bliss-filled moments you have in your life."

The Military Industrial Complex was popularized when U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower warned about the dangers it posed in his 1961 farewell address. It refers to the tight connections between the military, legislators and lobbyists who through stoking fears about the security of the United States make big bucks and build an American armed forces that is more costly than necessary. "The parallel of the Productivity Industrial Complex with the Military Industrial Complex is that we have taken something that is supposed to be sacred – protection of our homeland and home, or our work and what we accomplish – and allowed corporations and people to leverage that by generating paranoia and solutions to problems that really don't exist," Mr. Collins says.

The Productivity Industrial Complex distorts our thinking. It persuades us that we should be interested in getting more done at work. But Mr. Collins says our own objective should be having a meaningful life, not getting more done for our bosses. "Productivity should be designed around our lives, not the other way around," he says.

Another distortion is that it convinces us that completing the many tasks before us is important. But completing tasks doesn't necessarily push our companies ahead. "I like to manage by whether my people get me wins. It's outcomes-based management rather than task-based management," he says.

His concerns about the Productivity Industrial Complex led him a few years ago to pen something he calls The Alternative Productivity Manifesto which lists 25 tenets to clarify your thinking. It includes:

  • If your productivity increases, but your pay stays the same, then you’re effectively taking a pay cut. The same happens if you begin working longer hours for the same pay. Increased productivity should lead to less time on the job. Increased productivity should result in greater care-free time, more vacations, and more time away from work. Most of the time, however, it does not.
  • The 40-hour work week hasn’t changed since 1940 and is ridiculously outdated. Of course, as an entrepreneur, he admits in an interview to working more than 40 hours a week. But he says he works when he wants to, while most people lack flexibility in their work hours. We are living in a time and place that is more productive than ever before, yet our high levels of productivity aren’t making us any happier.
  • The best way to increase productivity is often to quit a lot of things.
  • Productivity often poses as self-development but it is not. “Getting more things done in a shorter period of time is only self-development if it truly serves you. If when productivity goes up it serves your company and your superiors but doesn’t make you happier or more self-fulfilled, it’s not self development,” he says. Indeed, what is best for us as individuals is often bad for productivity: “Meditating in an Ashram for a week is not productive but it is fulfilling.”
  • Products marketed towards busy people with titles like Productivity for Busy People or Cooking for Busy People only serve to reinforce the alleged problem. They don’t point to the real problem, which is that too many people are insanely busy and shouldn’t be. “They often glamorize, excuse, and support the unnecessarily busy life and cult of hyperefficiency,” he writes.
  • David Allen has said if you write everything down that you must do and follow his system you will have a mind like water, a concept taken from karate to mean perfect readiness. Your mind will be like a pond, which reacts with appropriate force when a pebble is thrown into it and then returns to calm. But Mr. Collins counters that no productivity system can put you in a Zen-like, meditative, or mind-like-water state. A calm, focused, and meditative mind leads to greater productivity, but productivity systems cannot create a mind like water. “If you want to be happy, relaxed and fulfilled, take a few deep breaths, call people you love, and enjoy your life now,” says Mr. Collins.
  • Productivity is often a necessary evil: If you dislike your job, you’re going to need a water-tight productivity system in place to keep you on task because you need all the help you can get to manage your job. “But if you love your work you are naturally, effortlessly productive as you are doing what you like to do and the productivity systems are irrelevant,” he says. “Mozart didn’t need a productivity system to write his symphonies. Michelangelo didn’t need a productivity system to do the sculpture David.”

After all that, does he have a productivity system? Yes he does, he responds almost sheepishly – and then quickly stresses it's not for everybody and something he could only develop as his start-up became stable. Monday and Tuesday are devoted to thinking, while Wednesday and Thursday are implementation days. Fridays, he devotes to external communication, handling his e-mail, phone calls and meetings with people beyond his company.

But his message is to beware of following his system or anybody else's. Seek happiness and balance in your life for yourself, not greater productivity for your boss.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter