The Problem with Productivity

I’ve mentioned in the past my distaste for productivity. I still struggle a lot with trying to be productive. Why do I dislike it you ask? Because in short, it makes me feel like a horrible person. Let me explain.

Productivity is all about getting things done. It has it’s place, but in recent years it has become like an epidemic. You are expected to be a productive member of society. We as a culture place a lot of value on ‘getting things done’. The problem is, being productive seems to only lead to a greater need to feel productive.

There is no ceiling, so the more I do, the worse I feel about not being able to do more. No matter how much I finish, I can always think of more stuff that needs to get done, it’s a vicious cycle. Any satisfaction gained from being productive is short lived, before the drive to get even more done overrides it.

There are other issues with productivity too. The emphasis is placed on the number of tasks, and not so much the quality of the things you’re doing, why you are doing them, or pondering if there might be a more efficient way of reaching your goal.

In the work place, so much pressure is put on a person to be productive, that a lot of time gets wasted doing things that aren’t truly necessary, and it doesn’t allow the time to think creatively about other ways to arrive at the same solution. This leads to people mindlessly doing things they way they always have always been done. Yeah, stuff gets done, but things don’t get better. This isn’t how innovation happens.

Also, productivity is a concept that only works well with measurable things, and not everything that we do that is useful is measurable. For instance, earlier this year I was spending a good amount of time looking at Casita ads. On the surface, this doesn’t seem a productive way of spending my time. I wasn’t checking anything off of a list, but it was still a necessary step toward reaching my goal of going full-time RVing.

Which brings us to what I feel productivity should be about. My thoughts on productivity are currently in a state of change as I try to find ways to both get things done (and feel good about it) and have ‘free’ time to do other stuff that interests me.

I’ve already shared my method for working on big goals in Planning for your dreams by breaking up one big seemingly impossible goal into smaller tasks, and only focusing on the part that needs to get done first to make true progress. But what about when you’re juggling big goals like moving into your RV with household chores, spending time with visiting family, keeping a blog updated, exercising, and having time for yourself? In my mind, productivity should exist to help us get the things that matter done, and not be an end in itself. Focus instead on doing things that make you feel fulfilled.

Secondly, create value whether it’s measurable or not. As mentioned in my posts about time management, there are some things that we have to do, like laundry, paying taxes, etc. But think critically about what stuff actually has to be done, and what stuff only exists because we think it has to be done. When I take time for myself to read a book, that’s creating value. It’s a way of relaxing and recharging myself so that I can be more focused later. When I write posts for this blog, that also creates value, I try to write posts that are educational, inspirational, or at least entertaining.

I have also found that a less rigid approach works best. Some days, I may split my time up and work on several different projects in one day. On other days, I feel like focusing on just one thing and working on that. I find I get more done when I follow the flow of what feels right to me at the time. I think this happens because when I feel inspired to do things a certain way, the motivation is automatically there and I don’t need to push myself to do it. Of course this isn’t always possible when things are on a deadline, but when they aren’t, try it and see for yourself.

What it boils down to is, worry less about being productive, and more about being effective. When you put the focus on creating value, and doing things that matter, the productivity comes naturally.

I’d like to hear your opinion on productivity. Are you for it, or against it?  What tools do you use to to get the the things that matter done?

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. sarah sky on January 31, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    a rare thing to hear, but i full heartedly support it. my boyfriend doesnt think im doing anything, but im gathering information. Doing for doings sake is a silly waste! I hope your having fun in florida! you are very inspirational and i want to do this at least for a year or something. Go out to big bend and sit in the western quiet.

    do you mind me asking how much your casita was? I am very interested in getting a little casita.

    • Becky on February 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      Hello Sarah. You’re in luck, today’s blog post was all about my Casita and the purchase price was in there but I’ll put it here too, but he was $8995 in 2012 at 12 years old.

      I’m all with planning and gathering information, it makes the transition to a mobile life that much easier and more likely to succeed. But at some point a person has to make the transition from planning to action too, I’ve written about these topics and I imagine if you’re making your way through chronologically you’ll be getting to them soon enough.

      Best of luck to you getting on the road – the concessions at Big Bend are actually run by Forever Resorts, the company that did Badlands National Park where I worked last summer. Big Bend takes seasonal workers in the winter from October to March or April, if you need to make some money to afford to travel you should definitely look them up!

  2. westend on April 18, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I liked reading your blog and the tales of involvement with your RV, this is good stuff. Keep up the good work!

    My take on productivity is that there is “personal productivity” and “work productivity”. Sometimes these two meld together and become indistinguishable. I know folks that live in a “business meeting” context 24/7. They are constantly in communication with someone or having to do an endless backlog of tasks that all have to be accomplished immediately. I’ve found that I can’t be around such people but for short periods of time.
    The greatest rewards for me happen at times when either of the aforementioned productivities are at their lowest. The off-chance event of meeting someone truly interesting or the unobserved part of the natural world that comes into focus are two that come to mind. I guess it all has to do with the “Stop and smell the roses” attribute or, as my Bulgarian friends voiced, “the life is too short!”
    Best with your journeys,

    • Becky on April 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      Hello Lance, welcome to IO and happy to hear from you. 🙂

      I think you’re on to something with this two different kinds of productivity thing, it sounds like we have similar views on the subject. I’m definitely a stop to smell the roses kind of girl and feel most at peace when I’m outside.

  3. george on April 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Ha ! Ha ! …..youth ! There is no “problem” with being productive. I made a career of, among other things, being productive. In so doing, I made a lot of money….lived well, raised a family, sent them to school, traveled, and invested enough that I was able to retire early, so that now, here I am, enjoying the time I spend in my camper, wherever I choose to be.

    Also in my life at the big company, I helped numerous other folks learn to be more productive ( “work smarter, not harder ” ), so that they too are making a good living, helping the company make more money, which means both they and the company are also paying more in taxes, which is always a good thing.

    Don’t think of productivity as a negative….think of it as a positive. It can be fullfilling in and of itself.


    • Becky on April 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Hiya George, thanks for commenting.

      As I said in my post, I feel productivity should exist to help us get the things that matter done (I’m working quite hard to get the full-timing thing pulled together after all), and not be an end in itself. It has it’s place, but I’ve never found it fulfilling just to do stuff just to be doing stuff.

      In the places I’ve worked ‘productivity’ isn’t about working smarter instead of harder like you’ve described it, but just always be working on something whether it’s actually adding value or not. So it sounds like where you worked perhaps productivity was closer to what I consider being effective, and I’m all for that.

      Still though, I’m just not the sort of person who needs to be doing ‘something’ all the time, it’s just my personality.

  4. Hazel on April 17, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Becky, how did you get so wise at such a young age? You’re certainly on the right life path.

    I’m 60 something, a lifelong hard-working perfectionist, who is finally enjoying the important things in life: watching the birds and the clouds and the light; walking in the woods and fields; taking photos of all things big and small; playing with grandchildren and visiting friends; reading and writing and creating.

    Being snowbirds, we recently downsized from an old 31ft Airstream to a Casita! We spent a month in Texas in WREN and absolutely loved the minimalism and simplicity. It’s part of sitting back and enjoying life instead of plowing through the To Do List.

    Thanks for your post. I admire your early wisdom on a ‘considered life’.

    • Becky on April 17, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you Hazel and glad you liked it.

      To be honest I learned a lot from the internet, by surfing forums and blogs and reading other people’s viewpoints on life. They made me question what I wanted my own life to be like, and things went from there. How amazing is it that we can have contact with people all over the world while sitting in our own houses? I’ve met a lot of like-minded people that I never would have known about otherwise, and I hope that once I hit the road I’ll be able to meet up with some of you guys in person.

      Glad your Casita experience went well! I really want to do the boondocking thing in the south west because I love being in nature too and it seems like the cheapest way to go about it, the biggest roadblock right now is that I haven’t figured out how to earn money from the middle of nowhere yet, but I will.

  5. Kathy on April 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I love what you said…”…worry less about being productive, and more about being effective…”
    But most companies only care about productivity. Hopefully on your new path, you can concentrate more on effectiveness. I’m rooting for you and your new lifestyle!

    • Sherry on April 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      First I Love the picture, of you, I assume, in the tree.

      I’m not much of a productivity fan. I think a lot of what we are doing to be “productive” is in fact distructive for us, for our relationships and for the planet. It’s sort of like progress. Is it really???

      My goal is to get the tasks done so I can then do whatever I want. Folks who aren’t “productive” are often labeled lazy. So that’s one thing about full timing that I love. I really don’t feel the need to be productive. There are still tasks that need to be done but they are many fewer and take much less time. At least for me I have a lot more time for fun.

      Sherry recently posted..Ding Darling National Wildlife RefugeMy Profile

    • Becky on April 17, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks Kathy. 🙂

      Sherry – Yep, that’s me in a fallen tree at Hunting Island State Park.

      I agree with your viewpoint. I understand the need to get things done, but don’t see the point in rushing around doing things all day just to fill up the day and feel like I’ve done a lot. This comes into play most when I’m at work. Usually managers are only happy when I’m running around looking super busy, if I find a quicker way to do something and am /not/ running around like a chicken with my head cut off my supervisors assume I’m lazy or avoiding work. Oh well.

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