i just have this persistent feeling of “i’m not doing enough” combined with “i don’t have the energy to do anything” and it just really fucking sucks


“Many people are busy trying to find better ways of doing things that should not have to be done at all. There is no progress in merely finding a better way to do a useless thing.”
Source: Ford News


Ever get the feeling you are doing a lot of ‘somethings’ and, yet, you look around and it sometimes looks like nothing? I tend to believe a lot of people feel some version of this. I have a stack of unanswered emails to people I really would like to respond to and, yet, I always have something to do. I rarely have an open minute, by my choice and I like it that way, but some of those minutes mean not doing something else. And therein lies ‘nothing.’ Nothing IS something. It resides in the choices left behind. I am doing nothing with all these emails and people who I genuinely like and conversations I genuinely would like to have and, yet, I have done nothing with them. They are something and what I have done is something and have created nothing in doing so. This may sound convoluted and slightly absurd, and it should.

It is indicative of the slightly warped pretzel logic we place to justify our productivity madness.

It is indicative of something generally happening in work.

Work never stops, we never stop, other people never stop, there are no stop signs, and yet with all this ‘not stopping’ productivity and productive performance has, well, stopped. Okay. Not stopped, but certainly hasn’t matched the amount of non-stoppedness it appears business is doing. I imagine I could say a bunch of things here but I would suggest the nonstop world costs us some creativity and absolutely costs us some critical thinking.

We are paddling so hard we can’t see where we are going or if we are even making any meaningful progress. It’s not like people aren’t trying to give is more advice on how to actually be productive because if you go to Amazon there are something like 100,000 books telling us how we can achieve more. If you don’t want to read, just pick one of the 1000’s of apps you can download onto your already nonstop 24/7 smartphone internet feed. The ‘hustle culture’ (and economy) is more a hamster wheel than hustle. While any ideal business progress trip should be one in which you reach some far-reaching destination, in today’s world it is just a circular treadmill encased in a cage.

This worship of productivity comes at the expense of everything else. It’s kind of like purposefully implementing mediocrity. Now. Within the productivity ideology they can’t see the mediocrity because their scale is biased – they don’t see the sacrifice; they see the achievements. They don’t see lost outcome possibilities; they see pragmatic outcome gains. This self-defeating behavior means a bunch of people are doing a lot of somethings all the while doing some nothings. There is no ebb and flow of imagination or creativity, it is all directed toward the God of Productivity. This God wields metrics of productivity to measure output and achievements, but also, we as human beings.


I don’t really need to share some research to be able to say, generally speaking, most workers are overworked <this can be time driven or task drive> which, generally speaking, lessens job performance, hence, productivity. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that technology adds on an additional burden to individual productivity stress – we also now compete against automation, AI and algorithms. We fight against the system and technology – in other words “the black box against us.”

Which leads me to the battle between more and zero sum.


Growth, scale, expansion, higher, all are synonyms for “more.” Business is obsessed with more. If you did something yesterday, tomorrow can only be better if there is more than yesterday. It’s absurd and unhealthy. Let me use the business buzzword of the day, Transformation, to point out even that is never really about becoming better; it is always about producing “more faster” (better is a pleasant addition if it happens). ‘More’ simply begets an obsession with continuous output and THAT obsession arcs toward the worst of Taylorism in which Lillian Gilbreth-ism trumps Follett-ism.

The models of work are rewarded if they generate more regardless of whether it is true progress or not.

The models of work get rewarded if they generate more regardless of whether it is meaningful or not (because meaningful means ‘meet outcome objective.’

The models of work get rewarded if they generate more if they can simply be well oiled, or fine-tuned with more oil, thereby supporting the concept of human machinery.

But maybe even worse than treating people like machines is how business treats their work. I will talk about “achievement attitude” under zero sum, but suffice it to say that if achievements are all people truly get measured on <which feeds into what a person will identify as value and meaning> and More is always yelling in your mind, well, all you will focus on is more achievements – quantity not quality. “More” is a horrible corrosive productivity concept. “More” is actually a horrible corrosive concept for the world <invest some time reading Limits of Growth; Meadows/Meadows>.

Zero sum.

I am not sure, but it’s possible “more” could have worked okay in the models of work if we weren’t simultaneously stuck in a zero-sum mindset. In that mindset universe ‘more’ comes at the expense of someone else and, worse, if someone is getting “more” that means less for you.

It’s corrosive thinking and, paradoxically, reductive in nature. The pendulum in society has swung all the way over to achievement is all that matters. In fact, we are in a society where the Value of a person seems to be either driven solely by their outcomes/results or weighted so heavily by the outcomes/results that the ‘effort portion’ has minuscule value.

That’s … well … uhm … bad. Bad for individual meaning. Bad for society. Bad for Life lessons. Just bad.

It is bad because that means many people will ignore the price they will pay to achieve the outcome because the outcome, in and of itself, will contain all the value.


Think about that.

Taken to an extreme that would mean the attempt has zero value and trying and failing has zero, if not negative, value.


That is bad.


“But he did not understand the price.

Mortals never do.

They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream … but the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted.”

Neil Gaiman


Which leads me to how zero-sum plays a role. That achievement attitude becomes even worse, for society, because it also suggests “what are we willing to do to get what we want” is a zero sum game.

What do I mean?


You are willing to do anything it takes to get what you want <the achievement>.

The hell with rules … they are for people who don’t value achievement enough.

The hell with guardrails and guidelines … they are for people who are scared to do what it takes.

This attitude cleverly steals away freedom of choice in that it suggests the only choice is the one that ensures achievement.

“Measures of productivity do not lead to improvement in productivity.”

W. Edwards Deming; Out of Crisis

This attitude strips choices of anything truly worthwhile like dignity and respect and humanity because all of those things are not criteria for what is the ultimate value – the result or outcome. Productivity is inextricably tied to achievement which also suggests productivity that does not attain some objective achievement has little or no value. It’s a horrible way of thinking that actually equates productivity with gamification theory. Horrible.

I say all this because zero sum belief sucks the oxygen out of meaningful ‘doing’, or productivity, by sucking out the true freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances and to choose one’s own way in doing things. There is no freedom because only one type of productivity is deemed the winner and anyone not achieving that is a loser.

In the end.

Some people suggest we need to prioritize new ideas rather than productivity. I am not so sure. I think we should be prioritizing meaningful progress – for both individual and the business. While this version of progress is not attached to any direction or quantity of things, it does accommodate productivity <which I believe if it isn’t worshiped can be a valuable aspect of value creation and meaning>. I would suggest the future is actually not about more, nor less, nor any quantity. But. I am not suggesting a business doesn’t have to sell some ‘quantity’ in order to sustain itself, it’s just that any quantity becomes a result of a focus on progress where doing something means something. This thought also suggests the future isn’t going to be solved by working smarter, but rather a smarter way of working. I would also suggest the current way of working is not a logical result of centuries of logical reasoned thinking about how work should be done, but rather a battle between ideas on a way to work. That last thought becomes a semi-important thought because it suggests we don’t need a new way of doing business, or a new way of thinking, or even some magical transformation, but instead we should be seeking out the ideas that exist and maybe lost a key battle here or there. It is not about a fundamental shift, but rather a revisit to the fundamentals. In doing so we change the concept of productivity and progress in business and that begets a shift in systems, policies and practices. Ponder.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce