Despite all of my blog posts on productivity and getting things done, there's an alternative mode of thought that we're actually making our lives busier and more stressful by focusing so much on productivity all the time. It's the subject of a book I've mentioned before, Do Nothing, and pops up occasionally in articles, such as this one by Pocket: Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives.
I've discussed Taylorism before in my series about the corporate pushback about working from home that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic: What Happened to Working from Home and Freelancers Prove that Working from Home Works. Over a hundred years ago, Taylorism or "scientific management" was a novel way for factories to make the most of the money they paid their employees. But as this article argues, it has seeped into our personal outlooks, too, bringing that more-work-for-less mania into our daily lives.
But as the century progressed, something important changed: we all became Frederick Winslow Taylors, presiding ruthlessly over our own lives. As the doctrine of efficiency grew entrenched – as the ethos of the market spread to more and more aspects of society, and life became more individualistic – we internalised it. In Taylor’s day, efficiency had been primarily a way to persuade (or bully) other people to do more work in the same amount of time; now it is a regimen that we impose on ourselves.
The introduction of Taylorism into our personal lives has created this myth that if we're more efficient, we'll have more time, somehow. But as factory workers are constantly reminded, our bosses are greedy, and will always demand more, and more, and more. The same goes for us with our own lives: When we achieve our desired levels of productivity, it's not enough. We're always pushing for more productivity over more hours, until we're more stressed and busier than ever.
So what's the answer? I think there's two levels we need to discuss this one: personal, and societal. As far as the personal level, books like Do Nothing recommend letting go of our need for perfect productivity all the time. I actually don't think the concept of productivity is a bad one; we just forgot to come up with boundaries to go with it. If you can prioritize and draw a protective boundary around your personal life so that Taylorism doesn't cross over into leisure time as well, you may actually be able to reap the benefits of the extra time that being productive affords you.
Then there's the societal implications. This is important, because as often is the case, it's the lower classes that suffer the most. While the effects of Taylorism are felt across all levels of society, it's those who work lower wage jobs that suffer the most, because those are the jobs where employers push the hardest and pay the least. So on a societal level, it's important that we start emphasizing the importance of the quality of work over quantity.
Unfortunately, there's no getting around the importance of time management as a freelance writer or small business owner. Time is literally money when you work for yourself and don't get luxuries such as paid breaks or sick days. Fortunately, as freelancers we are also in charge of our own boundaries, so it's important to establish strong ones that will protect our leisure time from the goal of perfect productivity.